In this article Emmie Cosgrove discusses how King Princess gives queer people a voice in pop music and reviews her latest London gig.
Mikaela Strauss, better known by her stage name King Princess, has performed in London just once before, and it is no surprise that her second gig sold out in only a few hours. Outside the O2 Kentish Town Forum, groups of people sporting glittery makeup and pride flags wait in line. Some fans have been queuing for hours and once the rainbow-coloured crowd are finally let into the venue, the level of excitement grows even stronger.
Before King Princess’s set starts, the Australian musician Mallrat hypes up the crowd with her electronic beats and zany lyrics. The crowd jump and clap along to Mallrat’s set, before she announces that she has come to her last song and King Princess will be on shortly.
After Mallrat leave the stage the audience wait in anticipation. The lights begin to go down and cheers and screams ring throughout the venue. The crowd go wild as King Princess’s band walk onto stage. The noise and applause grow even louder as King Princess herself struts out, microphone i hand, ready to give the audience a show. She opens the gig with her latest single ‘Cheap Queen’, the audience singing every line along with her.
For her second number, King Princess walks over to the side of the stage and grabs her guitar off its stand. She starts to play one of her earlier songs, ‘Upper West Side’. Her smoky vocals and the guitar’s mellow riffs flood the room.
Announcing that she is currently working on a new album, King Princess performs a few unreleased songs for the audience. Her set list features a good mixture of new, old and upcoming songs and the audience are in constant awe. It is impossible not to be fixated on King Princess and the way she owns every inch of the stage.
For the eighth song she jokes with the audience, asking them if they want “that big pussy song” and one of her most well-known and notably queer songs, ‘Pussy is God’, starts playing. As the gig comes to an end, King Princess rounds up the show with two of her biggest songs: ‘1950’ and ‘Talia’. The energy in the room escalates. The crowd are jumping; people are climbing onto each other’s shoulders and bras are being flung everywhere.
As well as sharing the stage with some newly acquired lingerie, King Princess makes sure that her band members share the limelight alongside her. The guitarist and bassist run to the front of the stage whilst King Princess dances next to her drummer and then the keyboardist/backing vocalist.
Her last song comes to an end. King Princess and her band walk off the stage, waving at the audience. However, the crowd start chanting. They demand one more song. The band, followed by King Princess, skip back onto stage ready to give the audience what they want. For her encore King Princess performs one of her unreleased songs called ‘Ohio’. She and her band the walk off stage for the last time, thanking the audience for being there, and the venue lights turn back on.
Many of her songs are queer anthems with lyrics discussing queer heartbreak and LGBGT+ issues. You can tell from the atmosphere in the room that the emotions of her songs and music have hit everyone.
King Princess’ career took off in February 2018 with her debut single ‘1950’, which she wrote as a tribute to the LGBT author Patricia Highsmith’s book, The Price of Salt. In her video with Verified for their Official Lyrics and Meaning Series, King Princess breaks down the meaning of every single line.
The opening line is a hint towards her own sexuality and how she ‘hates it when dudes try to chase’ her. As the song goes on she explains that the lyrics are about having an unrequited love for someone who appears cold because being openly queer, especially in the past, meant that queer people had to hide their love from one another. The themes of unrequited love and having to hide that love are prominent in ‘1950’’s lyrics. The pre-chorus has a focus on loving someone so much that you idolise them, and questioning whether it is wrong to view someone of the same sex as a God.
She then, in the chorus, says that she will wait for this person and their love. This may mean waiting for this person to embrace their sexuality so they don’t feel the need to hide their love. It may also mean waiting for the time queer people are fully accepted so they don’t feel the need to hide their love, because it is safe for them to express their love towards one another.
Having such strong meaning in her first debut single, King Princess quickly became one of pop music’s queer icons. Despite the ‘1950’ video already having many views on YouTube, Harry Styles (another queer icon) tweeted some of the lyrics, which made the video gain even more popularity.
Shortly after it took off, King Princess released her second single ‘Talia’, which talks about heartbreak from a queer perspective. The video shows King Princess holding a mannequin in a bedroom, trying to get over someone she once loved but still pining for that person and feeling as if this person was still there next to her. Through her music and videos that give listeners and viewers an insight into the mind of a young queer artist, King Princess has helped give today’s pop music a fresh queer voice.
Growing up, King Princess was exposed to the world of music from a very young age. Her dad worked as a sound engineer for a record label and King Princess would spend a lot of time at his studio, where she taught herself how to play a variety of instruments. Musically, during her younger years she was greatly influenced by Led Zeppelin, T.Rex and Jack White.
At the age of only 11 she was offered a record deal but turned it down as she wanted to have a clearer mindset about her own sound before signing to a label. She moved from New York to Los Angeles to study music and attended the UCS Thornton School of Music, but following the success of her debut single she dropped out in order to pursue a full-time career in music.
With her distinctive sound King Princess has taken the world by storm. She won the Break Out Artist of the Year Honors from Vivid Seats and performed at some of the largest festivals such as Coachella and Glastonbury. King Princess, still only 20 years old, and with six song releases in 2018, is one of the youngest musicians to have a career take off this fast.
After her Glastonbury performance, and having recently collaborated with well-known pop musician Mark Ronson on his song ‘Pieces of Us’, King Princess’s music career looks like it will continue to thrive. As she announced in her gig, we can expect a lot more music from King Princess, including occasionally a new song or two on Spotify before her official album release.
Despite her increasing fame, King Princess has always remained true to herself and uses her fame to give queer people a voice. She has done so by talking about queer issues and the problems people in the LGBT+ community face in today’s political climate. Though being open about her sexuality could have caused career backlash, King Princess has always been unapologetic about her queerness. Many interviewers who talk to her ask her to talk about her sexuality and what being queer means to her and every time she is open, honest and unafraid to discuss her queerness and how she knew she was gay from a very young age. She was even featured in British Vogue alongside other queer artists such as Years and Years and Olly Alexandra, discussing their views on gender identity and politics.
It is highly important and inspiring for many young queer people to have musicians that they can identify with. Older members of the LGBT+ community didn’t always have queer celebrities or artists they could look up to and relate to, and by having people like King Princess, who is popular for both her talents and refusal to be silent about being queer, the new queer generation have the sort of role models that previous generations of LGBT+ people never had before. As her fame continues to grow more people can hear her message, which is important in the current political climate we live in.
Having a warm and soulful voice that is usually accompanied by atmospheric synth beats and a heavy bass sound, King Princess is one to watch. Her latest song ‘Prophet’ is out now along with the music video that accompanies it.
You can read more of Emmie’s work over at twitter.com/StylesEmmie