When it comes to rewriting the rules of pop stardom, Mikaela Straus, the 21 year old, genre-bending musical artist known as King Princess, refuses to pump the brakes. As she prepares to drop her new dance E.P. “Only Time Makes It Human,” she talks to Alex Hawgood about her love of fast horses, steady beats, and Erotica-era Madonna.
AH: Whether I’m catching up with a friend or speaking to someone for an interview, I now always ask the same question: What the hell has your life been like since the lockdown?
KP: Well, I was really, really fortunate during this quarantine to have access to travel. I was in Maui with my girlfriend—editor note: For the past year, Strauss has been dating Quinn Whitney Wilson, the creative director for the musician Lizzo—for the first three months of quarantine because my mom lives there with her husband. We were supposed to be there for just a couple weeks, but we ended up staying for three months.
How did island life treat you?
There’s a big rodeo scene there and we ended up meeting some rodeo girls. We were riding with these rodeo girls—just like drinking and riding with these girls who live for youth rodeo and Western horse stuff. It was, kind of, like, really fun. Other than that, Quinn and I just spent a lot of time taking photos of each other and being home bodies there cooking and spending time with my mom. It’s extremely surreal to be in those surroundings. It doesn’t feel like the rest of the country because it’s extremely isolated. People aren’t thinking about the weekday in the same way, even during a pandemic.
Were you able to keep up with the rodeo girls?
I grew up riding because my mom grew up riding. That’s how I got into it. I’m pretty competent, but I’d never ridden rodeo style. We were riding everyday and it was honestly amazing. It was something Quinn has always wanted to do and something that is such a big part of my life, but that I never get to do anymore. So we were just riding horses like a lot. But I’m competitive. There has to be an objective for me. I like horses that are manic and want to go really fast because I want to go really fast. My objective is to just go fast.
What goes through your mind when you’re racing on a horse?
I’m not thinking about my music career, which is the goal. I spend a lot of my time thinking about music and about the music I’m making and the art that comes with it. But when you’re riding, you can’t be absent minded and your mind can’t wander. It feels very meditative. You’re
thinking about what you're doing and ways to communicate better with this animal. And that’s really what I enjoy about it. It’s very peaceful. If you have the fortune in your life to ride a horse, you should do it because it’s very emotional to be on an animal. You feel like a centaur. Horses are extremely gay and extremely beautiful. They are also really intuitive. They sense when people are anxious or manic or whatever energy. I’ve never actually talked about this in an interview before.
Horseback riding with a girlfriend in Hawaii and then cooking with mom has to be one of the better options to literally ride out a pandemic. How was returning to reality back in Los Angeles?
I actually brought all my recording stuff out to Hawaii in a fucking suitcase. I made a makeshift studio out there because I had to begin writing again. I was working, you know? So I had a lot of great ideas to come back and work on in a proper studio when I came back to L.A. That was really helpful. The minute I was back, I was in the studio because that was the thing I missed the most.
Tell me about the dance E.P. you just finished recording. People might not expect a club sound from a melancholic crooner like you.
The dance project that I worked on—I say “dance” because it is so dance, at least in contrast to the sad lesbian music that I have made. I really wanted to explore this other side of music that I enjoy. It’s very much throwback dance music that at the time was cutting edge—well, still cutting-edge actually. I was listening to “Erotica”-era Madonna, Roisin Murphy and the best George Michael dance remix that you’ve ever heard in the club. Gay people—well, people in general, but especially queer people—are unified by the music they hear in the club and dance to. What makes you dance is a pretty bipartisan issue in general. There’s a feeling of unity in that type of setting where everyone is dancing. I want to bring a lot of joy for people who didn’t get to celebrate at all during quarantine. I want people to be able to put their headphones on or put the music on their speaker and party in their room. That is what we all need. We’re missing that feeling of unity you get when you go out. And I hope that this music does that.
Vintage VERSACE coat; OUT FROM UNDER cherry top;
Vintage red panty; TIFFANY & CO. necklace.
