I Think About It All The Time: Are We Entering the Golden Age of Baby Fever Anthems?

What the music young female songwriters are making about their aspirations (and reservations) regarding motherhood tells us about feminism, artistic identity, and “having it all.”

Music Features Scene Report
I Think About It All The Time: Are We Entering the Golden Age of Baby Fever Anthems?

“I think about it all the time / That I might run out of time / But I’ve finally met my baby / And a baby might be mine / ‘Cause maybe one day I might / If I don’t run out of time / Would it give my life a new purpose?”

Charli XCX has described her most recent album, BRAT, as a “club record,” so it might seem odd for its penultimate track to be a sobering, minimalistic and at times atonal meditation on motherhood. “I think about it all the time” is a sharp departure from what’s otherwise a characteristically rowdy, explosive, uptempo pop project. Its place on the tracklist feels like an overhead light flipped on at a party. Or, for an even more on-the-nose metaphor, it feels like she’s brought a baby to the club.

In their review of BRAT, Eric Bennett likened this particular song to Farrah Abraham’s initially maligned but later reappraised 2011 record My Teenage Dream Ended. The stream-of-consciousness monologuing over a sparse but glitchy beat (to the point that the song almost becomes a skit), and the relative overlap in subject material make for an apt comparison. While Abraham wrote from the other side of motherhood—specifically unplanned, teenage, widowed motherhood—Charli approaches the idea of becoming a parent as just that—an idea—and as a 31-year-old with a thriving career and a long-term partner with whom she discusses potentially making this major life change (“We had a conversation on the way home / Should I stop my birth control? / ‘Cause my career feels so small / in the existential scheme of it all”).

I have the impulse to say that the Charli we hear on “I think about it all the time” isn’t the Charli we’ve come to know, but that feels unfair. It’s not like she hasn’t gotten vulnerable before: Charli closing 2017’s Pop 2 with the lovesick, apologetic “Track 10” and sneaking Gatsbyesque heartbreak into How I’m Feeling Now’s sleeper hit “party 4 u” immediately come to mind; as do recent cuts like “So I,” BRAT’s eulogy for Charli’s close friend and frequent collaborator SOPHIE, as well as “Sympathy is a knife,” “I might say something stupid,” and “Girl, so confusing” which see the pop star contending with her insecurities surrounding her career and relationships. But all of these tracks still carry the less-heavy hallmarks of Charli’s songwriting (namely, the overt sensuality and danceability) and seem to fit in with her brash, boisterous, “party girl” persona.

Just like it would be reductive to force Charli into some Madonna-Whore binary or claim that she’s being contradictory for singing about possibly wanting a baby in the midst of songs about how much she loves to party, it would also be reductive to only examine the word she’s chosen to represent this chapter of her career from just one angle. The meanings of Charli’s album title manifest differently at various points in the tracklist. “Brat” carries sexual connotations, used in BDSM communities to refer to a submissive participant who puts up a fight or eggs their dominant partner on as part of kink play, with shades of this interpretation arising on the record’s more teasing and libidinous moments. On tracks like “360,” “Von dutch,” and “Mean girls,” she embodies the most common and perhaps obvious interpretation of the word: spoiled, badly behaved, maybe a little immature, and not afraid to cause a scene (as she puts it, “666 with a princess streak”). But “brat” also works as a neutral-to-negative word for “kid”; “I think about it all the time” is the track where the titular brat starts thinking about what it’d be like to have a little brat of her own.

This is uncharted territory for Charli, something she herself even admits ( “I was walking around in Stockholm / Seriously thinking ‘bout my future for the first time”). Her epiphany is brought on by the experience of meeting her friends’ new baby. For Charli, seeing her friends become a “radiant mother” and “beautiful father” unlocks a whole host of questions and concerns about how her career, her art and her potential future as a mother would all fit into the life she currently leads. What might she miss out on if she chose to have a child? What might she miss out on if she chose not to?

