People

We could be heroes: in conversation with King Princess

Tell me why my gods look like you. Mikaela Straus, better known as the 19-year-old singer-songwriter-producer King Princess, is having a good time in Australia. “Y’all drink a lot, you’re funny, you’re crude, I like that,” she says when we meet at Sydney’s QT Hotel. “I’d like to come back for sure.” The New York-raised, Mark Ronson-signed musician is out here headlining Spotify’s Front Left showcase, inspired by the streaming service’s playlist of the same name. Straus commanded the captivated room with her unique brand of pop, self-assuredly and emotionally performing tracks from her recently released EP, Make My Bed, for over 40 minutes. “It was great, it was really dope, the crowd was so excited it was awesome.”

“I really hope and try hard to make my shows personable, in a way that I wish more shows were. Like it feels like we are in the show together, like me in the crowd, we are in this shit together.”

The first thing you notice when you sit down with Straus is her presence. Not a slow burn that reveals itself over the course of an interview – rather her brand of NY energy hits you at maximum speed, and though still a teenager she has an incredible sense of self-possession (understandable when you remember she was raised in her dad’s Brooklyn recording studio, Mission Sound). With an upbringing so heavily entrenched in the music industry – her father Oliver Straus engineers records for the likes of Cat Power and The National – was there any chance she wouldn’t make a career out of music herself? “Always a chance, because I feel like you grow up and experience your parents’ interests and you have the option to be like ‘Fuck this shit, I’m gonna do science’, you know what I mean?” she laughs. “But I fucking love it, it’s the only thing I do.” Though far from undiscovered, Straus has shown extraordinary potential for stardom in the short time she’s been performing as King Princess, crafting addictive, unapologetic pop songs that have propelled her to icon status amongst her fans, many of whom also identify as gender queer. And though it is her youth that has captivated a global audience, it does not define her as an artist; Straus has proved more than capable of holding her own in the studio, or centre stage or in conversation with the press.

With her fate self-sealed at an early age, Straus abided by her parents’ request that she attend college, and traded her life in Brooklyn for Los Angeles at the age of 17. “I was really lucky because I had a really great community of writers and musicians that I knew from New York who had already moved to L.A.,” she explains. The sea change influenced her writing in a different way than her concrete hometown did. “I think there is more room for happiness in music in L.A.,” she says. “New York is sad, it’s a place for sad music. I feel like that’s true, there’s a lot more angst, more stress in New York.” Sadness shapes a lot of her five-track EP, the genesis of which was a difficult breakup. “I had a big break up … I felt really inspired and wrote all of those songs pretty close together.” The most explicit of the genre being Talia, a vulnerable 3:27 minute ballad, with lines that lay the writer’s soul bare: When you left, you took my bestest friends away / And in this mess, I think I dug a thousand graves / Talia, I hope you’re happy anyway.

“If I was loaded I would move back to New York, I would do the real show … I would get myself a townhouse in the west village, honey, with my wife and my cats and my hot kids.”

Navigating the complexities of the business, and balancing her private and public personas, is something that comes second nature to Straus. She is after all the product of a generation raised on Instagram, and unlike other artists who claim to detest the social media aspect of their work, Straus is proud of the fervent following she’s cultivated. “I got big social media,” she tells me animatedly (214 000 followers on Instagram to be specific), and received a surge of affirmations after fellow pop musician Harry Styles tweeted the lyrics to her lead single, 1950. “Queer people have really embraced me in a really beautiful loving way. It’s so funny because even when somebody writes something kinda douchy on a post of mine my gay fans will be like ‘This is a peaceful page!’ It’s tight.” Straus admits that her sexuality has at times excluded her from gendered prejudice in the industry. “I feel extremely privileged in being gay, and being respected for being gay, because I haven’t really experienced a lot of the sexual injustice that most women experience. You know every woman that I am close to that I love has had an experience of assault or abuse of power from men, by men, and I have as well but in the industry I have found a sense of safety and a good team and that includes men, and I feel really lucky because I know that that is just not the case usually.”

“The fix is having women in these positions, at labels and at major large companies. We need women, we need women to take care of us … I have women to take care of me and it’s an incredibly rewarding experience.”

If the old adage is true, that you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with, then Straus credits her parents for teaching her who best to keep close in the industry. “I feel like I was taught by my parents how to pick them, you know? And I feel like it’s an exercise in self-awareness and being sure of yourself to pick people who you really have a good feeling about, like I feel as women we do have this gut feeling.” One such person is friend, producer and mentor Mark Ronson, who made Straus his first signee to new label Zelig Recordings. “I got Mark, who you know is just an icon, and a sweetheart and has become one of my closest friends, companions,” she says of Ronson, who describes Straus as a ‘prodigy in the making’. “[He’s my] therapist when I need it, and I’m his therapist when he needs it.” As for what lies ahead, a first full length LP is in the works, more film clips are on the horizon and a web show, “my creative director and I are doing a pilot for like a web show cause I want to have like different hobbies.” Does this work make her happy? “It’s hard I think, if you’re like somebody who is really emotional and thrown into a career like this, there’s a lot. I’m depressed and happy and stressed and anxious, and it kind of depends on the day,” she muses. “But I mean, would I trade all of those things for not being creative? I don’t think so.”

King Princess will be performing her upcoming debut headline tour in Australia this November. Tickets available online here.