With her new album ‘Hold On Baby’, King Princess is just getting started 


WORDS BY August Billy

King Princess’ new album, Hold On Baby, is both more collaborative and more personal than her debut, Cheap Queen.

King Princess had appeared on a Mark Ronson album, released an official Perfume Genius remix and performed on Saturday Night Live all before her 21st birthday. 

The New York City pop artist’s debut album, Cheap Queen, came out on Ronson’s Zelig Records in October 2019, two months before her 21st. By this stage, King Princess’ debut single, ‘1950’ – from 2018’s Make My Bed EP – had gained platinum accreditation in the US and Australia.

Get better acquainted with our favourite artists at FJ’s Music section.

But while catching fire is one thing, keeping the flame alive is something else entirely. King Princess’ Mikaela Straus has been surrounded by music her whole life. Her father, Oliver Straus, is a Brooklyn-based recording engineer, and the multi-instrumentalist King Princess has been experimenting with songwriting since her tween years.

Even so, the notion that one’s artistic identity would be fully formed by the age of 20 seems a tad unrealistic. But if Straus ran into any such concerns during the making of Cheap Queen, she didn’t let them show. Cheap Queen is an exercise in duality.

It’s pop music, compulsive enough to win the approval of Harry Styles and be named one of Time Magazine’s 10 Best Albums of 2019. But it’s rooted in the artist’s heartbreak and highlighted by her LGBTQIA+ representation.

The name King Princess is a nod to Strauss’ non-binary identity – she variously identifies as gay, a lesbian, non-binary, and not a woman. She’s relaxed about pronouns, with her social media bios including the note, “she/they/it/its”. In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Straus said, “I’ve never felt offended [by] the pronoun situation in my life”.

This general lack of guardedness shines through on King Princess’ new album, Hold On Baby. Straus recently published an album manifesto in which she detailed the confluence of factors that fed into the creation of her second album. “I’m silly, I’m anxious, I’m sad, I’m sexy,” she said, referencing the album’s self-interrogative conceit. “I didn’t want to be scared to talk about… the infinite dichotomy of things that make me up.”

Heartbreak and desire remain central themes for King Princess. “It’s a curse to be alone,” she sings on the chorus of track two, ‘Curse’, a nimbly melodic song that sounds like Idol-era pop-rock with an injection of booming acoustic drums.

On the album’s lead single, ‘Little Bother’, King Princess connects with the Steve Lacy and Vince Staples collaborator, Fousheé, who doubles down on the song’s themes of rejection and unreciprocated affection.

“Was I a crumb on your sleeve?” asks Fousheé, before adding, with a sting, “You were something like a god to me.” For the song’s indie-pop choruses, King Princess summons a tone of despondence, singing, “[You] could have tried a little harder / Didn’t make me feel good.”

Although Fousheé is the only credited guest, Hold On Baby is more comprehensively collaborative than Cheap Queen. The record includes production and songwriting contributions from Ronson, Adele favourite Tobias Jesso Jr., and Phoebe Bridgers’ go-to guy, Ethan Gruska. 

The National’s Aaron Dessner – who co-produced Taylor Swift’s Folklore and Evermore – chips in on the album’s spare opening number, ‘I Hate Myself, I Want to Party’, which, after three minutes of foreplay, gives way to a release of floor-wiping power-pop that sounds like Miley Cyrus by way of Sum 41.

But much like Cheap Queen, the personal excavation on Hold On Baby is filtered through a prism of relatability. “I’m not sure that I like myself, but I’m figuring out,” King Princess said in the album manifesto. Crucially, Hold On Baby brings the audience along as King Princess navigates her self-understanding. “I want this album to give us all some strength in accepting ourselves,” she said.

‘Change the Locks’, King Princess’ most anthemic song to date, ends with the lyrics, “The end is near, you promised / But I’m just gettin’ started.” For Straus, who’s now 23 years old, Hold On Baby represents not only a significant step forward in her artistry, but lends credence to her claim that “I’m not one thing”.

Hold on Baby is out tomorrow and you can head here to keep up with King Princess.

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