Like the name suggests, King Princess (AKA Mikaela Straus) makes music that plays with gender and artfully subverts the status quo of mainstream pop. In February the 19-year-old genderqueer singer/songwriter and producer dropped her debut single “1950,” a song inspired by the lesbian love story in Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel The Price of Salt (which was recently adapted with the film Carol). “Queer love was only able to exist privately for a long time, expressed in society through coded art forms,” Straus explained to The Line of Best Fit. “I wrote this song as a story of unrequited love in my own life, doing my best to acknowledge and pay homage to that part of history.”
With more than 108 million Spotify streams, “1950” is one of the biggest pop hits of the year, and for good reason—it’s an update on the old-school torch song, and finds Straus (who played every instrument on the track herself) struggling like a levee to hold back her surging desire and devotion. “I’ll wait for you, I’ll pray/I will keep on waiting for your love,” she sings in the chorus over patient finger-snaps, swoony backing vocals, and crackling, synth-heavy production, her voice fluttering over the last word like even the thought of reciprocation is about to make her melt.
Straus released her debut EP Make My Bed in June, and between her falsetto delivery of the bedroom jam “Holy” and the combustible catharsis of “Talia” (a heartbroken sequel to “1950”), it’s proof that the greatness of her breakthrough single wasn’t an isolated incident. Within King Princess’ domain (which she rules “with the velvet tongue”), queer romance is the norm; she recently told Them that “it’s very difficult [to be] stuck in, like, a vortex of straight shit.” Make My Bed escapes that hetero vortex with songs that are catchy (and gay) as hell. Straus has sold out nearly every show on her current tour, including tonight’s stop at the Doug Fir, which is a fraction the size of the venues she’ll probably play on future visits.