Your most recently throned queer pop icon, King Princess, just finished her first Australian and New Zealand tour and oh my god can we keep her? A brilliant energy, a beacon of self-confidence, a person who sometimes feels like a boy and is happy to keep talking about it until everyone gets the idea. Plus, her tunes are flipping magic, like Sunday mornings when you wake up feeling hot and regret-free. Apt really that her debut EP is titled Make My Bed.
In between sound-checks last week, we spent a bit of time asking Mikaela — that’s her human name — about her life. A conversation spanning an incredibly nurtured upbringing, her personal duties under the title ‘gender queer pop icon’, her identity and her tiny boxes of weed paraphernalia, we reached that critical point where she shed some light on her upcoming album, which is coming sooner that you might think. Read for yourself below, while we brb listening to ‘Pussy Is God’ until the full length arrives.
So, you’ve really kind of launched into the public eye in the last few months. What were you doing this time last year?
I was in college and I was working on my EP. That was basically it. I was just trying to plan the rest of my life.
And in what kind of environment did you grow up? I know your dad has a music studio, right?
Yeah, so my parents are divorced and I grew up part time at both their houses. They both lived in Brooklyn. My mum and my dad, they were really supportive of me — they were in bands together when they were young, my dad works in music. I have a really great, creative family. They never urged me to do anything that wasn’t creative. They were never trying to get me to be a banker or some shit. It was a great upbringing, with overly caring parents.
What were you into in high school? What did your bedroom or bedrooms look like?
At my dad’s house, I had like a bunk bed that he built. Like a loft bed. It was a tiny little room and all of my weed stuff — I had so much weed paraphernalia — was just hidden in boxes around the room. I had to keep little smoke boxes. I think at my dad’s I had a Beatles poster, an original print Beatles poster, and polaroids of me and my friends. Pretty standard. Definitely a gay flag. Definitely guitars, instruments everywhere. Always messy.
I like to read wikipedia entries on people so I know what not to ask them about — you know, what’s absolute common knowledge — but I was pretty surprised that one of the first thing yours mentions is that your great-great-grandparents were on the Titanic…
I know, it’s so bizarre. My family history on my dad’s side is very rich, a very prominent Jewish family. They were on the Titanic, amongst other things, they owned Macy’s. It’s hard for me to even conceptualise because I didn’t get any of the money. Like, what’s the point of this rich-ass family history without the money? [Laughs] But it’s super beautiful.
Your debut single was inspired by one of your favourite books — so what are you reading now?
Right now, I’m reading fucking Pitchfork reviews. Like, I’m reading nothing. I need to actually sit down and read a book. Honestly, I haven’t been reading a lot lately and I think it’s partially because when I’m on tour I’m really in this weird zone where I’m lonely and travelling a lot — you don’t really know where your home is and you feel disoriented. I definitely watch more television and watch more movies during those periods because it’s so escapist for me. You can go into a zone and watch something and really decompress. I’m hoping when I get home I can go back into the zone. I started reading Alison Bechdel’s ‘Dykes To Watch Out For’, that was like the last thing I read. Then I read ‘Chelsea Girls’. I like gay books.
The Pitchfork reviews, are they about yourself?
No, I just started to read all of them. Some of them are hilarious. I find it so entertaining when they trash people. Maybe because I haven’t been trashed, I feel I’m ok with reading it. I’m sure when I get trashed in a review I’m going to feel like shit. But I’m so intrigued about journalism in the industry because it’s never anything I consider when I make music.
That makes sense.
I never consider what they are going to say about me, I only thought about reading it passively and I’m still in that zone.
Have you ever read something about yourself that’s not true?
I’ve read stuff where I was like… I didn’t say that. But I’ve never felt like I’ve read something that’s really fucked up. I’ve only read really good stuff. Journalists, in my experience with my career, have been really cognitive with my queerness and my identity. They just want to get the story across and that to me has been a huge sigh of relief just knowing that people across all mediums just want queerness to be at the forefront of the discussion. And I generally support it.
Yeah, I kind of wondered if you were tired of talking about your sexuality and if it really meant anything in terms of your music. But then I read a quote from you where you said you’d really spent time contemplating gendering your songs. I wondered if that was actually then part of your coming out process…
Well, two things: I think I am tired of talking about my sexuality, but I understand that it’s a duty that I have because people, for so long, have not been able to talk about their sexuality. So, I would rather flip it and make it a positive that people want to talk about it. I don’t want to get salty, so young. I’d rather be like, let’s fucking talk about it. But with my coming out, there was multiple parts to it. I came out really young as gay, but as I started to come into my own as an artist I realised that I wasn’t just gay but that I had gender issues going on. So in music and being in the public eye has allowed me to express myself and my gender in a myriad of ways that I don’t think I would have otherwise. Being on stage and being able to say, tonight I’m going full skater boy, I’m going to satiate that part of me that is male and get on stage and work it. Or, tonight I’m going to wear this because I am feeling more female, you know what I mean.
