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King Princess - Make My Bed EP Music Album Reviews

King Princess - Make My Bed EP Music Album Reviews
On a debut EP that occupies a space between the cathartic stadium pop of fun. and the vulnerability of Lorde, the young singer-producer offers the kind of love songs generations of queer kids craved.

King Princess’ breakout single, “1950,” is about as close to perfect as a pop song can get. Like Lorde’s “Royals” or Mapei’s almost-hit “Don’t Wait,” it accomplishes a lot with a little: Sparse 808 drums, sentimental piano, and hazy guitars bubble as they build to a timeless torch-song chorus. “I’ll wait for you, I’ll pray/I will keep on waiting for your love,” the 19-year-old singer and producer promises. Effortless, infectious, and anthemic, it’s a track designed to launch a career.

Instead of attempting to recapture the magic of “1950,” the four other full-length songs on King Princess’ self-produced debut EP, Make My Bed, build out the world it creates. Signed to Mark Ronson’s new Zelig Recordings, the artist known offstage as Mikaela Straus writes love songs that are as self-aware and sardonic as they are pleadingly authentic. True to the dramatic emotional landscape of late adolescence and early adulthood, Make My Bed alternates between overwrought emotion and unbothered disaffection, love and loneliness, pride and sheepishness. Straus’ music is the natural descendant of the left-of-center pop that has ruled the airwaves since she was in junior high; King Princess occupies the sparkling, melodramatic space between the cathartic stadium pop of fun. and the bare-all vulnerability of Lorde.

Those artists succeeded because they knew how to speak to their audiences, nailing the skyscraper highs and ocean-floor lows of teens’ emotional lives. But being a teenager now is different from being a teenager even five years ago. Straus proudly identifies as a lesbian, and she’s conscious of the political and cultural significance of using feminine pronouns to identify the objects of her affections in her songs. She cleverly frames the unrequited love at the core of “1950” as an homage to how, as she puts it, “queer love was only able to exist privately for a long time, expressed in society through coded art forms.”

At a time when artists like serpentwithfeet and Lotic are expressing radical queerness by getting as far away from pop’s rigid boundaries as possible, it’s a stretch to equate Straus’ work with the protest music of the ’60s, as she did in a recent interview. Yet it packs its own kind of punch. Throughout Make My Bed, queer desire isn’t a focal point so much as a given: Like Troye Sivan, Straus’ palpable comfort with her sexuality is what makes her work transgressive.

“Talia” is the kind of single past generations of queer kids longed for. Backed by hums and soft snaps, Straus bares her soul: “You’ve walked out a hundred times, how was I/Supposed to know this time that you wouldn’t call/That you wouldn’t come home,” she sings, her throaty vocals cracking with emotion. Although it’s awkwardly stapled on to the verse, the chorus soars to the same heights of romantic longing as the songs that end John Hughes movies, complete with Jack Antonoff-level power chords and pounding synth drums.

Straus reveals a wicked sense of humor on the washed-out “Upper West Side,” dismissing a rich girl as “another bitch from the Upper West Side,” before arriving at a pre-chorus that captures the cognitive dissonance of an Instagram crush: “I can’t stop judging everything you do/But I can’t get enough of you.” Straus often layers her vocals with harmonic effects that recall Imogen Heap, and the result suggests a singer shyly peeking out from behind a curtain. It’s a tool, and sometimes a detriment. “Upper West Side” would have benefitted from some moments of vulnerability, but she relies on a chorus of muted “oohs” and “ahhs” to convey that feeling.

Being yourself in public is scary, especially as a queer 19-year-old trying to launch a pop career, but Straus seems up to the challenge. This early on, it’s easy to see why she might be more comfortable hiding behind the boards. But, for all her talent as a producer, she’s at her best when she sings with the courage of a soldier rushing into battle, speaking frankly about the sometimes frightening, sometimes joyful, never-ending process of growing up.

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