MUSIC

King Princess Channels Her "PAIN" Into a Glossy Disco-Pop Banger

"PAIN" is the latest single from the singer.

If an impending second lockdown has you feeling lonelier than normal, King Princess has released an anthem just for you.

"PAIN" is the latest single from the pop starlet, who seems to be wrapping up a follow-up to her 2019 debut record, Cheap Queen. Co-written alongside Nick Long, Shawn Everett, and Tobias Jesso Jr., the piano-driven tune sees King Princess—real name Mikaela Straus—reckoning with an unfortunate pattern of heartbreak time and time again: "You and I just get along / I wonder how I'll f*ck it up," she sings, as if her misdeeds in the relationship are inevitable.

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Music Features

Before Its Time: How EDM Transformed Ellie Goulding's Folk-Pop

The British pop star's career might've looked entirely different if it weren't for the DJs like Bassnectar and Calvin Harris.

In 2010, a singer-songwriter by the name of Ellie Goulding went from a relative unknown to the newly crowned ruler of the British music charts.

Raised in a village of fewer than 1,000 people, Goulding went on to study at University of Kent, where she was spotted by her future manager. After building a presence on MySpace and linking up with various producers, the budding star inked a record deal with Polydor, who released her first EP, An Introduction to Ellie Goulding, in 2009. The Guardian called her a "pop sensation" before the EP had even hit stores.

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If there's one thing that could be said of our modern era, it's that nothing exists in isolation.

One could even say that nothing goes in just one direction anymore—instead, things are moving in multiple directions, operating in loops, often meeting at crossroads. For a long time, at least in the music industry, things appeared to be stratified, separated by genre, linear visions, and arbitrary categories. Rock artists toured with rock artists; indie stars opened for indie stars. Patrician music lovers looked down on pop-lovers, and pop-lovers bullied indieheads. Success could be purchased with a record deal and marked by a position on a top chart. Gender was divided between a man and a woman. Feminism was disconnected from race and class.

Times are changing. Pop, like fashion, has become fluid and multidimensional. Elton John can collaborate with Young Thug. Lady Gaga can ricochet from electronica to folk and back. Harry Styles has become a bisexual icon and a truly great songwriter, capable of drawing from multiple genres to create nuanced and political pop music.

And now he's going on tour with Jenny Lewis, Koffee, and King Princess. They'll all be opening for him on different stops on his 2020 "Love on Tour" tour, which will begin in April.


A little background: Jenny Lewis is an iconic songwriter who fronted the band Rilo Kiley before creating a body of intensely powerful solo work. Koffee is a singer-songwriter, rapper, and musician from Jamaica who's generated a huge amount of buzz in a short time by putting a fresh and experimental spin on reggae. King Princess is a dream pop star who may or may not be capitalizing on queer aesthetics but still embodies an inspiringly out and proud image.

Styles' choice of openers is brilliant because it brings together so many different devoted and passionate fan-bases. Queer fans will relish the chance to dance along to King Princess, while indie traditionalists and older millennials will come for Jenny Lewis, and Gen-Z fans of cutting-edge music will show up for Koffee. All these musicians are bound together by one common thread: Their music is really, really good. And isn't that what matters in the end?

Rilo Kiley - A Better Son/Daughter www.youtube.com


King Princess - 1950 www.youtube.com


Koffee - Toast (Official Video) www.youtube.com

Unfortunately, the existing tickets sold out with stunning speed and cost an exorbitant amount of money, sadly prohibiting many of Styles' fans from enjoying the experience. (Many of them feel scammed). If Styles were to truly embrace the ethos of his commitment to breaking down all genres and boundaries, he'd make his concerts free, but alas, one can only dream... Until then, let us keep listening to our descriptively titled crossover Spotify playlists (shoutout to "Creamy" and "Pollen"), saying "okay" to Boomers who insist that there are only two genders, checking Co-Star for evidence of discernible meaning, and praying for the day when everything and everyone will truly be free.

Harry Styles - Sign of the Times (Video) www.youtube.com

MUSIC

King Princess's "Cheap Queen" Is Performative Queerness

Mikaela Straus's debut LP raises questions about the boundary between using queerness as a brand and using one's power to create an inclusive community.

King Princess is a different kind of gay icon.

While many stars have indoctrinated themeslves into the gay community by becoming beloved by mostly gay men, it's rare to see a star become beloved specifically by the lesbian and bisexual/pansexual femme community.

