King Princess on Queerness, Representation, and Loving Lady Gaga

King Princess on Queerness, Representation, and Loving Lady Gaga

King Princess burst onto the scene with 2018’s “1950,” a melodious anthem to queer love based on Patricia Highsmith’s seminal 1952 novel, The Price of Salt. Since then, she has secured herself as one of the leading voices in queer pop, penning personal and intimate tracks such as “Homegirl,” “Trust Nobody,” and “If You Think It’s Love.” Kristin Prim phoned in with King Princess earlier this summer to discuss queerness, gender identity, Lady Gaga, and producing your own records in an industry of male domination.

K: For those who may not know, what led you down a music career? Is there a greater purpose that you hope to achieve through it? And if so, what is that?

KP: I’m just a musician. I’ve been a musician since I was little. I grew up surrounded by it; my dad was a recording engineer. I grew up in a studio and interacted so much with the people coming in and out that I just kind of fell in love with it.

I started working at like 12 or 13, writing songs, singing background vocals for people. It’s so interesting, because I feel like when you get paid for something at a young age, you’re validated in a weird way that’s like… do you know what I mean?

K: Yeah.

KP: Like you’re a student singing background vocals and then getting a check written for you from an artist, that’s like, “Thanks for singing background vocals.” And then you realize, “Oh, I’m a singer.” Not that money means anything at all, but it definitely was interesting being young and working, you know?

K: Totally.

KP: Professionally, semi-professionally, and then feeling validated by that. There was no other option for me. I don’t do anything else.

K: That’s actually what my next question leads into. In a Fader piece that I read, you mentioned that the whirlwind that surrounded your attention at a young age threw you for a bit. As someone who experienced the same at just 14, it’s extremely surreal and sometimes a scary experience. I personally went from being called a dyke and skipping lunch every day because I had no one to sit with at school, to six months later being photographed sitting front row at all these fashion weeks, being interviewed, and having designers dress me that I couldn’t even pronounce six months prior. That said, it can be an extremely empowering experience to go from being a reject to someone who is being publicly celebrated. And those are the stories that I always love.

KP: Yeah, I always had some people around me that understood, but I definitely had a tough time being young and gay. So knowing that I wanted to do music was kind of nice, because it was like my secret thing. And also my extremely public thing. It was kind of my point of confidence.

K: Because I know that I have such a love/hate relationship with it in a lot of ways, do you feel that growing up so quickly and experiencing such a drastic life change in front of so many people kind of nurtured you? Or do you feel that it may have harmed you in a way? What was your experience with that?

KP: I mean, I just always felt older than I was. I was just so angry that I was young. So angry.

K: Yeah, I felt that.

KP: I always connected with people older than me. When I was like 14, I met older people… older writers, music writers, and producers who became my friends and became my haven. I just always wanted to be older. But I tried to walk the walk. And I was always getting into mischief… constantly. Trying to like, smoke cigarettes. And that’s how I always dreamed of being older. I think I always dreamed of being the age that I am now. And now I’m like, “Oh my God! Could I be 14?”

K: [Laughs]. Yeah, it’s so weird, because I experienced that too. I look back at the time when I was doing all of this crazy shit, which at the time I did not think was a big deal… well, because I was 16 going on 50, I never thought it was a big deal. I just never understood why everyone was freaking out over all the things that I was doing. I’m 26 now and when I look back at the things I did then, I’m like, “I did that when I was 16?!” It’s this weird thing… time is so strange and maybe when you get to be 26, I mean how old are you now? You’re 21 or something?

KP: Yeah, I’m 21.

K: Yeah, as you get older, you look back and you’re like, “Whoa! I was so young and I did that?” You just don’t realize it then.

As queer individuals, so often we don’t see who we need to see while we are growing up. I know that it was super important for me to remain unapologetically myself, just in the hope that I could one day be the representation that a young girl like me never had. So how much of that influences what you do, if it does at all? And were there any queer individuals that you looked up to while you were growing up?

KP: I grew up with a nanny who was gay, and black, and English. And he was one of the most important people in my whole life when it came to queerness, because we were a unit. Do you know what I mean?

K: Yeah.

KP: We were a unit. You weren’t seeing a lot of guys like him coming to pick up kids at school, and you weren’t seeing a lot of me in the school. So it was this beautiful thing.