Vintage ARMANI coat; Vintage tank top;
MOSCHINO printed pants; TIFFANY & CO. necklace.
At the same time though, I think there is a long social history of queer people in particular having an almost spiritual connection to dance music.
Regardless of if you are gay or straight, but especially for the gays, there is something that happens when you listen to a dance song by a diva, or the producer is a diva, there’s just this diva ethos that makes you feel powerful. When you’re young and you’re in the club, or you’re young and you’re dancing at home, that is something you discover that makes you go, ‘Oh, my God, that’s gay.’ That’s what I love about dance music: It evokes the scene that we want to be a part of and the community that we are longing for, especially when we don’t have it. Dance music is for everybody. Nobody should be shunned from it at all.
Earlier you mentioned Madonna’s 1992 album, “Erotica,” which is perhaps one of her more unsung records. It’s also one of her most provocative. What about it appeals to you?
A lot of the lyricism is really profound. It’s sexually active, very much so, but also romantic. It’s hard to be sexual and romantic, but during that era, Madonna was giving you very much both. But now, it’s either the song is romantic or you’re talking about getting pounded. As far as production, I like the use of sampling on that record and the use of mode mixture in which you would have these winding tracks with a really ‘90s hip-hop beat paired with her just speaking over it. But then you’ve also got her singing and these kind of winding vocal melodies. The whole thing feels like a soundscape. Now, there’s also bangers, you know what I mean? Like that’s what’s great about it: It goes from thing to thing to create a complete soundscape. There’s a track for everybody on that record. I’m a huge Madonna fan in the first place. I just think she’s fab. She’s just a great example. She’s somebody who just basically evoked the exact feeling that a young queer person would feel at a club. That is just very much so what she’s giving in that era, which feels really poignant to me.
People don’t give Madonna enough credit as a producer. It was her idea supposedly to add the flamenco guitar riff towards the end of “Deeper and Deeper.”
“Deeper and Deeper” is one of my favorite songs ever. Just so, so brilliant. The first song that’s coming out on my project has this similar nylon-string guitar moment. Dance music works when there’s an element that’s not supposed to be there. Of course, there’s going to be synths. Of course, there’s going to be bass. Of course, there’s going to be slapping drums. But then you add something that isn’t supposed to be there, that’s completely genre bending, that is reappropriated into the music. That’s when you get that line that people are like, what is that? I
want to know what that that is? I want to listen to that party.
Why do you think the industry often ignores the production side of female artistry?
First of all, historically, women have not only not been given the opportunity to produce, but also not given the opportunity to learn production. Production starts with the vocabulary and comfort with technology. The terms that come with it allows you to be able to vocalize what you want. It’s like a hidden language that was mostly taught to men. Women are expected to sit there and write their lyrics and sing. People might say, ‘Oh, she’s a great singer.’ But how often do you hear someone say, ‘Oh, my God, I love what she did on the production there.’ A reality of the industry is that it has become normal for women to just be like, ‘Okay, I’m coming in now to sing.’ And then also at the same time, where does that stem from? It stems from a culture not supporting women to take control of their music. It’s important that men understand this issue, too. That’s what I love about Mark [Ronson] though. In moments when he is asked some version of the same question, you know, “How is producing this record for her?” Mark is always like, “I didn’t fucking produce that. She did.”
ALEX PERRY dress; TOGA PULLA shoes;
TIFFANY & CO. necklace.
Vintage leopard jacket; RE/DONE tank; HORSE & HEAD pants; TIFFANY & CO. necklace.
CASTROL jacket; QT VINTAGE shorts;
TIFFANY & CO. necklace; King Princess’ own bracelet and ring.
“What makes you dance is a pretty bipartisan issue...there's a feeling of unity in a setting where everyone is dancing.”
Vintage VERSACE coat;
Vintage top; LA ROXX red panty;
TOGA PULLA shoes;
TIFFANY & CO. necklace.