A year ago, Pitchfork published a feature titled “The Invisible Work of Mothers in Music,” highlighting the institutional and cultural barriers that make it harder for musician moms to do both of their jobs. Writer Allison Hussey spoke to various artists about the surprising ways motherhood can influence their creative work, whether that’s Margo Price and Sharon Van Etten writing songs about childbearing (fictional or autobiographical), Charlotte Adigery posing visibly pregnant on her album cover, or Meg Remy of U.S. Girls sampling the sound of a breast pump. These artists already know firsthand the joys and the hardships of being working musicians and mothers, but what about the musicians who are approaching the topic of motherhood as a hypothetical?

Earlier this year, Danish-Portuguese singer Erika de Casier wrestled with a whole crowd of desires and aspirations—motherhood included—on “The Princess,” an intimate R&B track from her album Still. In de Casier’s careful hands, the age-old (and often eyeroll-inducing) question about whether or not women can “have it all” is handled with curiosity and thoughtfulness. She longs for the multidimensionality and agency—as an artist, as a businesswoman, as a romantic partner, as a sexual being, as a caretaker—that, to this day, women still aren’t guaranteed: “I wanna do it hard and I wanna make love / Make my own money and still feel you love me down to my core / I wanna be a mom and still do my job / Why can’t I have it all?” de Casier doesn’t come to any concrete conclusions. She lays out her list of desires, having convinced herself that she’s deserving of all the multitudes she contains, but still unsure that her circumstances will allow for all of them to coexist.

On another 2024 record, Weird Faith, Nashville singer-songwriter Madi Diaz asks “Is this me being painfully eternally hopeful?” on her song “Everything Almost.” On this track, Diaz expresses her fears regarding the future of a relationship that seems to be going pretty well so far, wondering whether their love has an expiration date. This leads to Diaz spiraling about the struggles she and her partner might encounter should they choose to start a family, lamenting these worries with levity as well as genuine concern: “I had a dream there was a baby inside me / One hand on my belly and the other one pointing / Ordering you around the house like a bitch / And you just laughing and taking it.” Though she sings about this possible future in the context of a relationship more than as it relates to her career, Diaz brings up the same concerns about “having it all” that de Casier did: “Is it really gonna be okay if we do this? / Build a family, build a life? / Dad always used to say / You can have everything, but not all at the same time.” Diaz’s tone throughout is, fitting with her album title, cautiously optimistic with a current of doubt running throughout her concerted attempts to stay positive.

In Diaz’s realm of indie folk, this budding trend of the speculative-motherhood song seems to have been brewing underneath the surface for a few years, though lyrically its purveyors have tended to explore it in dreamspaces or fantasies. Last year, Samia opened her sophomore record Honey with “Kill Her Freak Out,” a streamlined, confessional ballad that details the experience of her waking up from a dream about being pregnant to the news that her ex’s new partner actually is. This vignette acts as an entry point into Samia’s own insecurities and resentments. Back in 2020, Adrianne Lenker discussed her own childlessness and occasional fantasies of motherhood on her solo record songs: on “indygar,” reflecting on her marriage to her ex-husband and Big Thief bandmate Buck Meek, which resulted in a divorce and no children, and later on “anything” and “not a lot, just forever,” both of which delve into the idea of becoming family with another person, whether that’s through marriage, childbearing or simply making a commitment and sticking with it (“And your dearest fantasy / Is to grow a baby in me / I could be a good mother / And I wanna be your wife,” Lenker sings on “not a lot, just forever”).

When it comes to making music about wanting children, most of these artists aren’t singing about their personal and professional anxieties as though they’re separate entities—these are songs about the interaction between pre-existing creative identity and hypothetical maternal identity. They recognize both artistry and parenting as acts of creative labor—both of which are often devalued, especially when it’s women doing the work. There’s still systemic resistance to accommodate the child-rearing work that musician moms have to do, in addition to their already-demanding full-time jobs, which, unless you have the wealth and resources only afforded to top-earning artists like Beyoncé, can make for a precarious life-work balance in an already cutthroat industry.

