Interview: All hail King Princess.
“Let’s glitter these titties,” I hear King Princess (real name Mikaela Straus) excitedly exclaim from across the room. We’re midway through a cover photoshoot that includes a tortoiseshell cat named Indi, a bright red two-piece space suit, and a whole lot of titty glitter.
You’d expect nothing less from the genderqueer musician whose latest single, ‘Pussy Is God’, sees her throw all metaphors out the window and unabashedly proclaim, “Your pussy is God and I love it.” An offering from her upcoming debut album, expected to be released sometime next year (or as she mockingly tells me with a chuckle, “When it’s done, baby girl”), it sees Straus at her most deadpan as she comments on the meaninglessness of astrology (“I think star signs mean nothing”) and acknowledges her drug-enhanced infatuation (“I think you’re so cute when you get high”).
Click here to order a CDM x King Princess zine (i.e. a mini-magazine featuring photos + quotes from this cover-story).
A little over ten months ago, a song appeared almost out of nowhere which sent music blogs and queer kids of the internet alike into a frenzy. This was ‘1950’, King Princess’ official debut single (though previous songs such as ‘Sunburn’ and ‘Send Pix’ had been floating around online), an ode to love in the queer community, with the key lyric “I love it when we play 1950” signifying the way queer people have had to hide their love in the past. The track pays homage to Patricia Highsmith’s 50s-set lesbian love story ‘The Price Of Salt’, which was adapted into the iconic 2015 film ‘Carol’. Straus is such a huge fan that she lists a framed photo of the film’s star, Cate Blanchett, on her rider for each show.
Growing up in Brooklyn, Straus was exposed to music from a young age via her father Oliver Straus, a recording engineer and owner of Mission Sound, a Williamsburg studio which has welcomed the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Sia and Mumford & Sons through its doors. Her musical education consisted of The Beatles, Zeppelin, T. Rex and Jack White alongside the likes of Missy Elliott and Nicki Minaj, and it was during this time that she learned to play bass, guitar, piano, and drums, lending backing vocals to projects that her father was working on.
Aside from her learning about music, Straus was also learning early in life about who she was. She realised she identified as queer around the age of six and even attempted to come out. Her coming out 2.0, at the age of 13, was taken more seriously. At that age, she had already proven herself to be headstrong and mature, having turned down her first record deal offer, with Virgin Records, aged 11.
Making the move from New York to Los Angeles, Straus committed a year to the pop program at the University of Southern California, while concurrently working on her own music (‘1950’ was composed after getting out of the shower of her dorm room, and ‘Talia’ was written in a twenty-minute stint before class), before quitting to focus full time on these co-curricular efforts. It wasn’t until a meeting with Mark Ronson in February 2017 that she eventually signed on the dotted line, as the very first signing to his imprint, Zelig Records.
Now, at 19, Straus is not only entering into the pop music realm properly, but actively changing it simply by being herself. Having been comfortable in her own skin as a young queer person for some years, Straus’ openness and outspokenness is an inspiration for a whole new generation of LGBTQ+ kids who can truly relate to an artist unafraid to embrace her queer identity.
It’s recognised not only by her devoted and growing fanbase, but by her musical peers. Pale Waves frontwoman Heather Baron-Gracie told us, “It's so good that there's artists out there [like King Princess] who are being so open with sexuality, because in this day and age it's been such a subject of, 'Oh, don't talk about that.' Or it's quite taboo. But now it's becoming more normal to talk about sex and basically everything that they tried to shut down for years.”
The sentiment is echoed by #1 Angel and ally Charli XCX, who recognises the importance of a live King Princess show: “It was really nice to see a lot of lesbian couples out in force and being so open with their love. Because I have lesbian friends, but I’ve never really seen so many lesbian couples in one space, being really coupley.”
Back on set, the titty-glittering is complete and Straus is ready to meet her shoot companion: a cat named Indi, who has not taken kindly to being uprooted from her house and placed into a photo studio surrounded by lights, record label publicists and general noise. Nevertheless, Straus charms her just as she charms everyone she meets, and the pair get ready for their close-ups (which she declares are “pure fire!”).
