“I was out the other night, and someone said to me: ‘You’re wearing such a revealing top’ and I was like, ‘Am I? Or do I just have boobs?’” It’s clear that Caity Baser doesn’t mince her words. Not on cheeky pop anthems like ‘Pretty Boys’ (“What you so boring for / It’s like talking to a door”), nor on TikTok, where she regularly dishes details of disappointing dates to her half a million followers. And certainly not in person, babbling at lightning speed to Rolling Stone UK about the road to becoming Gen Z’s new favourite pop star.
“I don’t dress things up, it annoys me!” Baser states in between chewing on a chicken wing in a swanky London hotel. “Say it straight to my face. And what!” The Southampton-born star’s plain-speaking, no-fucks-given attitude certainly seems to be her secret sauce. Like Kate Nash or Lily Allen before her, Baser’s songs are blow-by-blow accounts of her daily life: of friends with benefits, of boys with rubbish chat and exes who must be regretting doing the dirty on her. “My whole life people have been sugarcoating shit. I’m just like: ‘Be honest!’ even if it hurts my feelings.”
You get the impression that Baser’s made of pretty tough stuff. Sat in front of me in a pink Paul Frank T-shirt and long green acrylics (“My nails exactly match the edamame! That’s mad!”), she looks like your average 20-year-old. But catch her in the wild and you’re likely to see her shouting about a new song to a Tube full of po-faced commuters or stopping strangers on the street to ask about their worst dates.
It’s these sorts of antics — naturally, all recorded for her TikTok — that have helped to steadily build her fanbase. After uploading a song to the platform during the September 2020 lockdown — (“I’d been doing nothing except tie-dyeing everything since March and just thought ‘Fuck it!’”) — the track exploded overnight.
“I had this moment of thinking, ‘Nothing is actually real, we’re all in the same situation right now and nobody cares,’” Baser says of that now life-changing decision which led to an EMI record deal. “In college, all that matters is what people think of you. If someone is rude to you, it can ruin your whole week, but then in lockdown I just thought, ‘I’ve not seen these people for ages, I hate them all anyway, I’m just gonna do it.’” The song in question was ‘Average Student’, a track about “having no money and not knowing who you are”. Baser was so tempted to immediately delete it that she turned her phone off. When she next checked, it had close to a million views. She was 18.
By now, you will have heard similar stories: social-media-savvy kids using TikTok to launch a music career, but Baser was truly one of the first. “Back then it just wasn’t a thing,” she says. “People were just posting funny videos on TikTok. Nobody thought that’s what the platform was for.” Far from a one-time fluke of the algorithm though, her incredibly boppable pop continues to earn her new fans with every release, her straight-up lyricism providing fodder for Instagram captions across the country.
Though perhaps in another life she’d have been an excellent viral marketeer, music has “forever and ever” been the singular goal for Baser. At age seven, while dressed in a purple wig and obligatory Daisy Dukes, she had a formative experience at a Katy Perry concert. “I was blown away. We were right at the top — she was tiny — but I still felt like I was her best mate,” she recalls. “I left and I knew: I want to be her.”
Building a deep connection with her fans is vital to Baser. “I felt lonely a lot of the time,” she admits of her school years, when friends would say her pop ambitions were “cringe”. “I’ve always had my family supporting me, but to have random people come up to me now and say, ‘You’re so loved. Thank you so much. You helped me through my break-up. You helped me through depression.’ It’s like, what? How did I do that? When people come to my shows, I want them to feel like I’m their best mate. When I’m chatting shit on TikTok, people always say it’s like we’re on FaceTime. That’s what I want.”
Looking out for her army of new pals has prompted Baser to cap ticket prices for her upcoming tour at £15. “I didn’t want to make a gig something people couldn’t afford to go to,” she says. “Particularly as they’re the people that got me there in the first place. I want everyone to come with their mates, and escape reality for a bit.”
As a young woman navigating the music industry, Baser has been lucky so far in the team around her. Her manager is her best friend — they’re heading back to the hotel to do face packs and eat noodles after we meet — and she’s also part of a secret Whatsapp group called Loud London: a community of young female and non-binary artists “who all gas each other up”, sharing advice about “boys, making music, labels — everything really.”
To date, there’s only been one of those music industry stories where she didn’t feel heard. “It was my first and only Zoom writing session,” she recalls. “There was this guy on there — the way he was treating me, talking to the producer and not me, telling me what to write, saying my lyrics wouldn’t resonate with people. I was like, ‘Your lyrics are shit! You’re a 40-year-old man and I’m an 18-year-old girl. I think I know my demographic!’”
With a fearless determination that means pop superstardom is the only plausible destination, it’s clear that nobody — and certainly not a middle-aged man — is going to get in Baser’s way. “I want to become the most successful, famous singer in the world.” she says excitedly of her ambitions. “I’ll still be everyone’s best mate, but I won’t be able to go into Asda without people going: ‘That’s Caity Baser’ and I’ll be like, ‘Heeey, just getting a Meal Deal, what are you doing?’ I want to make people happy. I want to empower women and I want to keep making music forever. Now I’ve started I don’t think I’d ever be able to do anything else.”
Taken from the March /April issue of Rolling Stone UK. Buy it online here.