King Princess—the stage name name for 19-year-old musician Mikaela Straus—is about to be your summer obsession.
After years of cultivating her soulful vocals and learning how to play multiple instruments in her dad's studio, the Brooklyn-born musician moved to Los Angeles to study at the University of Southern California, before deciding to focus on music full time. Then she met Mark Ronson, and everything changed. The producer—who once called her a "prodigy in the making"—released her single "1950" as the first song on his new label, Zelig Recordings, and support from none other than Harry Styles came just a couple of weeks later, when the singer tweeted, "I love it when we play 1950," referring to the lyrics from the aching love song King Princess has described as "a love song told through the lens of queerness" and a metaphor for "the way queer people had to hide their love in history."
She followed the single with "Talia," another moody track about an angsty romance between two young women. (The corresponding video, edited by Amandla Stenberg, prominently features a female sex doll as proxy for King Princess's unrequited love). Four months and millions of Spotify streams later, King Princess has gained a cult following online consisting largely of LGBTQ teens.
The musician yearns to stay true to herself on her debut EP, Make My Bed, for which she wrote and produced three new tracks. Calling from Los Angeles, King Princess opened up to W about getting a cosign from Harry Styles, pop music's ability to bring queer narratives to the forefront, and her fascination with "DM culture."
How did you come up with the name King Princess?
It was something that I thought of in a session, when I was young, with a friend of mine. We’d joke about it; it was kind of an attitude, this attitude, we’d be like, “Today is a King Princess day.” And then, two years later, I was with two of my friends and I was like, "Guys, should I do it? Should I go by King Princess?" They were like, "B---h, you have to! You absolutely have to do it, for sure." So I was like, "Okay, I guess that’s it!"
You mentioned that you knew what you wanted to do when you were applying for college; how long have you been playing music and singing?
I’ve been working in music since I was a little kid. I would do background singing in my dad’s studio all the time when I was a kid. I went to label meetings when I was pretty young, and obviously my goal was, like, no, we’re gonna hold off. That was always my plan, from the beginning: to hold off on signing until I was really ready to find the right team. So I met Mark [Ronson], and Columbia, and I fell in love with them and was like, "This is it—these are my people."
How did you meet Mark Ronson? What were those early days together like?
You know, it’s funny because I was definitely cautious at first. We had dinner, and I met him there, and I think I was nervous and he was nervous, we were both nervous. It was really cute. It was adorable. We kind of just talked about shit and life. It felt very comfortable, but I was also like, “Holy shit,” because I was sitting across from Mark Ronson. Now, obviously, I’m like, “Oh, Mark. That’s my Mark!” [Laughs] In the beginning, it was intense, and he was so kind, and so wanting to know about me, and wanting to hear about my life and my interests, and to see what I have to say, and the music I was writing, and the people I was spending time with. He was really great, just a really solid guy. Now I feel like it’s progressed into a true partnership. I can call him, and he’s a support system to me. I love that.
I think a lot of people discovered your single, "1950," right around the same time Harry Styles did, after he tweeted out your lyrics in support of the song. Did you ever anticipate any of this attention?
No, I did not anticipate it going this fast. I think I truly believed in that song, and so did Mark. I remember being in a meeting and Mark being like, “This has to be the first single. It just has to be. This song is you, and it’s an amazing representation of you.” And what better way to introduce myself to this industry? I think when you have a song like that that’s just been sitting there, and everyone believes in it so much, it’s scary because you put it out and you’re like, I don’t know how the f--k people are gonna react to this thing I’ve been harboring for years, you know? It’s been crazy as f--k. It’s been amazing. For me, I’m always thinking about the next thing, so I’m thinking about my record. [Laughs] But I’m really proud, and I’m so appreciative of Harry doing that. I don’t know him at all, but I think he’s phenomenal. I was so shocked and awed by his kindness to tweet that.
Your lyrics feel quite representative of where society is moving in 2018, especially right now, during pride month; and there are so many other pop musicians, like Hayley Kiyoko and Kehlani, who are really gaining traction this year while singing about relationships that fall outside of a heteronormative binary. How do you feel about placing your music in an adjacent “queer pop” category?
It’s interesting. Queerness is the lens that I live my life through. When I write about s--t that goes on, it’s simply my truth, but I understand the weight of that sentiment in our world right now. We’re dying for representation, and we’re hungry to hear stories of people who look and sound like us. The reason I love that people are calling it pop (even though I know that it’s definitely left of center, but hitting on mainstream) is that pop music is what, in many ways, influences people’s opinions—politically, socially, historically—in our country. Pop music has been the center of change, you know? And positive messages. I would love to get back to that place because I think we’ve lost it a little bit. I think that there are all these amazing figures in our history, the Bowies, the Tina Turners, the Chers, the people who are, in many ways, genderless or represent “the other,” and I want pop music, and other queer artists—Kehlani, Perfume Genius—these people are bringing queer narratives into people’s minds. That’s really what we need! We need people to think about us.
