King Princess is a unique blend of the record industry of old and the genre-bending, self-produced music of the 2000s. Her hit single “1950” excited strict alternative listeners while simultaneously getting her noticed and signed by famous pop producer Mark Ronson. Under his label, she released her long-awaited debut album, Cheap Queen, in 2019. This year, she released Cheap Queen (Deluxe), which features five bonus tracks. What makes Cheap Queen (Deluxe) so fascinating is that it has all the ingredients to guarantee success in the music industry- catchy pop riffs and broken hearts- and yet it breaks the mold. So what is it about King Princess that has made her universally listenable without making easy-listening music?
The type of success Cheap Queen (Deluxe) has enjoyed is impossible to explain without discussing the artist herself. The artist’s outspoken candor and devil-may-care attitude have made her a role model to young people who struggle to find their own confidence, particularly young queer women. She is as outspoken about her queer identity in her social media as she is in her music, choosing to remain candid in a world that is relentlessly superficial.
It’s this honesty in character and in art that makes Cheap Queen (Deluxe) such a special album. The skeleton of Cheap Queen (Deluxe) takes its cue from old school pop music, but its subject matter and musicianship make it much more raw and musically progressive. Her songs about heartbreak make room for honesty about her own faults, as well as her tendency to ignore those faults for the sake of love. In “Back of the Cab”, she sings, “I’m still missing, dancing in the back of a cab with you, convinced we never had issues,” The last thing King Princess wants to do is perpetuate bullshit. She knows that she lies to herself and doesn’t hide it.
King Princess is an artist that distinguished herself by making statements, but Cheap Queen (Deluxe) is evidence more than anything of her dexterity as a musician. Every listen reveals more and more intimate musical details; a little twist on the guitar, a subtle synth, even small lyrical allusions to other songs on the album. Soulful vocals, rhythm guitar, and dreamy vibraphones combine to create songs that feel classic and grandiose while remaining deeply personal.
My favorite tracks on the album were “Ain’t Together”, “Isabel’s Moment”, and “Ohio”. “Ain’t Together” is a catchy pop love song about the anxiety of new love and the gaslighting that goes on when you’re crushing on a friend. “Isabel’s Moment”, which features Tobias Jesso Jr., is a slow, haunting piano ballad about the hole in your heart when the most important person in your life leaves you. My favorite track on the album is “Ohio”, a rock and roll ballad that echoes the rock gods of days gone by without being kitschy, and while maintaining a true King Princess sensibility. It’s the rare ability of an artist to write about unrequited love without sounding phony.
In her next album, I hope that King Princess is able to take more risks. Though I loved the dreamy, synthy sound of Cheap Queen (Deluxe), there were times when the album felt a bit monotonous. The tracks where she took the most risks were the gems. Take the final track of the album, “Ohio”. It was exciting to hear an artist put so much pure anarchistic energy into a track, but it made the rest of the album seem tame in comparison. If she is able to harness this energy for future albums, there is no limit to where she can go as a musician.