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Inside Baby Queen’s very own ‘Quarter Life Crisis’

With a mix of youthful sonic vigor and honed lyricism, South Africa-born pop antihero Baby Queen has turned the tragic into magic on her latest album, Quarter Life Crisis.

Baby Queen spent the latter half of 2023 keeping fans fed with a myriad of singles flaunting her range including the hair-twirlingly romantic “Dream Girl”, euphoric trip “We Can Be Anything”, and the anthem of her titular crisis. On her full LP, that experimental range is set on full display as she moves between post-adolescent confessional ballads, introspective rhythmic poetics, and bombastic moments of sapphic self-discovery.

We caught up with the queen herself to chat all things Quarter Life Crisis, sapphic yearning, the elusive “Colours of You” music video and more.

Quarter Life Crisis is such a fun album in terms of sound and levity, but it also takes place so much in the mental space – which makes sense for an internal crisis.

I wasn’t drawing much inspiration from the outside; I wasn’t in love or heartbroken or anything. It was very solipsistic, in a way. I was really exploring introspective stuff. I felt like I had to sort of mine something out of myself, because I wasn’t really getting it externally, you know?

What do you feel like your own “quarter-life crisis” taught you the most?

God, I don’t know what it’s taught me. What I have learned is that when you’re younger, especially in your teenage years and your early 20s, everything’s very chaotic. Mentally, it just feels like you’re all over the place. They say when you’re 25, your frontal lobe fully develops – I fully felt mine develop on my 25th birthday. I was like, “Wow, I’ve arrived.” [Laughs]

From conversations I’ve had with people like, you don’t ever find the answers that you’re looking for. I’ve spoken to people at my shows that are in their 40s, and they’re like, “The resolution never really comes.” So I guess what I have learned is to try and be happy and present in the moment and try to enjoy it.

I’m sure your journey with the concept of the “quarter-life crisis” has changed over time since you started writing on the project.

For sure. When I was writing it, I felt very in it. And now… It’s weird to write an album about something and to put all your feelings down into words. You kind of move past it in a way.

How do you feel like you stayed in that headspace while working on the album? Are there any artists you’ve listened to or pieces of media you came back to to really keep you there?

Not really. One of my greatest downfalls actually is that I don’t listen to a lot. I haven’t been listening to a lot of music during this process, because I find that I compare myself to everyone else’s music. I find it really hard to consume anything in a meaningful way. 

I guess I’ve just stayed in the mindset because as soon as I finished the album, I went into the world of trying to promote and paint the world of the album for other people. I’ve been enjoying that process. And then we were on the tour! So I’m very much still in it and living it every day. I guess your perspective just slightly shifts.

Which artists that you love do you feel are most energetically-aligned with this record and what you’ve felt through it?

I mean, I make pop music, and I guess this record is a pop record. I love pop music — and I also hate it. It’s got like a really bad name for itself. And I think that, like the word “pop” gives me the ick in a way, but there are some incredible pop artists that I feel like I’ve really tried to focus on as pillars of great pop music. St. Vincent is a huge one for me, just in having that pop sound and witty lyricism. She’s a huge one. I’d say artists like Caroline Polachek and Lorde, the f*cking great pop girls, have always been like a huge pillars of where I hope I can sit in the industry.

How do you feel like your sound has evolved with this record (or even beyond it)?

There’s something really amazing about the first music that you create, because there’s something so innocent and naive about what you’re doing. You’re not overthinking it, you’re just sort of creating music for yourself, and that’s what I love about my early records. But I think my songwriting has matured, and my understanding of what makes a meaningful song and a meaningful album have matured.

I was also probably less socio-political in this music. I think when Baby Queen first started, I was very observational about society and really cynical about what I was seeing around me, but I feel like this album was a lot more introspective and picking myself apart a lot more. It’s more personal.

It’s weird how when you write songs that you think are so personal that no one else could possibly relate to them, those end up being the songs that everyone relates to. You’re accessing and putting out these really, really intimate thoughts that we actually ultimately all have, but nobody really voices or speaks about them.

I know you’ve been on tour recently. What’s it been like having the fans bring themselves to this really personal work of yours?

It’s been amazing. I’ve historically had a tough time with touring, just because mental health and touring is a very difficult thing to balance, but I actually had the best time. This was the best tour I’ve ever been on, and the show was everything that I dreamed it would be. We started the tour before the album was out, so I was really nervous about people coming out and not knowing the songs, but they were been amazing. They really got onboard and embraced this record. It’s been a really full circle moment and really fulfilling.

I wanted to touch on the lead single of the album. The “Dream Girl” video totally captured me in the pure romance of it. Between something like “Dream Girl” and the Heartstopper of it all, I wonder: do you consider yourself much of a romantic?

I’m a completely hopeless romantic. There’s a part of me that wishes that I could be this kind of f*ckgirl that like f*cks around, but I will focus on one person and obsess over that person. I’ll create this whole narrative in my head around that person. I’m such a romantic that it’s to my detriment. I become a creep, basically. [Laughs]

That feels like the sapphic experience in general.

Oh, yeah. Being obsessed with something from a distance is a very queer experience.

How do you feel like your queerness has come to the art that you make and how you approach it?

I’ve never felt like my sexuality defines who I am or the music that I make, and I’ve never wanted it to. I never wanted it to be a massive part of the conversation because I always find that people then use your sexuality to preface how they explain or describe who you are, like, “the queer musician”. Do you know what I mean? I feel like a love song is a love song, no matter who it’s about.

