"You look so nice/ Can I kiss you/ Smell like secret, teen spirit." Listen to just the first few seconds of BAUM's newest song, "Hot Water," and you'll instantly recognize one core thing about her: The girl is b-o-l-d. Her punchy new track, out today, melds a mix of old and new influences, from MUNA to Joni Mitchell, to produce your perfect queer end-of-summer bop.
"Hot Water" expresses the double-edged excitement and awkwardness of beginning to explore your sexuality as an inexperienced queer individual. That electric feeling saturates her music, while the apprehension and anxiety is reflected in her lyrics. "You think of sex when I spin in this dress," she sings, before admitting on the chorus, "I never know much at all. I'm in hot water."
We spoke with the USC Junior-turned-pop star to discuss her emerging career, her queer identity and the importance of cry-dancing.
OUT: Whats one of your earliest music memories?
BAUM: I almost got a second tattoo about this one memory. Do you know the song, "Lay Down Sally," by Eric Clapton? That was one of my dad's favorite songs. He put it on in the car one day, and I truly fell in love with it. Every time we'd get in the car together we'd listen to it. I just have so many memories of the second I got in the car, because we'd go on drives and go to the beach. The second we'd get in the car we'd play "Lay Down Sally" and it was the happiest thing ever.
What was it like growing up in New York City?
I had a lot of independence--too much independence. My parents were very hands-off. I just didn't have a relationship with my mom. So, I had a single dad, pretty much, and he was working. It was a lot of self-soothing, without getting too into it. Music was what I did every day. I have siblings who are also creative, but they have their own thing. My sister is in film, so music was really my thing. It gave me a sense of confidence because that was what I was able to do, and people found it special. It was always just something that made me really happy as a kid. And growing up in New York--I was in Manhattan--you can get around and see shows. Even when you're a kid, I was an under 21 person and going to Terminal 5 and The Bowery. I was around music and art culture a lot. My dad really loves music, so he exposed me to classic rock and all those singer-songwriters that I really love now when I was a kid.
Do you think this independence allowed you to pursue a music career?
Yeah, I think growing up is hard for everybody and everybody has different ways of dealing with it. My way of dealing with it was being like, "I'm a badass, I can do whatever I want. Nobody can tell me I can't do whatever I want." Not that I don't have my own insecurities and issues with that, but just especially career-wise it doesn't matter how old I am. I can go after it. That really did give me permission to go for it.
Does your identity as a queer person influence your songwriting?
It influences a lot of my songs because they're about experiences I've had specifically because I'm a queer person. The influence behind "Hot Water" very much has to do with that. I wasn't really comfortable with my sexuality until 11th-10th grade. I had done that thing where you go to parties and get drunk and hook up with boys and everybody sees you making out. Then I got to a certain point [in] early college where I started flirting with girls and talking to girls. I realized, at some point, "Oh shit, these girls that I'm talking to think that I'm really experienced with women and I'm actually not experienced at all." And I was like, "Oh, I'm in hot water right now." I hadn't been with women. So when I was talking to these girls I felt like I was putting on a front that I couldn't back up. And that's where the inspiration for the song really came out of--the feeling that you're walking around like you're this hot person and everyone thinks you're so experienced, but secretly you feel like a little girl and you don't what to do.
As a woman, it can often feel so hard to reconcile what people perceive you as with how you perceive your own identity.
Totally. That's something I struggled with a lot when I was younger, too--just perceiving myself as more masculine. I talked to my friends about this a lot because I have a very queer friend group. And I perceive myself as someone who's pretty masculine. I've always thought of myself that way, and when I was in high school people saw me that way too or agreed with me if we ever talked about it. But then when I went to college, my friends were more queer [and] they perceived me as super feminine. That was really confusing for me and I think those types of things don't directly make it into my lyrics. They inspire me on a more subconscious level.
Where else do you draw inspiration from?
I do think my writing is influenced by older songwriters I grew up listening to, like Bob Dylan, Neil Young [and] Joni Mitchell--all those writers from the '60s and '70s. I also grew up listening to straight up pop music that was on the radio. My lyrics and what I gravitate towards in terms of chords and instrumentation is rooted in that '60s, '70s songwriter thing, but then I have all those influences from current pop. I wanted to give my music more accessibility to the ears of people today, cause not everybody's listening to that older stuff. Most of my friends are music kids, so they do listen to a lot of older music, but I think not everyone is into that. I wanted to make people want to dance. And I think this blend of genres does that. Dancing music that has heartfelt lyrics is kind of my favorite thing so that's what I try to make.
Cry-dancing is the best music, like Robyn's "Dancing on My Own."
Oh my God, yes. I love that song. The cry-dance is the best. You get to have all those emotions and still feel like your life is in a movie. And everything's okay, even when things are horrible.
What's next for you?
I'm going to be a Junior in college, I go to USC and I'm in the music school there. I've written a full album now, which I've finished in the last few weeks. I have an EP that I'm working on right now. I've been writing, so I can have a full-length album in my repertoire. At some point, I want to start preproduction for an entire album, but I guess that's something down the line. In the near future, it's just playing shows.