“It Causes War And Peace”: King Princess On The Power Of Pussy
"I'm a filthy bottom at heart... I really do find myself idolising women and the [falling into the] energy of being the receiver."
When King Princess calls you a needy bottom, take it as a top honour. Game recognises game: Cheap Queen, her debut album, is filled with submissive devotionals — it’s the only way Mikaela Straus knows how to love.
“I’m a filthy bottom at heart, I think,” she says. “Just [always] putting them on a pedestal. I’m so independent and confident in ways, but I really do find myself idolising women and the [falling into the] energy of being the receiver, of being the person who is there to document other people.”
Which works well for songwriting, she admits: songs like ‘Pussy Is God’ and ‘Prophet’ elevate lovers with religious reverence. It’s all so peak lesbian that the oft-used ‘unapologetically queer’ isn’t just a lazy (and tonally off) phrase to apply to Straus, it’s an understatement. A better term, and one we believe she’d sign off on, would be puss-obsessed.
Our phone chat begins with a discussion of her recent feature in Playboy, which was a dream (“I always read Playboy, all I wanted to do was look at pussy mags, you know what I mean?”), and ends with Straus calling herself a “sad gay” who loves writes “sad songs”.
But Straus isn’t just a sad gay: between her dance videos, music videos and Tyra Banks meme remixes, it’s clear the 20-year-old is incredibly funny. The balance has proved essential, with Straus shouting out her chosen family of queers as helping keep her sane.
“We do get together and make funny content, [just to] feel relieved after a day of like singing these fucking sad ass songs,” she says. “I think that humour is something that I dabble in songwriting but do full-time in life.”
That humour comes through much more on Cheap Queen than last year’s debut EP. Skit-like interludes breathe a camp air between the slick, breathy devotionals, while songs like ‘Hit The Back’ transform shortcomings into armour, seeing Straus embrace that she’s a needy emotional bottom (“Tell me I need respect/And you know that I’m around/I’m your pet”) and turning it into a sweet disco ballad.
For queer audiences, the sensibility of Cheap Queen will immediately click. Straus’ ability to be sincere yet irreverent is the backbone of how we relate, and, in many contexts, survive — by being cheap queens, transforming trash and trauma into treasure.
The Privilege Of Having A Queer Perspective
Straus first broke-out early last February with ‘1950’, a stunning ballad which sounds sweet but is about a cold contemporary relationship — one where its constricted affections resemble the ways LGBTIQ couples once communicated in, either to avert attention or because of internalised homophobia.
Straus says the idea came from reading Patricia Highsmith’s The Price Of Salt, which is better known by its recent Cate Blanchett-starring film adaptation, Carol. It’s a song of queer frustrations and patience, all wrapped into one.
Co-signed by Mark Ronson, Straus soon released Make My Bed, a tight 5-track EP, and then smash ‘Pussy Is God’, co-written with then-girlfriend Amandla Sternberg. There’s a caveat there: as Straus sings in the chorus, it’s “your pussy is God”, not all pussy. When someone else’s love becomes your saviour, it can mean putting yourself down — something complicated further when queerness lends itself to comparing you and your partner.
“A part of being gay is [that] there is a sameness when you’re dating someone: you’re feeling not only like loving someone, but loving them for their sameness to you,” she says. “I think that that’s really challenging and also really rewarding. Straight people don’t get to experience that as much as queer people because we’re given, you know, an opportunity to love someone with the same body as us.”
Given Cheap Queen literally features a song called ‘Tough On Myself’, it’s clear that it’s not always an easy process. Then there’s the added pressure of figuring these things out while writing your debut album.
“Any kind of artist deals with a mixture of extreme confidence and extreme self-doubt,” Straus says. “You’re constantly putting in situations where you’re compared or contrasted — that’s the self-loathing. [But] in order to be in that position in the first place means you’re somebody with a great amount of confidence. And I think that that’s what I was exploring on this record.”
“A part of being gay is [that] there is a sameness when you’re dating someone: you’re feeling not only like loving someone, but loving them for their sameness to you. I think that that’s really challenging and also really rewarding.”
“There are pieces of this record that are completely confident and self-love oriented and but they arrived in-between moments of self-hatred, and I think that is really powerful. And it’s also very honest.”
Humour helps, as does a bit of distance. On Cheap Queen‘s cover, Straus is in drag makeup: like her stage-name, it plays off being genderqueer, allowing her to be both sincere and silly in expression at once.
“This whole album is about finding myself in different situations where I don’t recognise myself,” she says. “That’s a really like interesting way to think about Cheap Queen conceptually. Like, this is all parts of me — but like the cover is drag, which is a great representation of seeing yourself in a different form and finding parts of yourself within it.”
“RuPaul posted something the other day that was like, ‘drag isn’t becoming a new person. It’s becoming yourself’…. a lot of people would be dysphoric to see themselves in drag makeup, but I found myself surprised by the truest parts of my identity through that makeup and through that performance — even truer than sometimes sitting alone [at home], because you get to express the person that’s within you. And that’s really what this year has been about for me.”
In King Princess’ Playboy feature, she says that “pussy holds powers that can’t be understood”. She elaborates to me further: “It causes war. And peace”. If she sounds like she’s echoing poet Eileen Myles, that’s because one of pussy’s powers for King Princess has been finding herself within a powerful legacy of queerness.
“We are part of this incredibly rich tapestry of queer people,” she says. “It’s really grounding and important for young people to know that they’re not the first person to come out, or the first person to experience queerness — and that this is like not [just] a rich history, but a privilege that you have this perspective.”
“This feeling of not being alone, [of finding] that there is a history, however covered it is — however invisible it is,” she says. “There is a history of people of your likeness, and I think that that’s really Gorge. Like how gorgeous.”
King Princess’ debut album Cheap Queen is out Friday 25 October, via Sony Music Australia.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. He is on Twitter.