Baby Queen has officially stormed the anti-pop scene with one of the best debut albums this year. The Yearbook (Polydor Records) is confident, self-aware, and packed with witty cultural critiques and nihilistic exasperation cleverly disguised as borderline bubblegum pop with irresistible, layered synth.
South African-native Baby Queen (Bella Lantham) relocated to London when she was 18 with dreams of making it big. Several years later, the now 24-year-old is well on her way to pop-rock stardom after a very busy year. Her debut single, Internet Religion, was released in May 2020, but Buzzkill (July 2020) and the Medicine EP (November 2020) solidified Baby Queen’s place in the UK’s emerging artists scene. Fans of The 1975 will find familiarity in Baby Queen’s biting lyrics and layered vocals, but she is far from being just another Matty Healy (frontman of The 975) copycat.
The Yearbook consists of 5 pre-released singles and 5 new tracks that seamlessly meld together, stand strong on their own, and perfectly capture Lantham’s Baby Queen persona. It’s honest and critical without being gimmicky or self-serving.
Opener Baby Kingdom is a spoken declaration of unabashed nostalgia for Lantham’s past self set to a dreamy synth beat that perfectly encapsulates the dichotomy of this album. You can easily imagine her leaning against the wall outside her school disco a la Effy Stonem with rips in her tights and a cigarette between her teeth – a drawling, pessimistic monologue layered over a distant bedroom-pop beat.
The first half of the Yearbook sees Baby Queen struggle through a breakup with three absolutely banging tracks dripping in vulnerability and addicting electric pop beats. Raw Thoughts and You Shaped Hole, originally released in January and July of this year respectively, detail Lantham’s hedonistic, self-destructive efforts to move forward – “I kissed all our mates to procrastinate the pain / Then I felt ashamed and kissed them all again” she reflects in You Shaped Hole.
American Dream, featuring MAY-A, is Lantham’s first cultural and political critique on The Yearbook and a true display of her metaphorical and lyrical capabilities. Lantham regards her infatuation and desire for her lover as delusional and inaccessible as the American Dream. An escalating, irresistible beat as enticing as the myth she sings about is the backbone of the track, dropping at all the right moments and leaving nothing to be desired.
If American Dream is a thinly veiled metaphor knocking quietly on the door, Narcissist breaks the hinges off. Narcissist is Lantham’s Gen-Z anthem, an outright f*ck you to older generations and their hypocrisy. Quiet rage undercuts her apathetic tone as she laughs “I find it kinda weird you’d critique your own creation / But you still go online and call me self-obsessed / Wait did you forget? / Who made the internet?” Narcissist’s loud, layered wall of sound expands and cuts off at just the right moments, making it an incredibly satisfying listen.
Dover Beach and Dover Beach Pt. 2 are a clear interlude from the satirical tracks that dominate
The Yearbook. Dover Beach, first released this past April, begins quietly, and quickly accelerates into a bouncy, beachy, drum driven track with vocals that display Lantham’s upper register beautifully. Dover Beach Pt. 2 adds further depth to the desperation and loss of identity that too often follow the end of a relationship. “I’d change the shape of my mouth if I thought you’d kiss me” Lantham admits.
Baby Queen follows the thread of vulnerability into These Drugs, a gutsy and direct exploration of her own destructive escapism, and reveals what happens when you believe you deserve to suffer. Ethereal background harmonies give this track a slight hopeless, existential edge that compliments Lantham’s portrait of her downward spiral beautifully.
I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for scathing, banging musical critiques of hypocritical American religious culture (ie. Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America), so it’s no surprise that Fake Believe really sold me on this album. Latham’s vocals meld with the beat as she delivers line after line of incredibly satisfying sharp-tongued criticism – “I’m in love with apathy / Nothing on the planet ever gets to me / When I’m living in the world of fake believe.”
The Yearbook culminates with I’m a Mess, an immaculate capstone to Lantham’s debut and encapsulation of her musical and cultural persona. Though by far one of the least complicated tracks, essentially just Lantham crying “I’m a mess” with several spoken interludes, I’m a Mess bleeds emotion and leaves you craving more. The imperfect vocal breaks that define the climax communicate the desperation and self-loathing of The Yearbook, and serve as a masterful conclusion to Baby Queen’s triumphant debut.
Baby Queen kicked off her 2021 touring season with a raucous performance at Leeds this past weekend, and will be performing around the UK in October and November.