King Princess: Cheap Queen review – A luscious debut
Zelig - Columbia
The stages of a break up can sometimes be hard to detect but Mikaela Straus – King Princess – checks them off her list. Using retro sounds and confessional lyrics, she dances from self-pitying to vulnerable to cocky and right back to regret in her luscious debut.
Through R&B melodies and sad 70s guitar solos, we are thrown into the deep end with a fresh break up on Tough on Myself. Lingering in limbo, Straus is beating herself up for wanting someone else but as quickly as she pines for company, she knocks down any notions of a reunion on Useless Phrases. “You say you want me back and I don’t usually entertain such useless phrases, baby,” she sings over hazy, vinyl scratchings. Clocking in at one minute and 16 seconds, she knows how to make her point, beautiful and abrupt as it is.
Growing up the New Yorker treated her father’s recording studio, Mission Sound, as a playground and an education. She hung out there so much that she was often called in to provide backing vocals for different artists – the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Cat Power and Animal Collective have recorded there – but when she was offered a record deal at age 11, she turned it down. Instead, she took the time to live a little, explore her queerness, shape her sound, work on her image and sharpen her message. She also spent some time rehearsing Grammy speeches in the bathroom and, now aged 20, a real Grammy acceptance speech shouldn’t be far away. Ain’t Together, a dreamy ode to label-less relationships that features Father John Misty on drums, is one of those career defining songs – and she’s only getting started.
As lead songwriter and producer on the album, she also plays piano, bass, drums and guitar on most tracks. An artist who knows exactly what she wants, her determination is what moved Mark Ronson to sign her to his Zelig Records label in 2017. Praising her songwriting style, he has said that he doesn’t “even know how to classify this genre-wise” but what we do know is that she can permeate heartbreak in one breathy line. Watching My Phone, a dangerous hobby that will certainly blind the lovelorn, unfairly places the blame back on Straus for her failed relationships. “And I know I can’t be the million girls you’re gonna meet but I think that’s alright,” she sings, “I apologise, for holding you so tight you couldn’t breathe and thinking you’d be fine”. However, using bluesy vocals to open Hit the Back, sadness (temporarily) gets the boot and sexiness prevails for one hell of a stonking pop song.
This isn’t your regular break-up album because King Princess isn’t your regular pop act. She’s Lana Del Rey meets St. Vincent by way of Sufjan Stevens. Unafraid to show her worst side, she bares her insecurities, her fantasies and her many shades of paranoia and self-deprecation to create a timeline that’s filled with setbacks and rare moments of clarity. If you’re holding out for a happy ending, you’ll be holding out for quite some time. Instead, Straus serves up cold reality on If You Think It’s Love. Using minimal drum machine beats and spliced vocals, she asks “if this is love I want my money back ‘cause I could use the check to spend it on a better heart”. Cheaping out on love in the final chapter, this Cheap Queen will just have to bounce back on the already anticipated album number two.