King Princess (whose real name is Mikaela Straus) burst onto the scene at a cultural moment that seemed overripe for a queer femme-focused star. She was preceded by Hayley Kiyoko, whose openly queer music earned her the moniker "Lesbian Jesus," and she's very far from the only queer femme musician around. But other than Kiyoko, she's one of the few to build a successful pop career off of a specifically lesbian-oriented aesthetic. She's garnered quite a following, and her shows have become safe spaces for queer women looking to express themselves openly and loudly.

Strangely, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Straus implied that she's not well-versed in the queer female community that loves her so much. "My shows are [filled with] very queer females, which is interesting because I cannot tell you a community that I have been less apart of in my life than that," she said. "It makes me interested in what's happening with them." Presumably, Straus is saying that as she identifies more with drag and nonbinary communities than the queer female sphere, but it's still a confounding statement, delivered without context in an article called "The Unapologetic Queerness of King Princess."

This raises the question: Could all this be an act, a well-timed and excellently executed branding technique? In all likelihood, it probably is, at least in part. King Princess's authenticity (a generally meaningless term) has been criticized extensively, and for good reason—she grew up in the music industry, as her father was a recording engineer and owned Mission Sound Studios, and her great-great-grandfather was a co-owner of Macy's. All of this meant she was offered a record deal at age 11 (which she turned down), but it allowed her to release an extremely successful EP in 2017; "1950" rests at a cool 300 million streams on Spotify.

King Princess - 1950 www.youtube.com

Probably at least a thousand of those streams are this writer's, as "1950" is a gem of a song. Fortunately, her debut LP Cheap Queen continues in that song's vein, keeping with the lush harmonies, hefty beats, and glossy 80s pop and rock influences that made that song such a standout.

In contrast to that song and much of her earlier work, Cheap Queen moves away from explicit references to queer culture and focuses on the dissolution of a relationship; take a step back, and it's largely about performance, curation, and fame. The songs are confident and forthcoming, buoyed by modern beats and rich, warm mixes. In some ways, the album's glistening, glittery finish is anti-DIY, totally committed to its own poshness and self-seriousness.

King Princess - King Princess: Deep Inside Cheap Queen www.youtube.com

In that way, you could see it either as the product of someone born with a silver spoon who's successfully capitalized on queer aesthetics and popular music's most familiar and trustworthy sounds and images—or you could view it as the passion project of someone who truly understands the meaning of drag and camp, and who is, as the Entertainment Weekly article states, "queering queerness, whether she knows it or not."

Ironically, in terms of its subject matter, Cheap Queen actually isn't that explicitly queer. It's more of a discussion of relationships, free from gender and sexuality; its lyrics are pure pop, cut through with a thread of Gen-Z angst but without becoming brooding. Sonically, it's relatively subdued and mellow, avoiding controversy or extremes, perfect for chill playlists or summer nights (perhaps it should've been released in June instead of October).

Cheap Queen is at its most out and proud when Straus sings about drag. The cover photo features King Princess clad in light drag makeup, armpit hair showing, casting a disdainful glare at the camera. King Princess identifies as genderqueer, still uses she/her pronouns, and drag has been a huge influence on her life and work. "Drag for me is just such an extension of my queerness because it was how I learned to become comfortable with myself," she told Entertainment Weekly. "I feel so grateful to drag because…RuPaul and everything that has made drag mainstreamed it in a way where a girl from Brooklyn, who didn't feel like a girl, saw drag, and learned how to become a woman."

King Princess - Playboy School Of Pop www.youtube.com

Drag, of course, began as a way for queer people to express themselves and their sexuality in a creative and liberating medium. Like its aesthetic sibling, camp, it originated largely in black queer communities, working as a subversive form of expression that existed outside of and in opposition to established hierarchies.

Women and lesbians have always dressed as men in drag, but of late, increasing numbers of women and nonbinary femmes have been using drag as a way to subvert expectations of femininity. In an article from The Guardian, Rebecca Nicholson writes, "It's a deliciously complicated web to untangle: these are women, performing as what would have been (historically, at least) a man performing as a woman. These female queens are traversing gender boundaries as well as putting on outrageously entertaining performances, often in the face of prejudice and misogyny, even within queer culture."

The fact that cis women have begun performing femme drag has been met with some discomfort and accusations of cultural appropriation and fetishization, though these arguments have also been criticized. In Dazed, Jake Hall writes, "The irony is that drag is designed to disrupt gender norms – anyone can bind, stuff, pad and 'perform' gender to an exaggerated extent." Many have also argued that criticizing female drag performers places too much emphasis on genitalia and bodies themselves, when drag is supposed to be an inclusive space, one dedicated to the deconstruction of gender and exclusivity, and one that can be liberating for nonbinary people or anyone struggling to come to terms with their gender identity. Plus, queer women and nonbinary people have always been around, and trans women like Silvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson were at the forefront of early battles for LGBTQ+ rights.

