The Mark Ronson-endorsed New Yorker recalibrates the traditional love song for an LGBTQ audience and her debut studio album soars at its most experimental
It’s rare that a new pop star arrives sounding fully formed, but King Princess achieved just that with her first proper hit single ‘1950’, released last February, an anthem about unrequited love that deserved to go viral with or without its Harry Styles co-sign (he tweeted the lyrics to his 33 million+ followers).
Lovingly dubbed ‘Lesbian Jesus’ by her fans, the 20-year-old singer, who produces most of her own music, is adept at taking classic motifs around young love and flipping their gaze towards the LGBTQ community, making it clear that feelings like infatuation and heartbreak are universal. This lets her fans, many of whom are young and struggling with their identify, feel free to embody what’s inside their hearts. It’s a mission statement that deserves to be celebrated, and it thankfully continues on with her assured debut studio album ‘Cheap Queen’, released on Mark Ronson’s Allido label.
Over the brisk 13 tracks, King Princess speaks to young people in a way that feels natural and not condescending, with the record’s tone swinging between feeling horny and in love, right back to being lonely and bitter, in a fluid way that somebody in their early twenties will really be able to relate to. Her turn of phrase is consistently biting, and it genuinely feels like pop has gained one of its best new lyricists in ages.
Over the stripped-back, experimental bass of ‘Do You Wanna See Me Crying’, King Princess brutally mocks an ex, as she harshly croons, “You’re probably just a fan now, babe.” The gentler stoner synths of ‘Homegirl’ help to form a sexy, dreamy slice of pop, with the cheeky lyric “Spelling my name with your tongue so you don’t have to say it” kind of hard to forget about. But King Princess is at her best when she’s battling heartbreak and has her back against the wall — ‘Isabel’s Moment’ is a haunting rush of a ballad that surely has one of the best lyrics of the year, as the Brooklyn native vulnerably admits: “Your clothes in my drawers / It’s like you’re haunting my home.” The fact that no topic is off the table on these three songs means she sounds like a mate with something to get off her chest.
Sonically, this album has as much in common with the neo-soul and R&B of Erykah Badu and SZA as it does stadium ballads – with a little of the existential electronic pop of Christine & The Queens and Charli XCX thrown in, too. There are a few missteps – ‘Aint Together’ and ‘Trust Nobody’ – that come off as bland, predictable stabs stadium anthems. King Princess shines the brightest when the music around her is experimental and electronic, rather than piano-led. It’s no coincidence, then, that the latter part of the record, which totally fulfils this brief, sees her soar the highest.
The euphoric waves of electronica on ‘Hit The Back’ are exhilarating, and the song deserves to be aired enthusiastically not only in gay clubs, but across the pop charts too. She seductively talks about women in a way that’s rooted in the male gaze, with bars like, “Ain’t I the best you ever had?” sounding like they could have come from a cocky lothario. This feels intentional, with King Princess showing that it’s totally organic for young lesbians to embody the idea of the alpha male too. On this track, and the melancholic “If You Think It’s Love”, she genuinely sounds like she could be the heir to Robyn’s throne, with the songs sharing the ability to make you dance and cry in just the space of a few moments.
Maybe this album is a little rough around the edges, and doesn’t quite commit enough to experimentation, but overall it’s an assured debut that suggests a very bright future. If King Princess leans more heavily into gay ballroom culture with the next album, ditching the acoustic guitar for music that’s more urgent and funky, then we might just have another pop great on our hands.