The unapologetic queerness of King Princess
"I think it’s very hard to not become crazy in this career," says the 20-year-old breakout artist behind Cheap Queen. "But I also know that I write the lyrics that I love in the songs that I love."
Going to a King Princess show as a recently out person of an older age is a surreal experience. One that, as a teenager, would likely have been the linchpin for a whole new identity. In less roundabout terms, a King Princess show is like lesbian prom, where queer fans ranging in the mid-teens to early 30s belt the single “1950” at the top of their lungs while their prom queen (or king) vapes and bops around on stage.
“My shows are [filled with] very queer females, which is interesting because I cannot tell you a community that I have been less apart of in my life than that,” King Princess, born Mikaela Straus, tells EW. “It makes me interested in what’s happening with them.”
Straus’s music is an obvious draw, as is her image as an out, goofy stoner babe who loves choreography, Nikki Blonsky, and Cher. That personality arrives fully formed on her debut album Cheap Queen, out October 25th. The handful of singles that have been released so far are in line with Straus’s signature style of lesbian sad bops, ones that mask a well of sadness but are impossible not to dance to. Take the title track “Cheap Queen” or her most recent release “Hit the Back,” which she recently called an “anthem for bottoms everywhere.”
Heading into her first full-length project, Straus says she wanted to work with “good homies,” including Tobias Jesso Jr., who lends his voice “of a f—king million angels” on “Isabel’s Moment.” She also sought guidance from her mentor, mega-producer Mark Ronson, who signed her to his Zelig Records imprint in 2017. Ronson didn’t produce the record, but Straus notes that he’s become her “sounding board” — someone she can go to about anything while also giving her the space and freedom to allow her to do what she wants as an artist. “It makes me feel like my production,” she says. “For me this [album] is like my child.”
That same level of care and thoughtfulness have also gone into Queen’s aesthetics, including the music videos for “Prophet” — where Straus struts out of the locker room as a football quarterback while wearing a No. 69 jersey — and the title track, which features oversized sandwiches and blunts. She also fully committed to some fabulously over-the-top drag-inspired portraiture for the album’s cover. “I did a shoot with with my friends Michael Bailey Gates and Kali Kennedy,” she says. “My cover art was taken by Mike that day and I was like ‘Please put this aside for me, there is something really special about this one.’ We had created a character, and the album to me is the essence of that — it’s about queerness and the queer community but it’s also about seeing yourself in different forms.”
If you follow Straus on Instagram, you’ll know that drag is a huge influence on her life and art. It’s also something that has helped her own sense of self evolve. “Drag for me is just such an extension of my queerness because it was how I learned to become comfortable with myself,” she says. “I feel so grateful to drag because…RuPaul and everything that has made drag mainstreamed it in a way where a girl from Brooklyn, who didn’t feel like a girl, saw drag, and learned how to become a woman.”
Straus consistently shows appreciation for those who’ve paved the way before her, but she also sees queer culture changing and shifting thanks to the eradication of labels and the ever-expanding expanse of the internet. That’s why she finds humor to be an important part in talking about being gay and sharing her experience. “I found myself always finding the most comfort [in] humor and laughter because it gives you the gak — it’s just pizzaz and flamboyance. That makes more sense to me than having a women’s studies circle. I wouldn’t know what to say!” But don’t read her as flippant. Straus is someone who is, whether she entirely knows it or not, queering queer culture — making it a place that’s more inclusive for whomever wants to be in those spaces. “No honey, there are absolutely no rules,” she says. “Like, I tend to be at my shows. There are no restrictions, everyone is f—ing allowed to be who they want to be there.”
Talking to Straus is a consistent breath of fresh air, from her thoughts on MTV’s Are You the One? (“Gay people get the opportunity to get drunk and fight each other!”) to The L Word reboot (she wants to record a new version of the music that whispers the lead characters names in the background). And while she is by no means on the fringes of the music industry, Straus can’t help but be a little nervous about what the response to Cheap Queen will do to her. “I think it’s very hard to not become crazy in this career. But I also know that I write the lyrics that I love in the songs that I love. That I dropped my whole heart into [this album]. At the end of the day, it’s what you puke out when you’re really f—ing sad or really f—ing happy and nothing in between. I find myself losing it sometimes and I remind myself, ‘Bitch you did that in 20 minutes. It’s going to be fine.’”