King Princess isn’t the first queer artist to carve out a proud place in the American pop-music mainstream, but there’s a very real argument that few have done so much good so quickly.
Want a quick statement on how far we’ve come on the LGBTQ front despite the best efforts of Rick Santorum, Duck Dynasty beardo Phil Robertson, and riotously intolerant Old Testament aficionados? Consider how the artist born Mikaela Mullaney Straus launched her career with “1950” back in 2018.
You might remember the breakout single’s video, where the then-19-year-old popped up on YouTube screens with a classic-country button-up shirt and drawn-on pencil moustache, sometimes wielding a Telecaster, sometimes showering affection on a woman who may or may not love her. At the time of the song’s release, Straus stated, “ ‘1950’ is a love song told through the lens of queerness—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. 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.”
And that was the way Straus—with a little Twitter help from super fanboy Harry Styles—broke onto the scene. Fast-forward two short years later, and King Princess seems headed for superstardom, having graduated from the Biltmore to the Vogue to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre since her first Vancouver appearance in the summer of 2018. One of the most admirable things about her rise? That would be that she’s made zero attempt to hide who she is—proudly genderqueer and gay, her songs often pulling back the curtain on her personal life.
Imagine being on the cusp of stardom in a country where Santorum was once a legitimate presidential candidate and organizations with names like Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, Heterosexuals Organized for a Moral Environment, and the Alliance for Traditional Marriage are real things. And where, historically, mainstream celebrities who’ve come out have waited until they were well-established stars.
And then imagine following up your breakout single (“1950” is closing in on 300 million Spotify streams) with “Pussy Is God”, the first lines of which celebrate the most magically wonderful of places with “Your pussy is God and I love it/Gonna kiss me real hard, make me want it.”
Straus decided early she would play by no one’s rules but her own. Admittedly that might have been made easier by her lineage: as cofounders of Macy’s, the singer’s grandparents were wealthy enough to be on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. But she also demonstrated an early determination to steer her own course; teaching herself bass, guitar, drums, and everything but bassoon in a recording studio run by her father, and making a pact with herself to always trust her gut.
“Ten years ago, not a lot of women were producing themselves,” she told Vanity Fair last fall. “They’d record a whole album, then come back with the edits from the label, and re-record everything all over again. It was startling to watch music get mutilated.”
Ten years ago, a lot women (and men) were also hiding who they were. And the ones who were open about their sexuality—Beth Ditto, Carrie Brownstein, St. Vincent—flew their flags in the accepting environs of the American underground for years before breaking into the mainstream.
King Princess, meanwhile, sprung her debut album, Cheap Queen on the world with a declaration: “This record is about me having my gay sob.” In doing so, she positioned herself as an inspiration for kids often vulnerable and confused enough to need a like-minded hero—which is invaluable for anyone stuck in a cultural backwater where they feel hopelessly alone. All hail the King.
King Princess plays the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Thusday (January 16).