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NUNN ON ONE MUSIC King Princess, ruling the musical realm
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times

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Born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in the studio thanks to a recording engineer father, Mikaela Mullaney Straus eventually evolved into pop singer King Princess.

In 2018, she released the single "1950—a tribute to the Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt by and to the LGBT community. One Direction's Harry Styles tweeted a lyric from the song that brought her international attention. Her career took off, and she was signed to Mark Ronson's label Zelig Records.

Her debut studio album, Cheap Queen, brought fans a variety of songs about happiness, heartbreak and bottoming.

Windy City Times: Where did the name King Princess come from?

King Princess: I was in the studio when I was 14 years old with my friend Doug. We would say, "This is King Princess Day" and it would set the mood of whatever song we were working on. I realized later that it was just me in general.

WCT: I met you briefly at Lollapalooza.

KP: Cute—I had so much fun!

WCT: You played a set at Berlin Nightclub afterward.

KP: Yes. I always enjoy playing in Chicago. I feel there's an energy about it. It's kind of grungy, like New York.

WCT: Are your live shows like Berlin Nightclub, with a variety of types in attendance?

KP: There's a dominant gay and female vibe at the shows. I had never gone to events that were directed toward gay women even though, for a long time, I identified strongly as a lesbian. That wasn't the community I felt welcomed into.

Lesbians are traditionally stereotyped with us being academic and into books. Which is fine, but I feel that the gay women who are at my shows embody that queerness with a type of excitement. It makes me happy that queer women are queening out and busting it.

I've seen more trans inclusion at the recent shows, which makes me happy. I feel my crowd is diverse, but it can always be more. We can do better.

I think with drag and club culture reemerging into popular media, it's a lot easier for gay women to feel included in traditionally male or queer environments. For me it's the most fun to see gays, lesbians and trans people coming together to dance.

My shows are really safe. There's no violence and everyone's nice to each other. People make friends, which is really cool. I can't name a show where people are really kind to each other in a crowd like that.

WCT: Do you want Chicagoans to bring rainbow flags to the concert, like they have in the past?

KP: Oh, they will. We have a whole wardrobe kit that we dedicate to fan stuff.

WCT: I heard Cody Critcheloe, also known as SSION, made the sets for your tour.

KP: Cody and I are both theatrical. We wanted the richness of theater sets. When you look at old rock 'n' roll shows, they had worthy set pieces that were physical. They weren't projection screen-based, obviously because of the time period.

We wanted to have pieces that felt like a weird circus ornament. We had to brainstorm on how we could bring that theatricality and three-dimensional vibe to the stage, but still making it rock 'n' roll with something decrepit about it. There are hands with dripping red nails—which is very gay, rich and lux.

The backdrop is something Cody painted. I love the idea that when you go see a play a backdrop is painted to look like a forest or a lake. That was important to have a nature element to it.

WCT: Do you have a favorite cover song on this tour?

KP: I haven't done a cover song in a while, because I'm getting through a lot of material from my record and EP at my shows. I did do a cover of Perfume Genius' "Queen" that was really fun.

WCT: Why is the "Useless Phrases" song so short?

KP: Because it's an interlude.

WCT: But I want it to be a full song.

KP: Me, too—but that's why you need to stream it over and over again.

WCT: Which I do.

KP: I know you do. I can totally tell! [Laughs]

WCT: Why are there so many downtempo tracks on the album Cheap Queen?

KP: I have been thinking about this as I work on more music. There's one song for the gays and then one for the sad dykes. These are two very prominent parts of myself that I can pay homage to. For this album, this was reflective of how I felt. I felt sad and downtempo.

My next project is not going to be like that. It was cool, but I don't necessarily want to do the same thing for long periods of time. With my background, I look at myself as a musicologist. I love the history of music. I want to reference shit that makes me smile. My taste is eclectic and so is my music.

WCT: It must be amazing working with Mark Ronson, with his eclectic style.

KP: Mark is an amazing mentor for a lot of reasons. I'm a young producer coming up under him. I played some stuff for him yesterday. I want to do him proud. He's a DJ, so I keep him in mind. Like you were saying, some songs of mine are slow, but I want to make stuff that he would spin. I think that's the highest honor for him to say he would spin a song of mine.

WCT: Who is your best friend for the dance video of your song "Hit the Back?"

KP: Oh, Henry Metcalf. He's my Judy. He's great because he's a teacher and a friend. Dancing with him has been really freeing. If you are someone like me, my femininity has been learned. It wasn't inherent. I think that meeting people like Henry, who defy gender or any type of binary, was an experience where saw each other eye to eye in so many ways. We are two people that exist in between. So much is unspoken without having massive discussions about who we are. The proof is in the pudding.

WCT: How do you identify now?

KP: I identify as gay. But if you want to get technical, I'm definitely a genderqueer person.

WCT: I saw a RuPaul picture in your video. Do you have a favorite Drag Race queen?

KP: I love so many of them. I love Bianca [del Rio] and Jinkx [Monsoon]. They are all so talented.

My mom bought me an authenticated RuPaul headshot and my girlfriend had it framed. I love it and it's in my kitchen. She watches me cook!

WCT: I will invite some of the local Chicago RuPaul Drag Racers to your show.

KP: Absolutely. I have learned a lot from drag with my live shows. It's been a huge part of my life. I think the best way to pay homage to that is give local queens a time slot in my concert to show their stuff. I think it's important to have that energy at my shows. It hypes me up. The only thing I want to watch before my show is that. It's helpful!

WCT: Do you feel about opening for Harry Styles on the European part of his tour this year?

KP: I'm very excited and I feel it's a really good pairing. He's a very kind person. I'm not an opener. I'm a fucking main act, but if I have to open for somebody, it would have to be Harry!

King Princess rules at Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine Ave., on Wed., Feb. 5, at 7:30 p.m. Ticket information can be found at .

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