There’s also the pressure to stay marketable (read: sexy, and more often than not, youthful). This is not to discount the many women musicians who’ve refused to tone down their more raunchy artistic impulses just because they’ve become moms—look no further than Sexyy Red in the “Rich Baby Daddy” music video, throwing ass in a hospital gown immediately post-labor, newborn daughter nestled in her arms. But in a culture that insists that women are only sexually viable for a short window of time and incentivizes clinging onto youth for as long as possible, there’s still the looming threat of being forced into obsolescence, and the pervasive notion that motherhood would speed up that process.

Beyond just public perception, these musicians are grappling with how they see themselves. Lana Del Rey’s 2023 album Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd revolves largely around themes of family, lineage and legacy. On “A&W” (whose title stands for “American Whore”), Lana wonders about the continued feasibility of her glamorous bad-girl image as she gets older (“Did you know a singer could still be looking like a side-piece at 33?”) immediately after “Sweet,” a track that entertains Lana’s barefoot-and-pregnant fantasies (“Do you want children? Do you wanna marry me?”). On “Fingertips,” she directly addresses her conflicted feelings regarding motherhood and generational cycles of dysfunction: “Caroline, will the baby be alright? / Will I have one of mine? / Can I handle it even if I do? / It’s said that my mind / Is not fit, or so they say / To carry a child.” Much like the other artists singing about hypothetical motherhood, Lana doesn’t come to any conclusions and is instead left with questions hanging in the air.

It’s an interesting mini-phenomenon to observe—these female artists well into their careers, grappling with their mixed feelings about the prospect of bringing children into their lives, and the ways in which this doing so would alter their self-perception, public image and artistry. On one hand, motherhood is still something of an assumed aspiration of women, even as the choice to remain childfree becomes increasingly socially accepted. There’s a sort of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” mentality, where women who choose to have children are expected to de-prioritize their careers and interests and accept fewer opportunities, and women who choose not to are chastised for being selfish or failing to meet societal expectations. In both cases, the messaging remains that, as a woman, you’re given a choice and you can never truly, as the saying goes, “have it all.”

With women’s reproductive rights under attack, with right-wing “tradwife” propaganda intent on luring women away from the public sphere and into “traditional” gender roles, with whatever wave of feminism we’re currently in floating in this stagnant, amorphous state—these songs in which women weigh the pros and cons of possible motherhood feel, in some ways, like a testament to how little progress we’ve made. This might sound like a pessimistic way of looking at it, but it’s hard to be optimistic when women still have to ask whether or not they can “have it all,” a question that feels both outdated and frustratingly relevant.

The consolation though, is that we’re fortunate enough to have artists who possess the creative freedom and sharp songwriting talent to tackle these cosmically big questions, in a way that feels both intimately personal to each of them and widely resonant. It’s honest, speculative songwriting that not only raises evergreen existential questions, but reminds us why we still have to ask them in the first place. The “baby fever” song is by no means new, but it also isn’t archetypal lyrical territory in the way that a love song or a breakup song is. When a songwriter becomes a mother, there’s often an expectation that the content of her songwriting will change, which, while motherhood can be a well of inspiration for one’s art, feels more along the lines of the sexist tendency to assume that women’s art is autobiographical or confessional by default, or that her entire identity is so tied to motherhood now that it can’t help but encroach on her work—whether she wants it to or not.

This is perhaps because of the persistent idea that a woman’s familial and artistic pursuits are antithetical realms and that a woman who chooses both will always have one foot in each, constantly cutting corners in one or the other, that it feels so novel to see female musicians—particularly ones who are still thinking about motherhood as a fraught aspiration rather than an already-lived reality—singing about the two realities in tandem. In these songs, the desire to have a child is treated as any other desire: every bit as profound, passionate and complex. It’s inextricable from the desire to love or the desire to create—because, really, it’s both.

Grace Robins-Somerville is a writer from Brooklyn, New York, currently based in Wilmington, North Carolina. She is pursuing an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Her work has appeared in The Alternative, Merry-Go-Round Magazine, Post-Trash, Swim Into The Sound and her “mostly about music” newsletter, Our Band Could Be Your Wife.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin