King Princess’ debut single ‘1950’ sounds like nothing else in 2018 - and it’s turning heads in her direction at an increasing rate. The song, a story of unrequited love which pays homage to the historical representation of queer love, is just one of five songs on the recently released ‘Make My Bed’ EP, which has solidified King Princess (real name Mikaela Straus) as a songwriter, producer, and musician who is truly challenging the traditional terms of pop music today.
Straus flexes her songwriting muscle throughout the EP - touching on economic differences in ‘Upper West Side’, drinking through a heartbreak on ‘Talia’, and is only just getting started, telling us in our interview that she’s already written all the material for her upcoming debut album.
And with co-signs from just about everyone in the industry - the first, a literal signing from Mark Ronson, who signed her to his own record label Zelig, and from Harry Styles to Halsey - King Princess is set to collect more and more admirers, having just embarked on her first ever mini-tour.
We recently caught up with Straus over the phone on the day of her EP release in New Zealand about the ‘Make My Bed’ EP, songwriting, and very importantly, when she plans to come to New Zealand…
COUP DE MAIN: Hi Mikaela! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me in New Zealand today. How’s your day going?
KING PRINCESS: Oh my god! Everything is going good. I know that it’s Friday right now, so my EP is out!
CDM: We’re obsessed with the whole ‘Make My Bed’ EP - and yes, it’s officially out today in New Zealand! You have to wait a little bit longer but all of New Zealand can hear it today.
KING PRINCESS: That makes me so happy.
CDM: I think my favourite song on your EP is ‘Upper West Side’. I love the imagery in the line, “To feel like gold when you’re dancing on broken hearts." What was running through your mind when writing that line?
KING PRINCESS: I love that you love that line. The song is about somebody who is wealthy and all that, and interested in this concept of disguising their wealth to be cool, and I think that line also has a juxtaposition in it.
CDM: “You’re no good 'til they’re looking at you,” you go on to sing in the song. Do you think people often show the best parts of their personalities when there’s people looking at them, and hide the other parts that are considered ‘unattractive’?
KING PRINCESS: Yeah, I think especially in our culture, a huge part of the way that we present ourselves to the world is edited, and it’s digital. You have the luxury of touching things up and editing them and changing them before they hit the real world, and the reality is that a lot of the parts that we show isn't the core and isn't the heart of the matter. I talk about that a lot as well in the music because I am definitely a product of that generation.
CDM: I really love the guitar in ‘Upper West Side’, it’s almost shoegazey. How did you go about writing the instrumentation on that song?
KING PRINCESS: I wrote that sort of strumming guitar, in the beginning, just sitting-- because I wrote the song with a guitar, just me in my room, so I immediately started playing that with the strum pattern that I went to and I love that it feels like a homage to the music I grew up listening to, which is all classic rock. I wanted it feel dreamy and I wanted it to unfold as you listened to it, forever.
CDM: Rappers get given chains as a rite of passage from their label bosses. Big Sean was given one from Kanye West... so when is Mark Ronson gonna gift you a real diamond chain?
KING PRINCESS: <laughs> Oh my gosh, will you ask him for one for me? Because I would love one. I mean, honestly, I should probably text him right now and just be like, 'Yo homie, I’m waiting. So, we need to expedite this process.’
CDM: In your interview with i-D you talked a little bit about turning down a record deal when you were 11, saying, “I think saying no is the most powerful thing you can do. Just saying no, absolutely not.” Why do you think it’s important that people learn how to say no to things?
KING PRINCESS: I think that people struggle with it because they are afraid of the unknown and I think they are worried that-- I had this one experience, and I was looking into this incredible badass lady/businesswoman talk about the music industry, and I think there is an issue right now where artists want their label to want it more than them. I think that the label's job is to facilitate what the artist wants, and allow the artist to want it more than them, and they can be the driving force of the whole project. But I think that people get frightened by the idea of other people making their decisions and giving them the 'okay', so you end up with people being afraid to say no. It truly is empowering to be like, ‘That is going to hurt me,’ because inevitably something that is for you will come along, and that is at least how I feel in my career, where I have the luxury with the support of my team to be able to say, ‘Fuck, no, I don't want that.’ I think that is just such a great feeling to see something and to know that that is just not you.
CDM: It’s so great to hear your experience, because we’ve talked to a lot of female musicians who signed deals when they were young and just ended up trapped in development deal hell. So I’m happy you’re in such a great position where you want to be now.
KING PRINCESS: Women have to be able to-- I think there has been such a long line of women being controlled by men in this industry, and being figureheads for a much larger machine that is run by men, and I think that that is a cycle that we need to break, because women have been pioneering in the music industry for so long that it is up to them to make the decisions, and I feel like I see more and more young female artists taking charge and running their industries, and I'd love to see more of that.
CDM: I really love the bridge in ‘Talia’, where you sing, “Broke my heart / Now I’m wasting my time on you.” Why do you think that heartbreak is such a difficult part of the human existence? Relationships can give us so much joy, but also cause so much pain.
KING PRINCESS: It is so painful, and it so powerful to be able to talk about shit like this, because I think that all our lives are chronicles of the relationships that we have - friendships and romantic relationships. You're then left with these pieces of yourself and other people, and what is great about music is that it has always been this facility that you can-- there are just so many ways to express heartbreak in a song, and I'm curious as to all the layers. I can figure out how to manipulate words and create these stories. And it’s essential to feel sad. It's a really powerful feeling when you allow it to take over your body and just feel it - and at least for me, that’s what the whole EP is, you know?
CDM: “So tell me why my gods look like you,” you sing in ‘1950’. Do you think it’s dangerous in a relationship to hold someone to a higher degree than what they might actually be?
KING PRINCESS: I absolutely do. I think that it’s a pretty universal feeling of having someone where there’s so many similes and comparisons made when it’s like, ‘You’re this,’ ‘You’re that,’ but the real strength I think is when it’s an equal playing field - but obviously who the fuck can do that? That’s tough shit. I don't know.
CDM: That song was inspired by ‘The Price Of Salt’ by Patricia Highsmith - do you take inspiration from literature in your songwriting?
KING PRINCESS: I do, I think that for me, television shows, art, visual art, kind of anything that can inspire me, but when I write, especially with a song like ‘1950’ where it is thematic, I feel like I have to have an image of something that really fucked me up in my life - the book ‘The Price Of Salt’ definitely. I mean, conceptually I love looking at things like that, it’s a big part of what helped me become comfortable with myself, reading vintage texts and examining the way that people interacted throughout history in my community because it allows me to gain perspective on what is happening right now and especially that book, I mean, it’s phenomenal. I’m so happy that people are picking up on those themes because when you have an idea in your head, it’s such a big image encapsulated in a book or a moment and put in a song, and it means so much - I am just happy that people are recognising those themes, they're really important to me.
CDM: Are you reading anything good at the moment?
KING PRINCESS: You know what is fucked up? I haven't been reading that much lately. I'm going to try and go to the bookstore this week because I want to buy a bunch of shit and start reading. I really want to re-read the stuff that I really loved when I was younger, and I just want to read into the perspective that the books gave me. I just really love that I can dive into my roots, and these books that have affected me.
CDM: Do you plan to repurpose your older songs ‘Sunburn’, ‘Send Pix’, ’Song For You’, and ‘Bullets’ for a future release?
KING PRINCESS: No, my record is all new stuff. I can confirm that it is all new songs, although some of them are older.
CDM: I love the line in ‘Send Pix’ where you sing, “Make me want to chuck my phone / ignoring the others, they’re boring.” That’s such a cute line!
KING PRINCESS: Oh my god! I love that! That song is cute. I wrote it and it felt really together and it felt really compact, which I loved. I love compact songs. I think it’s adorable, but it’s true though. The phone is a really big part of music now, the phone is an essential theme - it’s always on us. It’s the third party watching everything that goes down all the time.
CDM: It’s always listening all the time - I am convinced that phones listen to our conversations.
KING PRINCESS: Oh, I know that bitch is listening - I know! It’s fucked up, it’s seriously evil.
CDM: I hope it’s not listening to our phone call right now.
KING PRINCESS: It definitely is, and it loves it. <laughs>
CDM: Are you working towards a debut album at the moment? How’s that going?
KING PRINCESS: Honey, it is going great! It is written. I’m a prepared girl. I like to be over-prepared, so yes, it is written.
CDM: Do you have a date in mind?
KING PRINCESS: No, I don't know yet. I know that I'm going to work on it in August, so that is something that is going to come pretty soon. It's a thing for me to always have something ready when something else comes out, you know what I mean? I’m excited about the EP, but I know I want the next thing to be even better.
CDM: We all know that Harry Styles' favourite King Princess song is '1950', so we were wondering what your favourite Harry Styles song is?
KING PRINCESS: His album is really good. I like 'Woman' and I like 'Sweet Creature'. 'Sweet Creature' is so good - he is such a beautiful man and a lovely man!
CDM: Especially in a Gucci suit.
KING PRINCESS: We love a queen in a Gucci suit! He looks great.
CDM: And most importantly, when can we expect to see you live down in New Zealand?! We’re dying to see you live.
KING PRINCESS: Hell fucking yeah! I check my stats and stuff and I see you guys in New Zealand, it’s so cute and wild! I can't wait to come play a festival and I can't wait to come play shows and I can't wait to come meet the queer community there. I want to as much as possible be a voice for the queer people in New Zealand and I’m so happy about all the love and support from you guys. I have a best friend who spent a bunch of time in New Zealand, so I'm excited man, it's going to be so fun! I'm ready to explore, I've also never been there so I'm ready to go out on the town.
CDM: Oh yeah, we'll take you out.
KING PRINCESS: I want to be taken out on the town! <laughs>
CDM: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me, I know you're busy with your shows coming up.
KING PRINCESS: Oh, I'm busy, but I will always be able to talk. I am so excited to see you in New Zealand, I can't wait to meet you, I'd love to stop by and say what’s up.
King Princess’ debut EP ‘Make My Bed’ is out now - click here to purchase now.
Watch the ‘Talia’ music video below…