The Yearbook immediately situates Baby Queen at the fore of contemporary pop.
Baby Queen (real name Arabella Latham) debuted in the pop music scene in 2020 with more skills and presence than most artists who’ve spent years in the industry. Her debut EP Medicine was full of pop-rock tracks that burst with raw, confessional energy, yet felt polished and carefully composed; she packed her lyrics with memorable one-liners, but still found time to craft clear narratives and intricate bridges. EP highlight “Want Me” is a perfect example: spoken-word verses about the details of romantic longing (“I wish I thought that I was pretty, so that I could turn you on / I had a dream you called me pretty and I told you you were wrong”) explode into cathartic, shouted choruses, and it all ends in a coda where Latham repeats a rapid, desperate melody over production that slowly builds into a thrilling climax. It’s snarky (“I bet you get bored having sex / Because you want me and you just don’t know it yet”), ambitious, and an argument for why Baby Queen is one of the most exciting new writers in pop music today. Her September mixtape The Yearbook delivers even further on this promise.
Some of the most exciting tracks on The Yearbook are the ones that lean farthest into pop-rock sensibilities. In lead single “Raw Thoughts,” weighty percussion crunches and skitters like a punching bag made out of your own thoughts, and guitars overlap into a final crescendo on the lyric “I’m thinking about you / And you’re thinking about sex” — which should not feel as transcendental as it does. Second single “These Drugs” finds Latham slower and sadder, huddled in a bathroom stall regretting her self-destructive choices but unable to break the cycle. Again, for a song with lines like “It’s louder than a cry for help / When I destroy my mental health / Because I don’t respect myself,” it feels strangely good: that’s partly due to her brooding vocal performance and the fantastic rock-ballad production by King Ed, but it’s also because Latham has a brilliant understanding of the catharsis that makes singer-songwriter work interesting.
Many of the most memorable Baby Queen lyrics are confessions about sex, drugs, or dark thoughts, but she reveals these things not for shock value, but because they’re an important part of her path to self-understanding. Even if you can’t relate to things like getting drunk on medication after a breakup or wishing you were more like your perfect older sister, the specific emotional honesty of Latham’s lyricism leaves such a strong impression that it makes these songs cut deep and hold up for listen after listen. And her writing isn’t all serious or sad, either. She’s funny — see the euphemism of “There’s a hole inside of me, and it’s shaped like you,” and the audacity of building an entire song around that hook — and she’s also playful: you often get the sense that you’re listening to Latham bend and stretch melody and song structure to fit the wild, tumbling will of her narrative. She tends to smooth over vulnerability with wit, self-deprecation, and self-aware mundanity, and in that way she perfectly captures the micro-generation of the late ‘90s: young adults caught between being millennials and Gen Z, stuck online and too deep in their heads, who know far too well that the world is fucked but can only cope by either breaking down or joking about it.
The Yearbook is definitely aloft up by its singles — deep cuts “Narcissist,” “Fake Believe,” and “I’m a Mess” are decent but nowhere near the heights of tracks like “Raw Thoughts” or “You-Shaped Hole.” It’s a short project, though, and the highlights are fantastic enough to anchor the whole thing. The crown jewel of the mixtape is far and away its third single, “Dover Beach”: most artists go their whole careers without putting out a perfect pop song, but Baby Queen did it in just one year. “Dover Beach” encapsulates everything wonderful about Latham’s work. It has the hooks and urgency of pop music, the intensity (and a handful of instrumental elements) of a rock song, and the poetic lyricism of a verbose singer-songwriter track. It’s about being in love, but also about being alone and trying to figure out how many of your problems come from your own head. Its freewheeling lyrics ramble and hang off the ends of their lines, but there’s also a brief, infinite pause before each chorus that feels like a deliberate dive down into the waves. The bridge and outro introduce multiple thrilling new melodies and pieces of structure (every single Baby Queen bridge is a reminder of why this pop music thing is worth it after all). “Dover Beach” feels as big as the world, and it’s her best song to date — and yet The Yearbook still feels like only the beginning of what is shaping up to be an amazing career.
Published as part of Album Roundup — September 2021 | Part 1.