While in New Zealand to play her first ever show on our shores, we spoke with King Princess about her upcoming debut album, writing about friendship heartbreak, taking her show to queer communities around the world, and more…
COUP DE MAIN: Did you enjoy your first ever New Zealand show?
KING PRINCESS: I did. It was an amazing crowd, it was so energetic and gay.
CDM: There was also a very loud ‘Pussy Is God’ chant last night. I think you’re gonna have to come back so you can play it for New Zealand live.
KING PRINCESS: I probably will. <laughs>
CDM: You introduced ‘Best Friend’ by saying, “This one’s sad,” and it really is. When did you write that song?
KING PRINCESS: I wrote that right after the EP, in the interim between the EP and now. It was about a friend of mine who was kind of like, ‘Peace [out],’ and was friends with my ex-girlfriend instead, and I was so fucking heartbroken. I just think it’s beautiful to write songs about friendship that sound like love songs, but also sound like heartbreak.
CDM: Friendship heartbreak can be more painful than real heartbreak too.
KING PRINCESS: Ugh, it’s savage! That’s a different type of trust. You kind of always know you’re going to break up with someone who you’re dating, but you don’t know with friends. That’s good advice right there.
CDM: ‘Sunburn’ was a song you wrote with your touring bassist Logan--
KING PRINCESS: Logan is getting so much press, that motherfucker. <laughs>
CDM: We love Logan.
KING PRINCESS: Yeah, we love Logan. Logan’s daddy.
CDM: Have you been writing music with him while touring at all, or do you find it easier to focus on writing when you’re not playing shows every night?
KING PRINCESS: I haven’t been writing because I finished writing the record and now I’m taking a little break. But Logan and I have always written really well together and I think it’s really lovely to have someone in your band who you can-- We went to Coachella last year and we were staying at his family’s house in Palm Springs and just writing while we were there together. It wasn’t a work trip, it was just to fuck around and get drunk.
CDM: It’s nice you can do writing like that, rather than having to be like, ‘Okay, we’re going to sit down and write a song now.’
KING PRINCESS: He’s the type of guy, and the type of writer, that I can just be like, ‘You want to come to the studio today?’ and he’s always down. That’s really lovely. There’s no pressure, it’s not business-y, I just have this idea.
CDM: Are your bandmates all friends of yours? You have such great chemistry on-stage with them and always look like you’re having fun on tour with them.
KING PRINCESS: I met them in college. My guitar player [Jonah Feingold] and I lived in the same hall. Melody and I became friends the first day I got to college, we were in orientation together - she was high as fuck and I was like, ‘That’s my homie right there.’
CDM: And now you get to travel the world with them, and come to New Zealand with them.
KING PRINCESS: It’s really sick. This has been a great trip, I think everyone unanimously really enjoys Australia and New Zealand. This is a great place to visit.
CDM: It's also very exciting that you've said your album is gonna come out soon…. How soon is soon?
KING PRINCESS: When it’s done, baby girl. <laughs>
CDM: I really liked ‘House Burn Down’ at the show, I’m so excited for the recorded version.
KING PRINCESS: Me too, dude. It’s gonna be so much fun. I still have some work to do on that one, but it’s gonna be great.
CDM: In the song you sing, “I'm the type of bitch running 'til my next heartbreak.” Why do you think that heartbreak is such an addictive part of life?
KING PRINCESS: I think that we all want to feel bad for ourselves. I think that it’s a really interesting thing that happens to all of us where we get to feel bad and revel in sadness, and then make something from it. For me, there’s always that light at the end of the sadness tunnel because I’m like, ‘I’m gonna write some good songs.’ When you date ladies, it’s just a savage experience, there’s so much intense emotion - which is lovely and wonderful, but that shit is crazy.
CDM: The song kinda touches on the inevitabilities of heartbreak, which goes back to what you said about how most relationships do end up ending.
KING PRINCESS: Yeah, and I’m very pessimistic about that shit.
CDM: You’re a glass-half-empty person?
KING PRINCESS: I’m definitely a glass-empty type of girl, most of the time.
CDM: We love ‘Pussy Is God’, but I know lots of your fans have been horrified to discover that you think star signs mean nothing though!
