The queer icon’s second album is all about self-discovery

BY CHARLOTTE GRIMWADE

Since Mikaela Straus’ breakout single 1950, her music’s been on a constant journey of growth and refinement. Back in 2018, Straus, known by her stage name King Princess, probably couldn’t have anticipated future collaborations with the likes of Mark Ronson, Ethan Gruska, Fiona Apple and the late Taylor Hawkins. What becomes apparent when listening to the 23-year-old artist’s second fully fledged album, Hold On Baby, is how cleverly she incorporates her various influences, creating a distinct sound that has become solely associated with her own musical aesthetic. 

Hold On Baby was preceded by the 2019 debut album Cheap Queen, as well as a flurry of singles and covers, such as lockdown’s Only Time Makes It Human. 1950 still stands as King Princess’ most recognisable track, establishing the key themes of her music, from sexuality and queerness to soulful explorations of adolescent angst. The hit single referenced Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 lesbian romance novel The Price Of Salt, alternatively known as Carol. Though a continuation of these ideas persisted in Cheap Queen, Hold On Baby is a turning point. 

Whilst many of King Princess’ stylistic motifs remain identifiable throughout her new album, it’s difficult not to notice the significant change in tone. Hold On Baby is, at its core, about maturing and recognising the strains of a long-term relationship. Though it still maintains the same youthful buoyancy seen in Cheap Queen, Hold On Baby deep dives into personal anxieties and insecurities, all while seamlessly drifting between various styles.

Some of these mood shifts between songs are more effortless than others. However, it’s undeniable that this new album takes the listener on a more definitive journey than King Princess’ previous work. The opening track I Hate Myself, I Want To Party says it all. “I thought I couldn’t make a song now / But I think I’m gonna write again” sings King Princess as the music gradually builds, culminating in a final beat drop reflective of the new creative drive felt by the artist. 

This change in intention can be seen throughout the album. Songs like Cursed and Little Bother stand out, featuring typical King Princess-style synths. As standalone tracks they demonstrate how perfectly King Princess combines genres, creating heartfelt, catchy pop anthems with grungy guitars blended with dreamy vocal harmonies. 

What makes Hold On Baby such an enjoyable listening experience is the way in which softer acoustic tracks such as Winter Is Hopeful and Crowbar act as break points in which King Princess’ vocal talent shines through. Further notable mentions include For My Friends and Change The Locks, but without a doubt Let Us Die is one of the most exciting songs on the album. Quite literally leaving the best till last, Let Us Die provides a semi-triumphant ending, exemplifying the theme of self-exploration present throughout Hold On Baby. Musically, King Princess builds on the work of artists like Taylor Swift, Fiona Apple and Ethan Gruska (the latter of which helped co-produce the album). This final track culminates in a sense of recognition and determination, with the closing refrain “If the only way to love you is to let us die” highlighting the tumultuous journey of the album’s focal relationship story arc. 

It’s undeniable that Hold On Baby marks a turning point in King Princess’ career, not only cementing her position on the forefront of indie pop, but also within queer culture. Each track manages to balance growing anxiety with emotional catharsis, demonstrating the artist’s evident musical maturity. 

A key part of this crucial development for King Princes is her queerness. Her stage name itself reflects the artist’s constant contention with gender identity and sense of self. Clothes, makeup and presentation are a key part of King Princess’ stance as a performer. Despite knowing she was queer from a young age, King Princess has stated that she only embraced her own gender fluidity when she went to college, finally realising that she could embody a range of different identities and appearances. Describing both clothing and makeup as “armour” in a 2020 interview with GQ, it’s clear that King Princess has only enhanced the launching of queer culture and representation into the mainstream. Following the success of Hold On Baby, you can only be excited about what she’ll do next.

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