But the thing is that there is something sexy about the queer experience. When you’re stepping into your sexuality, there’s a taboo to the sexual experience for queer people that I certainly felt and it’s been really fun to play with that. Like on “Dream Girl”, I really played with bisexuality. I played with the narrative of that, and that was really fun.

It’s been a real journey for me. I feel like I’ve only now really accepted myself and been okay with my sexuality. All the experience I’ve had writing about my sexuality up until now has been very, “Do I say this? Do I not say this? How honest can I be here?” And all the songs are sort of cloaked in almost secrecy. The song “23” on the album is very questioning; I guess you can tell that I myself felt like my sexuality is a secret. I think I was working through that for a long time.

It’s gonna be interesting to make an album now that I feel super confident in who I am and how that affects the music. I wonder what will emerge?

What do you see for your music going forward? Do you already have a new concept or feeling?

Oh, yeah. Literally as soon as I finished the last one, I was like, “Right. Compartmentalize that.” [Laughs] You always have to stay inspired. I think I’d be very miserable if I wasn’t thinking about creating. I’m very depressed if I don’t write music, or create something or feel like I’m adding to the world in a way, so I immediately started doing that.

It’s a strange thing, because when I first started making Quarter Life Crisis, I thought it was going to be a completely different album. That’s the journey of making an album; you think it’s one thing and then it changes and evolves and you write one song that then blows the whole f*cking thing open and kicks out other songs and then there’s room for more songs. It’s this whole journey.

It’s very early days, but I feel like I know what I want to do. I want to make music that’s a lot more like word-vomit. I don’t want to think too hard about it. I kind of want it to have more of a flow, to be more spoken word, and to really lean into the lyricism and rhythmic flow of it. Something like rhythm poetry or spoken word or rap music – but I’m not a hip hop artist.

I’m just trying to figure out where that all sits. I want to find a unique sonic palette, and there’s a lot of exploring and testing things out that I think I have to do.

That sounds a good amount like how “23” ended up, with how unique it is rhythmically.

Yes, yeah, that’s, that’s the blueprint for me, you know? Yeah. Totally. That’s totally like, I just really, I really f*ck with that song. And I really f*ck with like, the effortlessness of it and the word vomit. I really just love the almost like, internal monologue, you know? So, yeah, I’m exploring that at the moment.

Especially in this world where the music industry is so oversaturated with people making music, I think that the best thing you can possibly do is lean into what is weird and unique about what you’re doing, you know?

Absolutely. Especially with every TikTok saying “I just made the song of the summer”.

Don’t! The “T” word! Oh, God.

Is it dreaded?

It’s the dreaded “T” word. It consistently depresses me.

Have you gotten pressure to enter that sphere?

So much. When it was first all blowing up, I think that the record labels were sort of running around like headless chickens. No one knew what was going on, it was just like, “Get on TikTok! Get on TikTok!” I definitely felt the pressure then.

You just have to stay resolute in what you believe, and what I genuinely believe is that the music is the most important thing. The songs are everything. You want to show people your personality and connect with people, but like, f*ck no. Like, I’m not going to do trends on TikTok. I’d rather f*cking die. Clearly I have a lot to say on this topic, but I’m fine! Seriously, I’m fine.

I touched on Heartstopper briefly, but now that you’ve gotten to work with the team on season two, could you just tell me a little bit about your connection to the series and especially this newer season?

It’s been such a sort of whirlwind symbiotic relationship that I’ve had with Heartstopper and with Alice [Oseman] and Patrick [Walters] and the cast as well. It’s just been this amazing thing from the very start. They put three songs – “Want Me”, “Dover Beach”, and “Buzzkill” – on the first season. I went down to watch the first three episodes, and unbeknownst to me, my music had been soundtracking a big part of their process. It was just this amazing gift from, you know, the “god” I don’t believe in. [Laughs]

I think immediately I just really connected with it. I really connected with what Heartstopper is and what it means for young people and what I wish that I had had when I was younger. I ended up writing that song for the first season called “Colours Of You”, which was a massive thing for me. The show was a massive thing for my music and really, really, really changed my career immeasurably.

Ever since the first season, I was always like, “Get me a character! Get me a cameo!” And we were always joking about it. I think they were like trying to figure out a way to write me into the show that didn’t feel strange or like it didn’t fit. So when they came up with that idea to be the prom singer, I was like, “Oh my god, of course, that’s amazing.” It was just the most surreal experience. I think we were trying to make me not look like Baby Queen onstage so that I was really part of the vibe. 

It’s been this sort of parallel thing running next to my career that has really changed my life in so many ways. I’m super grateful. The fans and my fans have merged and this really, this really natural, unforced way.

You mentioned “Colours Of You” super quickly, and I feel like the fans would put a sniper out for me if I didn’t bring this up: I know we’re well past it, but will the full-length “Colours Of You” music video with the cast ever see the light of day?

I’m so glad that you asked this, because I can finally clear this up: we never filmed a music video. We never, ever filmed a music video. We filmed four or five different 30-second clips, but that was it. It was specifically to promote the song on social media and we never made a full music video. And we never got the permission from Netflix to make or release a full music video! There isn’t one. And I’ve tried to say that to people, and then every time I post something, someone’s like, “Where’s the ‘Colours Of You’ music video?” There isn’t one! Like, it’s not coming. Print that in all caps. I always feel bad; I wish there was.

Is there anything you want to plug for the road ahead?

Everyone should listen to the album, please! [Laughs] And I’m hopefully going to be coming back this year for a more full tour, which will be awesome.

Quarter Life Crisis: Part Two”?

It never ends. It’s just going to evolve into “Mid Life Crisis”.

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