King Princess Is No Shy Guy
The Queer Pop Heartthrob Has Been in Love a Couple Hundred Times
- Interview: Erika Houle
- Photography: Jess Farran
I’m on the phone with King Princess, but we haven’t really connected. After a whirlwind of last minute rainchecks and endless email chains, the 20-year-old, Brooklyn-born musician is speaking with me as she runs errands. I’m in Montreal, she’s in Los Angeles. She’s crossing paths with friends in the street, losing service (twice) in a car. I’m reminded by her publicist, who is also lingering on the line, that we have exactly half an hour for our conversation. Then again at 10 minutes remaining. Three more left.
Every second counts when you’re a rising pop icon—touring different cities every night, bouncing between photoshoots and studio sessions with Mark Ronson (she was the first artist signed to his label, Zelig Records)—but King Princess sounds euphonious and blatantly mellow. She’s in a brief moment of “downtime,” on tour between shows, though it’s evidently far from a real break.
King Princess is the stage name of Mikaela Straus, who was introduced to the industry long before taking creative control over her identity. Stemming from a musical background, her father a recording engineer who’s worked with an extensive lineup of artists including Charles Brown and Cat Power, Straus was well-equipped, and then some, to find success in a hypersaturated field. Beyond mastering the logistics of her restless lifestyle, she’s focused her attention on spreading a necessary message about the under-represented talent of queer artists thriving on the scene. Straus is paving the way for a new generation to embrace their most authentic selves.
Bringing to light lyrics summarizing her ability to “make grown men cry,” along with song titles like “Pussy Is God,” King Princess has shaped a dreamlike sound and attitude that resonate with her ever-growing fanbase—landing her on the cover of V Magazine, and into Harry Styles’ DMs (where she graciously declined his invitation to open for his own tour). Her debut EP, Make My Bed, compiled of oozing, emotion-packed love songs was destined to be put on repeat—Pitchfork accurately defined its breakout single “as close to perfect as a pop song can get.” And with her debut album forthcoming this year, I spoke with Straus about fucking around in the studio, finding her space in the fashion sphere, and love stories worthy of sharing.
So, when was the last time you made a grown man cry?
Oh my god. Everyday.
I mean, it’s quite easy.
Any tips for anyone on the receiving end of tears from shitty grown men?
Degrade them. Made them sad.
What was it like being raised in a studio environment?
It was really rowdy and I was exposed to more shit than any child should be, smoking cigarettes, drinking. I was meeting people who were interested in teaching me, or bestowing some sort of knowledge on me as a young kid. Most of my information about music came from the people who came through the studio fucking around. I would just observe it all.
Did you have any mentors, or anyone you were especially intrigued by?
There were people who were staples, definitely. When Matt [Johnson] and Kim [Schifino] would come in, I would be so excited, they were the shit. I have some older guys in my life and, being a gay kid, having that masculine, rockstar energy present, I learned a lot. There’s something so femme about it, men and music, and what it takes to be a male popstar because it’s part of a queer performance act no matter what. To do things outside the norm. As a young gay person who was also conflicted and curious about their gender, that was really helpful for me.
Do you think you entered adulthood earlier than most people?
I think kids from New York grow up faster because they’re interacting with the city in a way, travelling alone on the subway, having interactions separate from parents and friends.
At what moment did you feel like your life was really changing?
Near the end of high school is when everything sort of became reality. I got into school by the skin of my teeth, so I was like, “I have to go,” but then I had this moment where I was like, this is a career. I’ve been treating this like it’s something I’m preparing for for so long, but this is my job.
Your last EP was made up entirely of love songs. Are you precious about using that word, telling people you love them?
I was always taught you should say it if you mean it. As musicians, artists, when you’re making stuff, those moments end up being a part of your narrative. I’ve tried not to shy away from those experiences, although they are scary, it’s a give and take of telling stories about things that happen. It feels kind of amazing. And crazy.
Have you been in love more than once?
Yeah, a couple times. [Laughs] A couple hundred.
Do you consider yourself a hopeless romantic?
I don’t think hopeless. I’m one of the most romantic people that I know.
What are your favorite love stories?
One would be Edie and Thea Spyer, this lesbian couple in the 50s. They were together for like fifty years, then one got diagnosed with a degenerative disease, so they were like, “We have to get married, it’s basically now or never.” They fought for marriage equality, and it’s really beautiful, to have this relationship that stands for decades and decades, and it never wavered, not being able to solidify it. They’re kind of legends because they fought for marriage equality towards the latter half of their lives and became queer icons. There’s a documentary of their time on Fire Island together, it’s so fucking gorgeous, so sad… I think you can find it on YouTube, queer shit is never available to the masses, you have to go and find it. It’s iconic!
Do you believe in soulmates?
I think people have many soulmates in their lives. I think you can find lots of people that fill something up for you.
Do you find that it’s been difficult to keep in touch with friends and loved ones since you’re always in different cities?
It takes a lot of understanding. It’s easy to be like, “This is my fucking job, it’s just the way it is,” but it should be a conversation. I’m very communal, and I when I come home and I’m greeted by my friends, it feels so worth it.
One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is the term “coming-of-age.” I’m wondering what it means to you, and how you define it in your own life?
I’m in this time of adolescence, going through a second wave of like, revisiting this adult position. I think you reflect on your young self and it’s like, “I’m freaking out, my childhood is gone!,” that shit, so a lot of my music is about coming of age. I am growing into this body that I assigned myself to, I wasn’t necessarily meant to be a fully functioning adult at like, 20, but you know, I have support.
People often describe you as a queer pop icon, how would you define your influence on the fashion world within that?
My mom worked in clothing throughout my whole childhood. I’ve always gone to trade shows and I love it because it’s so extra and performative. I cling to that aspect of it, that we’re always playing dress up, and always becoming characters and different versions of ourselves when we go places. To me that makes a lot more sense than, say, “I’m going to make myself fucking pretty.” I’d rather look at the moments of fashion that are really camp, big, over-the-top. I wear whatever the fuck I want but I love to experiment with looks, it’s become something so fun that I look forward to. I use it as an opportunity to have fun and make art.
Are there any characters you gravitate towards?
This whole character of "Cheap Queen" has become such a moment in time for me and my team, like the drag version of myself. Getting dressed as her is really freeing and beautiful, I love that there’s this woman living inside of me.
You’ve said that you’re your truest self when you’re young. Now that you’re entering your twenties and this world of fame, has it been difficult to keep in touch with that sense of authenticity?
Sometimes it’s very challenging to look at how you present yourself and be like, “Is this me?” But I think that the best ideas and concepts that stay true to myself come out of being stoned and fucking around. I hope to never lose that.
Erika Houle is an editor at SSENSE in Montreal.
- Interview: Erika Houle
- Photography: Jess Farran
- Photography Assistant: Jason Renaud
- Styling: Rita Zebdi
- Makeup: Samuel Paul
- Hair: Matthew Collins
- Production: Becky Hearn
- Production Assistant: Gabby Magpantay
- Date: July 15, 2019