Once upon a fateful March day, Harry Styles tweeted a cryptic, yet simple, sentence: I love it when we play 1950.
As fans discovered, these words did not, in fact, originate from Styles’ mind. Instead, they were lyrics to King Princess’ “1950.”
I never actually saw the tweet at its source, but I thoroughly enjoyed this discovery nonetheless, immediately falling in love with Mikaela Strauss, known professionally as King Princess, and her sounds.
Strauss’s voice carries through her music a sense of honesty and vulnerability that complements any song she sings, whatever it may be. While this sense has become less raw and innocent than it was in her earlier music, it’s still very much present in Cheap Queen, and cultivation has only made it better.
Even disregarding the reliably sublime vocals characteristic of her music, Strauss has created an impressive album that hasn’t disappointed the thirteen-year-old me that fell in love with her already extraordinary debut.
Cheap Queen encompasses a vast landscape of sounds, each track illustrating its limited time with different palettes and textures. From a lustrously lit desert oasis painted by the first track, “Tough on Myself,” I was, for a brief minute, thrown into an artificially decorated mall with the tinny instrumentals of “Useless Phrases.”
These first two tracks certainly set an expectation for the rest of the album that it effortlessly lived up to.
Immediately following these first two atmospheric tracks is “Cheap Queen.” Although it wasn’t immediately my favorite, its captivatingly rhythmic progression was quick to grow on me, and nothing else on the album is more deserving of the privilege of being the titular track.
Strauss expertly juxtaposes her sexuality with soundbites sampled from a 1938 Lesbian Menace PSA (exactly what it sounds) in “Cheap Queen,” ingeniously summing up the spirit of her and this album in this one track.
And even though I find this move to be the peak of human innovation, Cheap Queen itself does not peak here.
A drastic shift in mood, “Ain’t Together” is beautifully tender, the delicately forlorn strumming making the picture bittersweet. Feelings of desperation and yearning are thinly veiled by a facade of regretful aloofness to make a beautiful baby blue, fit to be used in any situation.
As the heavy-hearted strumming continues, the melancholy that hides itself from being fully seen in most other tracks almost advertises its presence in “Homegirl.” Although overflowing with sorrow, it promptly became my favorite track on the album.
The unambiguous lyrics and undistorted intensity reminiscent of Strauss’ earlier works put me right back where I was in March of 2018, listening to her discography for the first time. The lucid fondness of “Homegirl” made the sorrow it held a comfort — the blanket it wrapped around me a deep shade of blue.
While the diverse trove of sounds is one of the reasons I love Cheap Queen so much, its simplest track touched me just as unquestionably as the rest of the album. “Watching My Phone,” uncomplicated in its both lyricism and production, puts perfectly on display what Strauss does best: sing.
This reminder of Strauss’ pure talent comes near the end, making sure that the album has something new to offer with every three-minute phase.
Closing the album is “If You Think It’s Love,” narrating, with the end of the record, the end of a relationship. Both a dare and an act of defeat wrapped up in a concise three minutes and twenty-three seconds, its brazen bravado is a faultless end to an album that deserves no less.
With its powerful 38 minutes, Cheap Queen is an incredible display of Strauss’ talent and proof there is much more greatness to come.