In the midst of this sacred tradition enters King Princess, who has largely avoided mainstream controversy thus far. Most publications have branded her as a victorious new kind of queer icon. It's hard to say how her legacy will hold up, but for now, she seems to have hit a sweet spot between ingenious branding and a genuinely meaningful message.

Whatever you think of King Princess and the way she uses queerness, she is creating an inclusive space where queer people can congregate and celebrate their identities, with all their inherent fluidity, confusion, and contradictions. And in a way, wasn't that always the point of queer activities like drag, which are inherently, beautifully performative? Aren't they supposed to be about the presentation, the artifice, and the show, highlighting the cracks in the idea that anyone has a fixed gender identity and shattering the idea that anyone is exempt from performing their gender, style, and selfhood all the time?

Maybe King Princess should have the final word on this. "Growing up, I thought it was much more simple," she told Vice. "I was just like, 'I'm gay.' But now that I have the words to describe how I've always felt, it makes it complicated." She's quick to clarify that this is a good thing. "I like that complication, because we are all walking dichotomies of some sort. We are all just walking contradictions. I don't think any of these identities are mutually exclusive."


MUSIC

Mark Ronson's "Late Night Feelings" Is Soulless Pop

Despite its technical perfection, Ronson's album feels soulless in parts.

Mark Ronson called his new album a collection of "sad bangers," and as promised, Late Night Feelings is full of upbeat tracks about heartbreak.

It features an impressive array of musicians, but even the undeniable talent of each singer and Ronson's proven skill—he's fresh from the success of "Uptown Funk" and "Shallow"—can't save the album from its own soullessness.

Late Night Feelings is plagued by issues that taint many producers' similar albums: It feels like each singer popped into the studio, learned the song, recorded it, and left. In this way, it sacrifices each artist's originality in its effort to package them into Ronson's vision. There isn't the cathartic blood-letting that comes from a cohesive album by a single artist or group. Ronson's album is technically perfect, but often, it's not alive.

One of the greatest missed opportunities comes on the three-song set by YEBBA, the extraordinary Arkansas gospel singer who rose to fame after her mind-blowing Sofar Sounds performance. Like Sia on the unfortunate L.S.D. album from a few months ago, YEBBA's raw vocal talent and singular emotiveness can't shine through her producer's zealousness; instead, she's held back by a straitjacket of beats and unnatural vocal lines. Overall, though a great deal of today's best music involves unexpected convergences of very different genres, Ronson's funk infusions don't always mesh with the styles of his featured artists. It's hard to know where some of these songs are supposed to be played—outside of department store aisles.

YEBBA - My Mind | Sofar NYC www.youtube.com

In particular, these issues plague "Late Night Feelings" by Lykki Li and "Find U Again" by Camila Cabello. "Nothing Breaks Like a Heart" by Miley Cyrus and "True Blue" by Angel Olsen are stronger, though they still feel overly processed and a bit insubstantial. None of the tracks on the album are without redeeming qualities: The mesh of orchestral elements and glossy, noirish synths are often elegant and refined. Perhaps it's simply the knowledge that Ronson could have done so much better that makes some of these songs feel stale.

The album finds its footing as it goes on. "Why Hide" featuring Diana Gordon takes a piano motif that's oddly evocative of "Somebody To Lean On" and actually gives Gordon's ethereal vocals their due. Gordon's voice is better suited to the track than some of the other singers', or maybe the track is better suited to her style. Either way, the sultry and cohesive tune allows her emotion to shine through and leaves enough space for its lyrics to simmer and resonate.

"2 AM" by Lykki Li is the best track on the album. Melodic, dreamy, and radiant, listening to the song feels like floating under the surface of a swimming pool for a moment, completely escaping the reality of the world above. Its sultry beat, wrenching lyrics, and comfortingly familiar chord progression make it feel like a classic, perfect for late night smokes or long drives spent watching the sky turn from orange to purple to black.

Mark Ronson - 2 AM (Audio) ft. Lykke Li www.youtube.com

The final track, "Spinning," processes Ilsey's vocals a la Imogen Heap in "Hide and Seek" and places them over a windy synthesizer and a magnetic rhythm. It's beautiful enough to stop the world for a moment. If only all the songs had room to breathe emotion into Late Night Feelings and what it could have been.

