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King Princess is queen of queer on powerful pop debut

| Friday, November 8, 2019

Diane Park

Mikaela Straus, also known as King Princess, embraces duality and depth in all aspects of her music and persona. Even her stage name exudes unmistakable cheeky swagger and nonbinary energy. “Cheap Queen,” released Oct. 25, further reveals Straus’ ability to exist beyond one moment or label.  

Straus’ burgeoning status as both a queer and pop icon has been a long time coming. The star knew she was queer from childhood and said she came out around age 13. Likewise, her musical ambitions began early, with record deals coming as soon as age 11. Straus grew up surrounded by music — her father runs Brooklyn’s Mission Sound studio. However, rather than morphing into a mindless industry plant, Straus’ exposure honed her production skills and helped inform her incredible debut. 

“Cheap Queen” had all eyes on it after Straus’ single, “1950,” achieved viral fame through a Harry Styles tweet. Luckily, the album rises to the occasion happily. “1950” references queer literary canon, however “Cheap Queen” takes this a step further by outwardly, loudly and proudly presenting a queer narrative.

The title references drag culture and her songs explicitly, with gendered pronouns, describe her relationships with women. In today’s climate, this may seem like no big deal. However, the norm, especially in pop music, is only just beginning to shift towards a less heteronormative standard. King Princess recognizes this and takes the challenge head-on, crafting a gorgeous pop debut centered around her love and heartbreak with another woman. 

The influences on King Princess’ album are abundant and reflective of a lifetime’s appreciation of good sounds. On the surface, it is easy to categorize the work as stoner pop, perfect for a night in with good friends. Straus even sings in the first track “Cheap Queen,” about “Smoking joints like it’s my job / ’Cause that’s what my dream was.” A second look, however, reveals sounds from many different eras of pop music: classic Gen-Z beats, blues, ’70s rock, Zeppelin and the Beatles. Her eclectic sound manages to stay mindful of pop’s current temperature, while honoring her favorite past tactics. 

The story of heartbreak in “Cheap Queen” affects audiences with its outpouring of emotions and hard-hitting statements. It does all this in short songs, perfect for the modern era of quick listening. The album is over in a mere 38 minutes for 13 tracks. However, within the confines of these short songs, Straus creates a whirlwind of love, vulnerability and cocky jibes. Straus contrasts an honest and critical self-image, crooning “I can’t be the million girls you’re going to meet,” with cockier moments, like telling an ex “You’re probably just a fan now, babe.” She uses her songs to create moments of pain in a queer relationship: in “Homegirl,” the vibraphone waltz underscores a sad reflection: “We’re friends at the party, I’ll give you my body at home”; in “Isabel’s Moment,” an ex is compared to the forgotten clothing still in Straus’ drawer; and in “Watching my Phone,” she creates the unbearable tension of the emptiness on the screen. 

King Princess debut is a powerful intro and enthusiastic triumph for queer women everywhere.  

Artist: King Princess

Album: “Cheap Queen”

Label: Columbia Records, Zelig Records

Favorite Tracks: “Hit the Back,” “Homegirl”

If you like: Lorde, Mark Ronson, Hayley Kiyoko, Clairo

Shamrocks: 3.7 out of 5

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