KING PRINCESS: Fuck that shit. No offence to my fans. I went on a rant in London about how I feel about it. For me, it’s about the same level of uncomfortability when I see white people in cults adapting Eastern culture. I’m like, ‘Why?’ But respect to everyone and their fucking signs. Congratulations.
CDM: When are you going to perform 'Pussy Is God' live?!
KING PRINCESS: We’ve been working on it. The next tour is called The Pussy Is God Tour, so…
CDM: What was it like writing that song with Amandla Stenberg?
KING PRINCESS: Well, this is funny. I wrote this song over the course of a while, ‘cuz I didn’t think I was gonna put it out and my label was like, ‘We really like this song,’ and I was like, ‘Fuck this song, it doesn’t have a chorus!’ They were like, ‘You need to write the chorus, ‘cuz we want to put it out.’ I was like, ‘All right, fine guys. If I like it, we’ll put it out.’ So I wrote the chorus with my friend Nick [Long] and my engineer Mike [Malchicoff], and we were like, ‘Damn, this is fire,’ but we needed a third verse. So I was like, ‘Bebe, you wanna come in?’ And she was like, ‘Yeah.’ So she came in and helped with the third verse, and I was like, ‘I wanna give you publishing, ‘cuz you deserve it, you good as fuck.’
CDM: Credit where credit is due.
KING PRINCESS: She’s just a great songwriter, and I think that she is a great musical talent. I feel very lucky that we get to work together whenever we do, because it’s really cathartic and it’s very safe.
CDM: We interviewed her a few months ago and talked about how she’s been working on her own music too. Have you heard it? Is it amazing?
KING PRINCESS: I will say that she never fails to surprise me with her production abilities, her songwriting and her voice, and I just want her to put music out. She’s just too good to not put stuff out.
CDM: We need more than a Mac DeMarco cover out!
KING PRINCESS: Which I j’adore. J’adore that cover.
CDM: The video with the claps are great.
KING PRINCESS: She got me on the claps. I was like, ‘Damn, that’s fire.’
CDM: Are ‘Ohio’ and ‘Homegirl’ gonna be on the King Princess debut album as well?
KING PRINCESS: Yeah.
CDM: What’s it been like playing those songs live and getting reactions from your fans before they come out?
KING PRINCESS: It gives you a lot of insight. We have them recorded. ‘Homegirl’ is pretty much done, but ‘Ohio’ isn’t, we haven’t live-tracked yet. It’s really lovely to play live because you figure out what makes people jump and get excited, and then you get to go back to the studio and be like, ‘This thing that happened, this chord you played, this drum fill really fucking rocked,’ and I want to incorporate that into the recording. I’ve never done that before, because this is my first year of touring. Before this it was only studio versions.
CDM: Did ‘Ohio’ have the guitar breakdown already?
KING PRINCESS: Yeah! Me and my friend Tim Anderson wrote that together, I was just so excited about it. I was like, ‘This is a big rock song!’ I’m fucking hype.
CDM: It works well as an encore too. So many people end a show with their biggest song, so I kinda like that it’s not ‘1950’ as the last song.
KING PRINCESS: I feel like ‘1950’ is tight, it’s amazing, I’m so happy people connect with it, but I want to give people a rocker.
CDM: It’s your shredding moment.
KING PRINCESS: I wanna be a shredder.
CDM: You need to get some tips from St. Vincent on shredding.
KING PRINCESS: She puts me to shame with her guitar-playing
CDM: Maybe she can give you lessons.
KING PRINCESS: She’d get so frustrated. I’d never do my homework. I’m not a good studier. I’m a progressive getting better at shit type of girl, but not much of a practiser.
CDM: I love that you’ve had drag queens opening your shows on this tour, it’s a really awesome thing to see in a live show. Why was this important for you to have?
KING PRINCESS: As somebody who is very neutral gender-wise, I tend to fluctuate day-to-day when it comes to what I’m wearing, or how I feel about my body, so it’s really lovely to have drag as an outlet, and have it in my life as an amazing thing to watch and cherish. It’s our history. That is an essential part of our queer history and, for me, when we were thinking about openers, I was like, ‘This needs to be like a multimedia queer experience. This can’t just be music, just me playing my songs.’ I want my shows to feel like a shrine, like a history lesson and a fucking reminder of what we have to be grateful for, so I felt like it was essential. I owe a lot to the drag community for giving me confidence and teaching me how to be a woman, so I felt like it was necessary.