MUSIC

Fresh Music Friday: 10 New Songs To Beat Summertime Sadness

New releases to heat up your weekend!

TAYLOR HILL/GETTY IMAGES

Fresh Music Friday is here to give you a breakdown of new singles, EPs, and albums to check out as you make your way into the weekend.

Get ready to jam out with some of our favorite up-and-coming artists, plus celebrate new releases from those you already know and love.

1. Lil Nas X - "Panini"

Lil Nas X isn't stopping anytime soon. In anticipation of his forthcoming EP, the country-rap pop sensation released a new single called "Panini," which incorporates Nirvana's "In Bloom."

2. Mark Ronson - "Pieces Of Us" Feat. King Princess

Mark Ronson's new album, Late Night Feelings, is out this week and features an impressive list of features from artists like Camila Cabello, Lykke Li, and Miley Cyrus. The legendary producer tapped singer/songwriter King Princess for the soulful, atmospheric single "Pieces of Us."

3. Spoon - "No Bullets Spent"

Everyone's favorite indie rock band, Spoon, is gearing up to put out an album of greatest hits called Everything Hits At Once that will feature 12 classics, plus a new song entitled "No Bullet Spent." The new track harnesses much of the same laid back, melodic energy that made the early Spoon records so lovable and compliments the early Spoon catalog well.

4. Devendra Banhart - "Kantory Ongaku"

Devendra Banhart recently announced that he has a new album in the works entitled Ma, and this week he shared the first single from the new collection, "Kantori Ongaku." It's a quintessentially mellow Banhart track with lackadaisical vocals to match and, according to the singer, it's an homage to Japanese musician Haruomi Horsono. Ma is out September 13th on Nonesuch.

5. Sheer Mag - "Blood From A Stone"

Philadelphia shredders Sheer Mag are back with the first glimpse of their upcoming sophomore album, A Distant Call, by sharing a blistering new single called "Blood From A Stone." Relentless and riff-heavy as always, "Blood From A Stone" is a promising glimpse of Sheer Mag tapping into their unbridled potential on the forthcoming record to secure their status as one of the most exciting rock bands in the game. A Distant Call is out August 23rd on Wilsuns RC.

6. Caroline Polachek- "Door"

For the first time, Caroline Polachek (formerly of Chairlift) has released a new solo song under her full name. The new track is called "Door" and showcases Polachek's signature airy falsetto, which floats through a bright, chirpy hook uplifted by scuttling synthesized beats. The song is accompanied by a seriously enchanting music video co-directed by Polachek and Matt Copson.

7. Beeef - "I'm So Sorry" (featuring Sidney Gish)

Allston indie rock quartet, Beeef, teamed up with DIY juggernaut Sidney Gish to put out a new single called "I'm So Sorry." It's a breezy but heartfelt coming-of-age track helmed by Beeef's jangly melodic sound and Gish's bittersweet vocal delivery. "I'm So Sorry" is Beeef's lead single from their upcoming sophomore LP entitled Bull in the Shade, due out July 26th.

8. The Ocean Blue - "It Takes So Long"

Dream pop legends The Ocean Blue are back with their first new album in six years––Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves. "It Takes So Long" is the last single from the LP and it hearkens back to the band's '80s new wave sound while presenting a fresh spin on nostalgic indie pop. "It Takes So Long" weaves Schlezel's effortlessly emotive vocals with the band's jangly guitar melodies awash in warm tones; the result is a dreamy, seraphic tune. Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves is out now via Korda records.

9. HUNJIYA - "give it/what i get"

HUNJIYA aka Alice Kim's latest offering comes in the form of a new single called "give it/what i get," the follow-up to her 2017 EP, Lineage. On the new song, the 21-year-old artist deftly creates an atmospheric soundscape by combining soulful vocals with her enticing production skills.

10. REYNA - "The Way I Loved You"

If you're craving some more sugar rush pop and have exhausted listening to the latest Carly Rae Jepsen album, you might want to look to REYNA. The Milwaukee-based Mexican-American sister-duo is back with another glossy, '80s-inspired electro-pop song. Their new track "The Way I Loved You" continues their string of infectious, glimmering pop following previously released singles "Cool With It," "Baby Forget It" and "Heartbeat." Here's what Reyna had to say about the song: "TWILY is about wanting to love someone new with that same intensity, without caution or fear. But it's almost impossible because every new relationship you're more and more guarded. It's almost like you're protecting your heart instead of letting yourself fall in love."