For me it changes day to day, hour to hour. I feel really comforted by that.
Good. I know that making art, and generally writing music, helps people kind of resolve things within themselves… but I did wonder if the element of performance ever hindered your process of understanding yourself…
I don’t think that King Princess is different to Mikaela. I think that I definitely exaggerate parts of myself to be funny and to be a character that people can cling on to, but I don’t feel like I’m being anybody but myself. What I feel is that King Princess, and the terminology of it, is a vessel to express my gender. And it completely allows me to do whatever the fuck I want. I don’t feel hindered at all. Part of being an artist is being yourself and tricking everyone else into thinking it’s a character.
I love that.
That’s how I feel. I just feel like I’m being myself.
Good. And how does it feel to be labeled a gender queer pop icon? It’s a lot!
So when people ask me how I identify, I say: a gay woman. But I know that title can be transient. I wake up somedays and I’m like, what the fuck is going on and why do I have this female body? It’s nice that there’s a term to express how I feel — that you can wake up and not feel the gender you were born. It feels good, I’m like ok it’s what the kids need! It’s really for the kids and I’m down for that — whether or not I’m fully comfortable identifying as gender queer every single day of my life, but if that’s going to make some kid read that article and be like, ‘I feel represented’, then I’m down.
You’re very cool! But the other half, do you feel ok being called a pop icon?
I hope I’m a pop icon! That’s what I wanna be! I wanna be a pop star, fuck yeah!
So who are your pop icons?
Historically, Cher. Diana Ross was a pop icon in her own right, an early pop icon. Gaga is a pop icon, Charlie XCX is a pop icon. It keeps evolving what it means to be a pop icon.
And who are your queer icons? Who made you feel stoked with yourself?
I looked to Freddie Mercury, Elton John. I looked to Gaga because she was a representative of our community when I was a kid. She was one of the first people in the 2000s who was like, ‘I fucking love gay people!’ and we were all like, ‘Fuck yeah! I’m gay!’ It just keeps going… I feel really represented.
It’s comforting to hear.
I mean, I hope it gets even better. I’m not done. I don’t think that we should feel like it’s over, because there’s definitely more to be done. We need to demand the highest quality of queer art that we can, you know?
Yeah totally. No tokenism and getting beyond funky straight people being gay icons…
That would be the next step. We have to hold our own art — not just say we’re represented. That’s what I want.
Do you remember the first time you realised you loved music?
I don’t know, man. I always knew that I’d do music. When I got to high school, I started to write autobiographically. I started to write about people who I had feelings for and I’d write about my friends who were really going through shit. When I started to write autobiographically, that’s when I really started to love it. Not only is it fun, but it’s cathartic. I was playing people songs that I was writing, because I’m extra like that, and I would see the way it effected people and I knew it was really powerful. Music is really powerful. It’s a medium that effects your whole body when you listen to it.
If you could have one song play every time you entered a room full of people, what would it be?
That’s a good question. It’d honestly be Diana Ross ‘I’m Coming Out’ every time.
Yes. Perfect. So I read you were working on a full length album, right?
So… how’s it going?
It’s written. It’s mostly produced.
Do you have release details yet?
Nahhhhh, we don’t do that shit!
Oh my god! Can you tell me…
I think early next year.
I mean, that’s really pretty close actually…
It could be February, it could be March. I would hope it would be the first quarter of next year.
Ok, so does it sound how we’d expect it to sound, or did you try anything risky?
It’s definitely more rocky than… I think definitely the breadth of genre is wider, but that’s because it’s an album and it has to encompass all of my shit. I would say it’s definitely wider, and it’s an album that I am very proud of so far. It kind of goes beyond me — there’s a lot about the world. I knew I wanted to write a record that was less about me, and me being hot, and more about what I care about. Do you know what I mean?
Absolutely. You generally write from your own honest perspective — but is it hard to be so confessional across a whole album?
A lot of it is first person and personal, but some of it is about the world.
Awesome. I’m excited to hear it!
I’m really fucking excited to hear it too!
Photography: Justin Ridler
Fashion: Charlotte Agnew
Hair: Pete Lennon
Make-up: Desiree Wise