CDM: When I first interviewed you back when the EP was coming out, you hadn’t done many shows yet, but now you’ve done a whole American tour, plus this leg too. What’s it been like, coming face-to-face with your fans and queer communities in so many different cities?
KING PRINCESS: I feel like there are obviously differences in every queer community and there’s differences in the fans, but the common thread is that these kids are so appreciative, and so grateful, and so excited, and they’re all kind to each other - there’s so much kindness. I see kids, whether it’s airdropping each other photos from the show, or people connecting and talking and becoming friends, I see it go down in the crowds. Seeing relationships, people who love each other, being together, kissing and holding hands and shit - it’s just a kind environment. I feel like we’ve all enjoyed going to concerts our whole lives, everybody, but it’s so rare that you go to a concert and you have a great fucking time, but some dude fucking gropes you, and you’re like, ‘Well, the night was still great but I’m covered in fucking beer and some dude grabbed my ass.' That’s not what my shows are like. That to me, is really lovely.
CDM: It feels like a safe space for everyone.
KING PRINCESS: It’s a safe space, but it’s not a ‘safe space’ - we’re about the gak. I want it to be a place of comedy, light-heartedness, I don’t want people getting down on each other, you know what I mean? I feel like there’s a lot of shit in the queer community right now where people are just attacking each other, and that’s not my teaching and that’s not the belief system I’m from, and it’s not how I was raised by the gay men and women that raised me. This is about unity, meeting your people, getting drunk, smoking a joint, enjoying music.
CDM: Our intern is a huge fan and I was talking to her about the show and she said she was terrified you were going to sass her from the stage.
KING PRINCESS: <laughs> I get rude. All these fucking kids. The art of reading.
CDM: There was a kid in the back who screamed at the show, "Bitch, play ‘Holy'!"
KING PRINCESS: I know! These kids are so funny, they talk to me and they’re so brassy. I got a DM the other day and it was like, ‘Cunt, why your skin do that?!’ <laughs> I was like, ‘That’s fucking brilliant.’ Somebody got on their DM and was like, ‘Cunt, why?’
CDM: I like that you foster an environment where people can be honest with you.
KING PRINCESS: I just feel like there’s too much real PC reading going on, and not enough light reads. I like a loving read. Anyone is allowed to give a loving read, I just can’t do this fucking people going at each other on the internet, that shit is so crazy. Get a fucking life. <laughs>
CDM: We saw Charli XCX at your show last night too, it’s so rad to see fellow women out here in the music industry supporting one another and looking out for each other.
KING PRINCESS: Charli is the best.
CDM: Are you a fan of what she’s doing in pop music at the moment?
KING PRINCESS: I am. I have such a great appreciation for hardcore pop - just well-done hardcore pop. I think that she’s great, she has a great personality, is a great performer, and she’s super down to earth.
CDM: Your little mini speech about the American elections last night was very rousing. How do you feel about being in a country right now with a female Prime Minister?
KING PRINCESS: I heard y’all just elected this bitch. That’s so tight.
CDM: And she is the world's second elected head of government to give birth while in office!
KING PRINCESS: I am living. I think it’s beautiful. My best friend spent a lot of time in New Zealand this past year, and she had been telling me and hyping it up. I was like, ‘Shut up, I haven’t seen it yet.’ So I got here and was like, ‘Okay, it’s fire. I see it.’ There’s mad trees. There’s ladies in charge. I’m down.
CDM: And lastly, we have a question from Donna Missal for you: When we can meet up in LA and smoke a J?
KING PRINCESS: Tell that bitch, 'Come over anytime!' I will smoke her out. I’ll DM her, I’ll be like, ‘Bitch, you asked a question through a magazine!’ I love her. She’s the tits. She’s an amazing performer and it was so much fun having someone who’s so physical on-stage with me. It taught me a lot about performing, I was very lucky to have her.
King Princess’ single ‘Pussy Is God’ is out now - click here to purchase.
Watch the ‘Pussy Is God’ music video below…