“This is where I fell in love with music,” says Mikaela Straus, aka rising star King Princess, arms outstretched as she surveys her own little kingdom. A few weeks back, we witnessed a homecoming of sorts for the 19-year-old. It began with her first shows in her old stomping ground of Brooklyn (she now lives in LA), including two sold-out gigs at Bushwick venue, Elsewhere, where the crowd treats her like a superstar, offering her hits on their vaping sticks and throwing mini crowns on stage. Now, she’s holed up in the Williamsburg recording studio owned by her dad (engineer Oliver Straus), avoiding the aggressive heatwave outside by checking off the long list of publications that want to speak to her.
It’s no wonder Mikaela is so in demand right now. In May, she released her debut EP, ‘Make My Bed’, which boasts Upper West Side dissing (‘Upper West Side’), huge pop bangers (‘Talia’), and shuddering beds of beats (‘Holy’). The self-produced record has the honour of being the first release on Mark Ronson‘s new label Zelig, getting things off to a flyer with one of the most perfect pop releases this year. Not only that, in March former One Direction man Harry Styles randomly tweeted the lyrics to ‘1950’.
Growing up surrounded by music, the teenager says it was always inevitable she would end up following her father into the industry somehow and it just helped that she had a natural talent for writing killer songs. “It was just so accessible and so interesting to me and I guess I had a disposition for it,” she shrugs. “It’s funny cos I think a lot about kids who grow up with their parents being really important members of their fields and they just go the opposite way. [My act of rebellion was to say], ‘I’m gonna go to college. I’m gonna study gender studies.'”
She pauses to let out a big cackle, before explaining: “I was like, ‘I’m an academic!’ I’m not at all. It turns out I’m not great at that.” Luckily, that doesn’t look like that’s going to matter for her in the immediate future.
How old were you when you started writing your own songs?
Mikaela: “Young! I was a little baby. I was always recording shit into my little recording device. But really for real when I was a young teenager. I was taking sessions with people and meeting people and going out. It was really fun. It was great cos I wasn’t always somebody in school who had a fuck ton of friends so music was like the community for me. That was where I thrived.”
This current experience isn’t the first one you’ve had with labels because you were offered a deal at 11.
“I took some meetings when I was 11. I think what was interesting about being a young kid in environments like that was people were like, ‘You’re so sure of yourself! You’re so confident!’ And I was like, ‘I’m 12.’ Now I’ve got to this place where I’m like, ‘This is who I am.’
I’m so grateful for those experiences where I got to sit there and be like, ‘What the fuck is this shit?’ Cos I stopped feeling like that after a while. I stopped feeling lost in meetings or I stopped feeling like people were telling me where to go and listening to invalid opinions.”
Did everyone want you to be one of those cutesy pre-teen bands that seem to come around every few years?
“My parents didn’t want me to. It was a little bit inevitable because I was such a fucking loud, obnoxious kid who was singing and writing my Grammys acceptance speech in the shower. I was an asshole. I knew I was good at music so I was like, ‘This is me.'”
But at least you have your Grammys speech sorted in case that ever comes up.
“I have to edit it. Some of the plot points don’t make sense now. I need to revise it. I was always just like looking in the mirror like, ‘Thank you academy’. What’s wrong with me?!”
You’ve said in the past you always knew ‘1950’, which you wrote two years ago, would come out one day. Was it hard to keep that belief?
“No, I always knew it was gonna come out, but it was like, ‘How is this gonna come out? Who’s gonna put this shit out? Am I gonna put this out myself?’ I knew people were gonna like it, but I was like, ‘What I’m concerned about is I want justice done to this work because I worked my ass off and if somebody’s gonna sign me and put my shit out I want it to be the right person. I’ve waited so long for this and now it’s time for me to really be smart about my decisions.'”
We need people who are gonna come out there and wreak havoc and make shit crazy
Why was Mark Ronson the right person for you to work with?
“Because he is a true talent. He’s a multi-faceted hard-working talent who is what he says he is and is who his name is. I’ve seen him work and I’ve seen what he does for his artists. I’m also part of a legacy – a long legacy – of women who’ve worked with him who are incredible. What I love about him, especially as a male producer, is he is not an ego. He helps his artists. He raises the people around him up without being disrespectful. He’s an incredibly loving guy and I can’t speak high enough [of him], it makes me emotional. He’s really special to me. I feel so blessed to be a part of this insane roster of women who’ve worked with him. I love him. He’s a great guy.”
