Cheap Queen is an ambitious debut from Mikaela Strauss, aka King Princess, blending modern pop musicality with coming-of-age thrills.
It almost feels fitting to refer to King Princess's sound as bedroom pop when you consider how much time she spent as a young girl in her father's studio, Mission Sound. The moments of minimalism sprinkled throughout her E.P., Make My Bed, and various singles has played a key role in her popularity, but the accessibility of her sundry vocal delivery has let the young polymath flex the breadth of her musical knowledge across the 13 tracks on Cheap Queen.
After setting social media ablaze with her breakthrough single, "1950", fans of the young queer icon will find themselves gorging on the songs in this album for months to come. Lyrically, this album wrestles with Strauss's genderqueer identity but never lets it dominate the stage, instead leaning on stories of love and heartbreak to tell her story.
The pronouns used to refer to her different partners constantly bounce back and forth, but songs like "Cheap Queen" and "Tough On Myself" are intentionally vague, doing their best to explain various anxieties and imperfections Strauss sees in her efforts to find love. Her admissions of selfishness and recklessness break down any power imbalance between the artist and the listener, allowing you to engage lyrically as the record starts to explore eclectic instrumentation and bold production.
Songs like "Do You Wanna See Me Crying" sound heavily inspired by songs like "Put That Away and Talk To Me" by James Blake and "Bloo" by Zack Villere but it's fair to say King Princess has found an immediately identifiable sound. It'd be easy to file Strauss away into a drawer with a hundred other exciting young, queer artists trying to reshape pop music, but there's a breadth to her sound—a maturity that sounds intentionally young and lost. Artists like Ezra Furman have tackled this subject and succeeded, but it's rare to find a collection of songs as candid as Cheap Queen.
While the rather paceless "Ain't Together" is sure to divide some fans, this album really hits its stride in the second half. "Isabel's Moment" is going to play an important role in defining the maturity of this artist. An absorbing ballad, this short collaboration with Tobias Jesso Jr. gives Strauss a moment to strut her stuff as a gifted composer as well as an artist with her finger on the pulse of what we're waiting for from the world of pop.
There's an exciting conversation in music that is constantly looking for the greatest one-two punch opening to an album. While Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run and The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band dominate this discussion, King Princess's Cheap Queen has earned its place near the top for a closing one-two punch. The dancehall production on "Hit the Back" turns a potential album filler into a floor-filler, perfectly segwaying into the Imogen Heap-inspired "If You Think It's Love" and closing the curtains on Strauss' heavily anticipated debut album.
King Princess hasn't reinvented pop, but she is bridging its most exciting chasms. Diverse production that moves between booming 808s and distorted guitar tones is backed up by synth lines that Robyn would snatch up if given the chance. Strauss is going to continue heating up as an artist and Cheap Queen will add a whole lot of fuel to that fire.