There’s an important lesson that every music fan needs to learn at some point: never bet against teenagers. The music embraced by the middle and high school crowd are often subject to ridicule and eye-rolling from the older generation, and the reason why is often clear – it’s mostly saccharine overproduced pop. But that doesn’t make it devoid of meaning or quality.
The emphasis is usually on the hooks getting permanently stuck in your head, but weaponising melodies isn’t something worth getting up in arms about. The music you love as a teenager often sticks with you for the rest of your life, and the progression from initial love to distaste to guilty pleasure to full embrace is a journey that we’ve all experienced with songs from our youth.
One her new mixtape The Yearbook, South African-born London-based singer Baby Queen aims to chronicle that exact time in everyone’s life, complete with the awkwardness, hormone explosions, self-hatred, failed romances, newfound freedom, and experimentation that comes along with it. To do this, she hones in on glittery pop, spoken word, electronica, and dance to make even the saddest and ugliest tracks sound joyous and exuberant. Crying in the club is alright, just as long as you dance it off.
The club-ready sound is almost nonstop, apart from tracks like ambient ‘Dover Beach Pt. 2’, which includes what is ultimately the least successful part of The Yearbook: Baby Queen’s dedication to spoken word. The spoken-word bits, also featured on the introductory track ‘Baby Kingdom’, the fifth song ‘Narccisist’, and closing track ‘I’m a Mess’, bring all of the momentum that’s been built up to a grinding halt as Bella Latham, the real human being Baby Queen, sheds her pop star pretences for poetry-laden pretentiousness.
It’s when Latham keeps herself laser-focused on the exuberant pop on tracks like ‘Dover Beach’, ‘You Shaped Hole’, and ‘Raw Thoughts’ that she excels. It’s not that the conceptual elements on The Yearbook don’t work, but rather that they’re already clear from the lyrics of the vibrant songs. Latham doesn’t need to include narration to guide us through the journey, and it feels tremendously heavyhanded any time it comes up.
Overall, Baby Queen positions herself as an expert in melding catchy uptempo tunes with introspective and frequently challenging lyrics. The Yearbook is raw in a way that never seems to contradict the vibrant gloss and celebratory energy of the music, and that mainly comes through Lantham’s comfort with putting herself out there for the world to see. Sometimes the means by which she communicates those feelings can feel a bit ill-advised, but they’re never stifled or censored.
There’s a tremendous amount of confidence within Baby Queen to be so plainly broken and mentally fractured while still aiming to give listeners a thrill. That’s why The Yearbook can be forgiven if it wanders off track because when it hits, it hits hard. Nobody’s perfect, and The Yearbook proves that it’s okay not to be. In that way, it’s the perfect teenage album.