Mikaela Straus is a singer, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist from Brooklyn, New York who goes by the stage name; King Princess. She’s only 21 years of age and a hugely successful, authentic musician and gender queer icon. Signed to Mark Ronson’s label; Zelig Records.[getty src=”1165659145″ width=”594″ height=”396″ tld=”nl”]
The artist released her debut album; Cheap Queen in October 2019, an excellent body of work that encapsulates experiences of love and loss through a celebratory, reflective self-examination. It’s gift-wrapped in a beautifully produced indie-pop soundtrack with hints of soul and R&B and funk.
The stage name; King Princess represents the duality of traditionally-understood genders. As Straus is gender queer, this name perfectly encapsulates her non-exclusivity to either male or female identification.
The inclusion of the word ‘cheap’ in the title, to me, reflect a type of organic and basic element which I love. I don’t mean ‘basic’ in the new, insulting way, but in the ‘back to basics’ way.
Straus experiments with unique make-up looks, reminiscent of Drag Queen make-up which is all about D.I.Y using what you have, make do and mend – which is a sentiment I was brought up with and live by.
I love listening to the entirety of the album in one go as it’s works in an incredibly cohesive way. Each song is a segment from the short story that is the album. It’s a catharsis of emotions which begins with the song; Tough on Myself which reveals a personal look at the artists relationship with herself and how she mocks herself and that other people could treat her better.
I love the selection of samples used through the album, it gives it a nostalgic feel but the lyrics and level of production allows it to exists in the millennium realm of the uncertainty of emotional catharsis.
The title track; Cheap Queen includes an sample from the electronic keyboard: Optigan called Bossa Nova Style. The interspersed borrowed dialogue (“Smiling for the audience,” “How did I do it?”) which is evocative of queer arts performance and culture/ It somehow places me in Greenwich Village, Manhattan in the 1970s with Marsha P. Johnson walking past in all her glory.
Tracks like Homegirl and You Destroyed My Heart interestingly use acoustic and electric instruments with a a focused soulful vocal that carries the melody almost like a lullaby but the lyrics add a distortion to the joyful instrumentation.
The track If You Think It’s Love is a classic on first listen – what a beautiful love song.
With its distorted vox effects – your attention is drawn even more to the lyrics.
The deluxe version of the album was released in February of 2020. ‘Back of a Cab’ features the same vintage sample from Cheap Queen – a welcome continuation of this nostalgia.
Another edition to the delixe version I absolutely love and believe is entirely underrated is the song Ohio. It’s by far the most experimental with instrumentation and vocals, exploring a heavier sound with various between soft synth, heavy guitar with a accompaniment of a steel guitar riff ( that metal bar that guitarists wear on their finger to bar across the fret to create the infamous blues sound.
The artist spoke about her friendship with and admiration for Harry Styles who tweeted the lyrics to her early breakout song, 1950 causing lots of attention on the artist, (Paraphrased): ‘He’s an amazing talent and you know…we’re just two kids trying to make people listen to guitar music’.
The structure of the love songs on the album really remind me of 60s Motown and soul love songs. For example; Etta James career defining song ‘At Last’ had a lot of defining structure changes that put the emphasis on the vocals and creates an atmosphere. The delivery of the musical notes is in legato – meaning smooth and connected. I hear this a lot in the Cheap Queen, but it’s definitely juxtaposed with staccato, (sharpened and separated) so this combination really directed the listeners attentions to whatever it chooses at any time.
Straus essentially grew up in the studio – her father being a sound engineer, so she was familiar with the atmosphere and subconsciously picked up certain skills at an early age. After studying a music degree for a year, she dropped out and honed these skills even more pursuing a career in the industry.
What is mind-blowing is that she played all the instruments bar the odd guitar riff, on the album. I love this almost omniscient approach to creating a body of work, which doesn’t mean the Princess is a control freak and assumes her musical skill is efficient across all instruments – she simple had a a vision for her debut album and how special that she is now aware of how all the instrumentation works in practise. Of course, she performs with a full band whilst performing on piano and guitar, so this level of awareness is really admirable and similar to the musical abilities of artists like Gaga and Mark Ronson – infamous multi-instrumentalist and music scholars.
I urge anyone to listen to King Princess’ album and her earlier work, perhaps with some pals and a glass or two of wine on a cosy winter evening. It won’t disappointed – you’ll come out of the experience smiling, with tear stains.