You’ve been called a gay and genderqueer icon and at your Brooklyn show someone in the crowd called you ‘Lesbian Jesus’. How do you feel about people putting those kinds of labels on you already?
“That’s really beautiful. I have the hair now [for Jesus]! I don’t feel pressured and I think that was my biggest fear going into it because so many people feel so, so hurt when people respond to them with criticism and I’m that type of person too, where you’re so worried about offending somebody, you’re so worried about not being the best representation of your community that you get lost in your messaging and it becomes very textbook. I think that was my biggest fear – censoring myself and putting myself into a cookie cutter to be representative. But I think what I realised is we don’t need that.
We need people who are gonna come out there and wreak havoc and make shit crazy. It’s about time that we had some game-changers hoisted up in 2018 from the gay, trans, black, immigrant communities. It’s really important that these people find their voice now, especially with what’s going down.”
You’re also very vocal on the need for gay icons to be people who actually identify as gay themselves. Why?
“I think being definitive is one way of expressing yourself. It’s not like the only way to be gay is by saying I am gay – or queer, sorry, to be more inclusive. I am obviously not the perfect representation of anything and neither is anyone else, but I do feel it’s important that we have people who say they are gay because there are real gay people – who aren’t bi, who aren’t pan, who aren’t just queer – who feel that they need people who are going to just be with women or men in television or film and music and relate to that. Just like bisexual people need bisexual role models, gay people need gay role models, trans people need trans role models. Everybody needs their people.”
You recently played the first Ladyland festival in Brooklyn on Pride weekend, along with the likes of Eve, Kim Petras and Sophie.
“That was great, seeing all the gak in action.”
Not to sound like a grandma, but you say gak a lot. What is that?
“The gakkety gakkety gak! It’s what the people say at the clubs – the gakkety gak. The zhuzh. But wow, what a roster man. What a line-up to be a part of. Should there be more events like Ladyland? Yes! It’s amazing, it’s fun. It’s silly. The gays – we are silly. Being silly is really underrated right now because everything’s so fucking serious. And it’s true – it is serious. All the shit I watched growing up – SNL, 30 Rock, Parks And Rec, RuPaul – they’re all silly and I feel that what made them so powerful is that they attained this level of seriousness and activism without being too cringy serious.”
The ‘Make My Bed’ EP starts off with the title track, which feels like a fragment of a dream – it’s very short and feels like when you’re just falling asleep.
“It was a poem I wrote. It was about the time difference – just like the difference of being in a completely new place with different time and everyone I knew being asleep when I was awake. I have one line that’s ‘And our hearts break cos our girl lost‘ and that’s about the election. I don’t wanna offend anybody, but I think we can all agree that she maybe would have been a better choice, you know what I mean?”
You say you’re not a subtle person, but that’s quite a subtle line.
“Yeah, well I think that when I write I have more of an ability to… when I speak, I’m not subtle. My word choices are not subtle. In music, I think it gives me a channel to be more sensitive and more careful about my words and really pick them. That serves me well and I’m really proud of myself for that skill. I’m not like that when I speak.”
At Elsewhere, you played a lot of songs from your debut album. How’s the record going and what can you tell us about it?
“Great. It’s written. It’s all recorded, I just need to finish production. If the EP is me rejecting New York and going to LA, then this album’s a homecoming a little bit. It’s so many different parts of my life and all these different experiences I had throughout this year. All this shit happened and popped off – I finished signing and doing all this shit, and now I get to put this body of work out that is actually a little bit behind in time and I like that lag cos then I can look at it from the perspective of ‘Oh this is where I was there’ and I can appreciate it and then move on.”
When can we expect the album to be with us?
“Out soon-ish. Not too long cos I’m never gonna leave my people hungry. Call me a little gay Drake – constantly popping them out, hopefully.”
But is your album going to be 25 tracks?
“Fuck no! Fuck no it’s not gonna be 25 tracks. That’s way too many tracks. I’m so proud of whoever can do that, but that will not be me. I will not be throwing 25 tracks at you asking you to digest that. No thank you. I will give you little nuggets. I could do a cool 15. But not 16. That’s too many.”