The Top 100 Songs of 2008 (songs based on chart performance over the course of one calendar year), included songs from Flo Rida, Leona Lewis, OneRepublic, Sara Bareilles and Katy Perry (just to name a few). The Top 100 singles of 2018 looked incredibly different, featuring songs from Drake, Camila Cabello, Cardi B., Halsey and Sam Smith.
If you’re wondering where I’m going with this, it’s that something exciting is coming to pop music. Some of the year’s biggest songs came from men and women of color and members of the LGBTQ community. Halsey has been open about her sexual identity for awhile, Sam Smith is openly gay – and artists on the rise like Troye Sivan, Hayley Kiyoko, Kehlani, Kim Petras, SOPHIE and others are continuously changing the idea of what it’s like to be a successful pop artist in 2019.
Cue Mikaela Straus – a.k.a King Princess. The 20-year-old pop singer-songwriter changing the game.
Straus grew up surrounded by music and spent a lot of her free time with her father – a successful recording engineer. Throughout her childhood, Straus learned how to play the bass, guitar, piano and drums and immersed herself in music production. Originally raised in Brooklyn, Straus moved to Los Angeles to study at the USC Thornton School of Music but dropped out after a year to pursue her music career.
Straus’ talent garnered the attention of Mark Ronson, who later signed her to his record label, Zelig Recordings, under Columbia Records. She was the first artist he signed. Straus’ debut single “1950” was released in Feb. 2018 and is an ode to Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel, The Price Of Salt – which later inspired the film Carol.
“Historically a publicly unaccepted but incredibly rich culture, queer love was only able to exist privately for a long time, expressed in society through coded art forms,” she said. “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.”
“1950” became a viral hit, as these things do nowadays, and even got Harry Styles’ attention, who tweeted the lyrics just a couple weeks after it was released. He even asked her to open for him at his show at Madison Square Garden. She declined, claiming she wasn’t ready for such a massive show.
“1950” has over 193 million streams on Spotify alone. To put this number in perspective, it has more streams on the same platform than Maggie Rogers’ “Alaska” (currently at 73 million) and dodie’s “Sick Of Losing Soulmates” (41 million) – two similar artists who have also had touring success prior to the release of a full length debut album (Maggie’s came out a couple weeks ago). This statement isn’t made to have the artists to compete, rather to understand Straus’ true relevance in pop music’s current landscape.
Fast forward to the beginning of 2019 – Straus is starting her first ever North American headlining tour: she’s sold out every show and will be at Coachella in April (and if anything goes the way it usually does, she’ll be at Lollapalooza, too). Needless to say, her success as a 20-year-old with no debut album release is pretty wild.
It was exciting to get the chance to see Straus at this point in her career: comparable to when I saw Maggie Rogers perform at Lincoln Hall back in 2017 – look where she ended up! The Chicago show was also only the second show on the tour, so the energy and excitement seemed extra high. I do have to admit I missed the first 10 minutes or so of the set, as my friend and I attending the show guessed the wrong start time for her set. It happens.
First off, never underestimate how a crowd’s dynamic can affect a crowd. I’ve seen shows where the audience is dead silent and completely still. This can really ruin the vibes and a performer can absolutely read a room when there are thousands of eyes staring at you. I didn’t know what to anticipate coming into this show and what played out was a wildly diverse group of people who seemed inspired, ecstatic and incredibly immersed in the magic that was unfolding onstage. I even stood next to a group of middle aged men and women – presumably two couples in their 50s (if I had to guess) jamming out and even singing along to the words. Who would have thought a 20-year-old woman who identifies as genderqueer could pull out the gen x’ers of Chicago?
If my memory serves me correctly, I arrived around three or four songs into the set. Based on this setlist, I didn’t miss any of the released songs, so at least I have that going for me! I was instantly I was drawn into Straus’ performance.
Rocking a t-shirt with a penguin on it, black skinny jeans and sneakers, donning a floppy haircut reminiscent of Harry Styles in 2014, it was hard to make out her face, but based on the front of the crowd’s reactions to nearly every move she made, whatever she was doing was pretty damn encapsulating.
I got to hear two songs I knew right in a row which was great – “Upper West Side” – a song that truly speaks to the sentiment that “the opposite of love is indifference” – and “1950” -(meaning explained earlier) – really lit a fire under the audience. I usually really dislike having to hear unreleased songs live before I’ve heard the recorded version – but for whatever reason, I really didn’t mind it in this setting. I don’t know if it’s because the venue has better sound than what I’ve experienced in the past, or that King Princess does a better job at enunciating, but I could understand what she was singing far more than I have in the past when hearing unreleased songs for the first time live.
Perhaps it’s because I knew that these were particularly special moments: being able to see a performer at the start of their career in a teeny venue (the Metro holds 1,000, so still decently big) is a really incredible thing to witness – especially when it’s someone who is absolutely changing what it means to be a successful pop star.
Hands down, my favorite moment of the show was finding out that I didn’t miss the performance of “Pussy Is God” – easily my favorite song of hers thus far. Just the title alone is revolutionary and I absolutely love her unapologetic, fearless attitude about her sexuality and what she wants to sing about. It’s really refreshing and you could tell how grateful her fans are for how she is shaping her narrative as a performer. The song’s greatness is undeniable.
Michaela closed her set with “Talia”- a song about heartbreak that Straus said she wrote in 10 minutes, including how performing the song is “really cathartic and powerful live…. being able to see people respond to it is so cool.”
I would say this song definitely got the biggest response from the crowd that created a really sweet bond of sorts between herself and the audience. I’ve seen a handful of young artists performing sold out shows, and although talented, not everyone has what it takes to hold an audience’s attention at such a young age: sometimes having a viral hit or two and a couple million followers isn’t quite enough. On the contrary, you can already tell based on King Princess’ discography, interviews and overall charisma that she is clearly wise beyond her years: what a gift it is to also perform beyond them, too.
Being able to create music that people can relate is something I would venture to guess that all artists strive towards, and Straus’ unique & refreshing ability to take control of her own narrative with confidence is something that I would hope to see in more up and coming musicians.
King Princess’ debut album release has yet to be announced. You can stream her music below. Click here for her tour dates.
See you at Lollapalooza, Mikaela?
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