FeaturesWritten by Sally McMullen on October 19, 2018
King Princess is hardly undiscovered, but her ascent has occurred at such lightning speed that we wouldn’t blame you if you’re yet to jump on the bandwagon.
In a few sentences: King Princess is a 19-year-old indie pop wunderkind. She’s a vocalist, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer. In the last 12 months alone, her debut EP Make My Bed has received widespread critical acclaim, her breakout single ‘1950’ has reached certified gold in Australia, and angel among mere mortals Harry Styles shared some of her lyrics on Twitter in March. She’s been dubbed an essential new voice in music, and applauded for bringing a young queer perspective to pop.
So, before you catch her in the flesh, let’s give you the 411 on the King Princess herself.
Born Mikaela Straus, the Brooklyn-raised now LA-local is a by-product of her creative upbringing. Her mum is an avid human rights activist who worked in fashion, and her dad is a recording engineer and owner of Brooklyn’s Mission Sound. As a fly on the wall while musicians waltzed in and out the studio, it’s no surprise that King Princess’ fascination with music started early. She developed a knack for singing and songwriting at a young age, rejecting her first record deal to focus on school when she was 11 years old.
But that didn’t put a stop to her musical pursuits. She eventually attended college at USC’s Thornton School of Music, where she studied with legendary pianist and singer Patrice Rushen, before leaving to tackle music full-time. She began producing her own music and working on what would become Make My Bed when she was 17.
Now two years later, she released her EP in June 2018 under Zelig Records, whose founder Mark Ronson has described Straus as a “prodigy in the making”. A raw reflection of her experiences, the five-song sonic gem is laced with themes of empowerment, queerness, sexuality and life as a young woman.
The title track and opener is one-and-a-half minutes of hauntingly effected lone vocals, which slowly crawl over the powerful timbre of a piano. It then moves into ‘Talia’, which is an intoxicated lament of lost love. “Broke my heart, now I’m wasting my time on you,” she croons. Apparently it was quick to churn out, but King Princess has admitted that it’s cathartic to perform.
“It’s very deep pain and I sat down at the piano and I wrote it in 10 minutes,” King Princess told Harpers Bazaar. Meanwhile, in the lyrics and video for ‘Holy’, she explores sexuality with juxtaposing religious imagery.
While all of the tracks have legs, ‘1950’ is the undeniable standout on the EP. It’s a powerful pop ballad and a metaphor for unrequited love as a tribute to times in history when queer people were forced to hide their relationships. It’s also inspired by one of King Princess’ favourite books ‘The Price of Salt’, which was written by Patricia Highsmith in 1952 and later adapted in the 2016 film Carol.
“I wrote this song as a story of unrequited love in my own life, doing my best to acknowledge and pay homage to that part of history,” she told VICE’s i-D earlier this year.
King Princess has been praised not only for her unique vocal stylings, but also her visual and unapologetic songwriting. The positive response to her EP gives her hope that there are powerful platforms for queer people to share their stories in 2018, but she also recognises that there is still work to do.
“I want to get to a place where the story is less about me and my face and more about what the fuck’s going on this world,” she told Rolling Stone. “How I can be an active voice for gay people but also the music industry?”
This is something we’re sure King Princess will endeavour to master while she’s hard at work on her full-length album. Until then, you can catch her at a string of headline gigs at The Forum in Melbourne, The Triffid in Brisbane and Sydney’s Metro Theatre in November.
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