If you haven’t yet listened to Brooklyn provocateur King Princess, there’s a very good chance that you’ve seen her. The artist – real name is Mikaela Straus – is currently adorning billboards everywhere, lounging in a pair of tighty-whities as part of Calvin Klein’s Pride campaign. Those pants play a key supporting role in tonight’s livestreamed performance, peeking out conspicuously over Straus’s leather chaps.
Since 2018, when she released ‘1950’ (a sweet, Harry Styles-approved ode to queer yearning) Straus has been on the up, beating a path towards becoming one of our most preeminent queer popstars. Straus has always vied for iconic status, sometimes a little heavy-handedly — in previous live performances, Straus has vaped, spat beer and drawled come-ons to the crowd in an almost parodic imitation of a Jagger-esque rockstar. Her artistic persona is notably slippery and gender-fluid, sliding from a leather-clad lothario to a heartbroken femme fatale with admirable ease. This can sometimes feel at odds with her actual songs, which are mostly great — like the sensual, hip-hop inflected ‘Pussy is God’, or the freewheeling, electro-driven “bottom anthem” ‘Hit The Back’. But occasionally, Straus’s music can veer towards the middle of the road, like on the Beatles-aping snoozefest ‘Ain’t Together’, the slightly po-faced ‘Prophet’, or on the handful of forgettable, noodling album tracks that pad out her debut, ‘Cheap Queen’. There’s the sense that Straus’s music hasn’t yet fulfilled the experimental playfulness promised by her image, and that her ambitions are perhaps more aesthetic and performance-driven than they are musical. Arguably, the Calvin Klein billboard is a more important step in KP’s journey towards becoming an icon than tonight’s performance.
Tonight’s show – titled ‘Heartbreak Odyssey’ – is marred a little by some format-induced weirdness. Perhaps due to the lack of crowd, Straus has mostly toned down her trademark performance art schtick — the exception to this is a leather harness, which Straus frequently thrusts at the camera, eliciting flurries of excited keyboard mashing from the event’s live chat. There’s also the bewildering fact that swear words, when typed into the chat, are replaced with asterisks (kind of like in Club Penguin) — which feels a little nonsensical considering that viewers are currently watching Straus repeatedly sing the word ‘pussy’ while gyrating in a harness. It leads one inventive fan to exclaim ‘I’m soooooooo h-word!’
Still, tonight’s set is super tight, and Straus is an adept and pleasingly dramatic performer. The best songs are those where she uses the livestreamed format to her advantage. The ultra-catchy sex jam ‘Holy’ gets its live debut here, and Straus mugs for the camera, moaning ‘Honey on your knees/ when you look at me’, in full fan service mode, while BDSM anthem ‘Pain’ elicits some entertainingly goofy dancing. While some songs feel a little off-beat here — the saccharine ‘Upper West Side’, and the meandering ‘Homegirl’ feel a little deflated when sandwiched between disco bangers like ‘Pain’ and ‘Hit The Back’ — Straus covers a whole American songbook’s worth of styles with relative ease, and there’s so much raw talent on display that her songs will likely catch up with her ambition soon enough.
King Princess played:
Only Time Makes it Human
Pussy is God
I Know (Fiona Apple cover)
House Burn Down
Upper East Side
Hit The Back