Photo: Clark Franklyn

‘The Yearbook’ review: Baby Queen is the brutally honest voice of gen-z despair

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The Yearbook is indie-pop singer Baby Queen’s debut mixtape and is a deep dive into the singer’s insecurities through catchy pop songs. It has powerful lyricism detailing Baby Queen’s personal afflictions with self-worth and body image, combined with catchy, irresistible hooks.   

In last year’s Medicine EP, Baby Queen, 24-year-old Arabella Latham, did not hold back. On her song ‘Internet Religion’, she explored internet inauthenticity and unhealthy beauty standards, and in ‘Medicine’ she sang about the initial negative side effects of her anti-depressants: “And my heart can’t break/ Because my medication confiscated sex, now I don’t fancy anybody”. It was difficult to not get hooked on her catchy pop songs that detail much darker subjects than their upbeat sound suggests. Each song on Medicine was an earworm and had a level of honesty and boldness expected from a far more established artist. It was a very strong start from an artist who prior to the pandemic was working at a record store in London, and only signed with Polydor Records early into the first lockdown.  

And it’s safe to say The Yearbook has continued this successful run of addictively candid pop songs, with not a dud song in sight. 

The Yearbook explores problems we continue to deal with past adolescence, through the characters shown on the cover of the mixtape – high school personalities we are familiar with through popular culture, such as the cheerleader, the prefect, the goth. We were promised the American high school coming-of-age experience, that despite the trials of growing up we would make it out the other side and everything would end up okay; case closed. But few of us probably had that ‘perfect’ teenage experience. It’s a very ‘gen-z use’ of teenage tropes we once aspired to and still romanticise, to convey the bleak realities and permeating sadness that can be a part of life beyond adolescence: such as heartbreak, self-hatred and mental health issues.  

This is explored in the first track, ‘Baby Kingdom’ (the name of Baby Queen’s fanbase), as she seemingly contradicts herself, with the lines “because I hated my yearbook picture” and “I’m still grieving the person I used to be”. Despite often disliking ourselves and our appearance at the time of being a teenager, as we awkwardly navigate puberty, the reality for women is that our underage bodies are sexualised, so it can be easy to look back on our not yet fully developed bodies as an ideal. And so, it seems we are never allowed to be happy in ourselves, something Baby Queen conveys in the opening song.  

It is a much more fun take on the stereotypical ‘crazy ex-girlfriend’

Then ‘Baby Kingdom’ jumps into the deceptively upbeat ‘Raw Thoughts’. Despite being about getting drunk and emotional over an ex, its euphoric sound feels freeing. ‘You Shaped Hole’ is another bouncy and playful song about the pains of trying to get over someone. Its appearance as an optimistic song makes it sound like it should be an ‘I’m over my ex and doing so much better’, however it is a much more fun take on the stereotypical ‘crazy ex-girlfriend’. The bridge is the absolute highlight of this song – the run-on lines of the lyrics make it feel like her thoughts are just spilling out into the song. 

‘Narcissist’ confronts the contradictory advice given to women, that perceptions of self-worth are tied to looks, but at the same time, we must not be too consumed by our appearance, or else be labelled vane.  Baby Queen both addresses those who she blames for being a narcissist and also confesses with a kind of pride to this label. Spoken word is used again in the verses as she tells a story many of us are all too familiar with, the confusing messaging in the media of body positivity and self-love, but also that young people are self-obsessed and once people lose the currency of youth they are no longer relevant. It’s direct and has strength to it, despite being painfully true: “So I grew up kind of hating myself/ And letting all you mother*ckers monetize my mental health/ By making me believe that my personal success/ Was dependent on my weight and the way that I dress”. 

It feels as if we are experiencing her inner monologue, especially in the semi-spoken word sections of her songs.

Baby Queen’s frank storytelling through her songs is enthralling. It feels as if we are experiencing her inner monologue, especially in the semi-spoken word sections of her songs. ‘Dover Beach Part 2’, one of her most intimate songs, is in spoken word with minimal instrumentation, and every line is poignant and poetic: “I’d unthink myself if I thought you’d miss me/ I’d change the shape of my mouth if I thought you’d kiss me.” It is by no means her catchiest song, but it is the one that leaves its mark the most.  

Each song captivates, and her sincerity and playful lyricism bring an emotional mix to a mixtape of hit after hit. It’s cathartic to hear such brutal honesty, at times wanting to dance around whilst at others cry. She boldly shows all her flaws, packaged in punchy pop melodies. Baby Queen has certainly shown she is one to watch in the coming years.   

 

WE RECOMMEND: ‘Narcissist’ 

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