Even with “Girls,” the ill-received Rita Ora song about experimenting with sexuality, there was a lot of controversy, and a lot of the criticism insisted that the message of the song felt out of step with what many of those musicians you mentioned represent.
I think it’s about balance. I think people are hungry for authenticity. I’m at a point now where I’m not offended by anything, you know? I’m more about, how can we just get our s--t out there, you know what I mean? I’m past the point of being offended and angry about the lack of representation, and I’m not just focused on getting to a point where I, myself—and other people I love and support who are other than straight and white—can have a path to go down into this industry. I feel happy that “1950” is hitting, and it’s such a wide audience. I’m always baffled by the people who f--k with the music. I’m like, “Oh, you f--k with it? I didn’t think that you’d f--k with it, straight white dude!” [Laughs] It just goes to show, you can’t judge a book by its cover; there are great people from all walks of life in this world. There’s greatness everywhere.
Well, since we’re on the subject of how we represent ourselves to the world, let’s shift into the Social Q’s questions—how did you choose your Instagram handle?
Well, @kingprincess was taken. So I was like, I guess it’ll be @kingprincess69! Simple!
Do you remember your first Instagram post?
It probably had a heinous filter! I’m just thinking back to the time period that I was living in, so I would assume it had that thing where you could make a focal point and blur around it. It probably had a heinous f--king filter! A disgusting filter. It was probably a picture of my shoes on the ground or something!
Do you have any rules for how often someone should post on Instagram?
Nah, no. I’ll just post if I’m high and it comes over me, I don’t give a s--t. [Laughs] I think that’s the thing: I really don’t give a f--k about Instagram. I think I post what I want and I love what I post. Whatever cracks me up, that’s what matters. That’s how I approach it. I don’t give a f--k about posting schedules and s--t like that.
Is there anything you would never post?
I’ll post pretty much anything. I would never come for someone else on the Internet. I would never make my Instagram a place of saltiness toward other people. I really hate that. There are always people getting into fights on Instagram. I think it’s so stupid. Square up in real life!
As someone who is gaining more followers and attention every day, how do you block out any haters or negativity online?
What’s really great is that, on my Instagram, the people who comment and DM me are 99 percent positive. It’s so much love. It’s so much f--king love. I’m really lucky in that, and not everyone has that. The comments that aren’t nice are f--king hilarious. I’m too much of a comedy queen to not appreciate them! You know what I mean? I don’t get offended, I’m just like, This is f--king hilarious. When there are hateful comments, they’re mostly homophobic, and it really doesn’t bother me. Because I’m just like, I’ve been gay for way too long to give a f--k! [Laughs] You don’t know until you’ve been called a d--e from a car. This s--t doesn’t phase me! People sitting on their f--king keyboards? [Laughs] If I see a really funny one, I’ll send it around on the group chat.
What’s the etiquette for sliding into someone’s DMs, especially if you’re into the person?
Oh, my God. Well, the DMs? It really does go down. It does. The DMs are lit. Etiquette? I mean, respectful would be sick. I would try to be respectful. I would not be like, “Yo, you wanna smash?” Like, no, f--k no. I would never do that. I’m so intrigued by DM culture! This is so interesting. Like, 99 percent of dating goes down in the DMs now. It’s, like, the best dating site ever because you’re just, like—there are so many photos of yourself, and you just slide in. I don’t know, I think it’s interesting when people have a blue check. I laugh about it because it’s funny. It’s such a social thing. I think that’s weird. It’s not really my schtick, but I think it’s interesting. I don’t know if that answered your question! I’m not doing a lot of sliding into the DMs at the moment. I’ve definitely had some iconic DMs. I’ve always been extremely flattered. I’ve never been like, “Ew!”
Screenshot and save for an ego boost!
You get an iconic DM, and you’re just like, “Oh! Thank you!”
Do you follow exes or block them?
I don’t follow everyone I’ve dated, but most of them I do. I think my goal is to not excommunicate people. I’m not a blocker. I have been in the past, but I have a pretty public Instagram—if someone wants to see it, then they’re gonna see it, so it doesn’t matter if I block them or not. Also, I don’t want to make someone feel s--tty! I wouldn’t want that.
One last social media question—how do you unplug?
That’s a good one because it’s f--king hard! It’s really addictive. I don’t think I’m addicted, but when I’m on my phone I wanna check. When I post, I don’t check to see who’s liking it or whatever, but I’m on it a lot, and it freaks me out because I’m someone who grew up going into the woods and s--t, and I’m like, “Why am I on this f--king app?!” To unplug is about zoning into the shit that I wanna see. If I’m with my friends and we’re watching a show, or we’re going out to a bar, I’m s--tty at charging my phone, so my phone dies usually anyway if I’m out. [Laughs] So that’s definitely nice. I’m like, “Good!” I’m still learning how to unplug. I think I need to create more separation between my life and social media, but I also am really appreciative of social media, and it makes me laugh. So I want a balance.