K: That’s awesome.

KP: So this is when my mom was working in mass-market design for a long time; she ran huge design rooms for a number of years that sold to the masses. She was doing fashion design and it involved pieces that were applicable for all different sizes and shapes of people, which I so admire. She was working for this period of time and so, I grew up with this man who was just so fucking amazing. He was such an amazing, gentle, beautiful person, and also exposed me to going to, weirdly –– a church that was very queer positive –– very queer positive. In fact, it was mostly queer. Though I only went for a few years.

K: Wow.

KP: And then in addition to that, my mom had so many queer men around her. I didn’t really have that many lesbians or queer women, or gender non-binary or trans people, but I did have a number of men from 80s New York who were my mom’s friends. They were very much, like, at the club, and basically also lived through the AIDS epidemic. It was just that type of understanding of queerness that’s really interesting to be around. So I felt very lucky.

K: Yeah, that’s a gift. So something that I read you say, which resonated with me greatly, was that you don’t want your music to be pigeonholed into strictly queer music. You want straight people to love it just as much as the gays. So often in music, I see gay artists getting trapped in that “gay” label, which just seems unfair and very self-limiting, especially because it’s something that heterosexual artists don’t face.

KP: Correct.

K: Do you feel that it’s important to escape those confines? What are some ways in which you think we can combat this tokenism as queer people in general?

KP: Well… I’ve thought a lot of this recently, especially because I think that right now, there is such a pressing need for queer art and queer black art, which obviously I am not. And I think that labeling and grouping is challenging, because there’s been… well in the last year or two in the music industry, it’s been really easy to be like, “Oh my God! There’s queer artists now.” And you know what? They’re predominantly white. There’s so much whitewashing. I think I care so much less about being in groups right now because there’s something going on that’s so much bigger than like, a music platform grouping together gay people. There’s an actual fucking need for queer voices to represent and stand up and be like, “Yeah, I’m gay and also yeah, I know the Black Lives Matter movement, and yes, I’m going to make sure that my platform educates and provides forces to educate people.”

So I think my perspective on being ticked off that I’ve been grouped together with people whose music taste is like mine… but now that I’m also thinking about it like, these are all white people, for the most part, right?

King Princess on Queerness, Representation, and Loving Lady Gaga

“Every identity that you embody is a gift, because it's a lens. And you get to look through that lens every day and not everyone does. And it opens your eyes to so much shit. And I cannot say often enough how much of a gift it is to be in the queer community. No matter which part you embody, it is a gift.”

K: Right, yeah.

KP: I know it, because right now, it’s so not important for me to think about my standing in the music industry other than my ability to help people. I use my platform to share and repurpose. And I think that if we had –– and it’s kind of fucked up –– but if we had talked about this six months ago, I wouldn’t have been coming to these conclusions. It is absolutely imperative that we have voices representing the most marginalized communities in America, because that’s how you fucking teach people. Like, we need more trans artists that are being put in the same playlists as me because we cannot represent a community on our own. It’s so much more diverse than us, you know?

K: Absolutely.

KP: And I’m not generalizing. There are queer artists who have been given that platform, but not a lot. I just want to be a part of the inclusive aspect of a state that hasn’t been inclusive. So it’s like, where are the folk in the other parts of this community, because my music is like… I write music but I don’t give a fucking shit if it’s gay or not. Like my music is my music and I want it to be good and my sexuality happens with my music because straight people can go around talking about their stuff, and no one’s like, why? So I don’t understand why I ––

K: We get into that in a little bit. That was something I wanted to talk about too.

KP: Sure. Well, yeah, it’s just like… Do you know what I mean?

K: Totally.

KP: I am so much less sulky, because I know that there’s a greater mission for people who actually are heard.

K: Absolutely. While I was going through your discography, I fell in love with “Ohio.” By the way, not even as part of the interview, but it’s fucking brilliant… just speaking from a compositional standpoint, it’s incredible.

KP: Thank you.

K: It reminded me of some like soft/hard lovechild of MC5 and Zeppelin in a particular sense. But it also introduced to me what is kind of a new sound for you, or at least a little bit of a departure from your past work, embracing more of a tougher sensibility. So, asking as a total music nerd myself, what made you want to compose a track like that? What’s the story behind it? And is that a sound that you look to embrace further in future?

KP: I just think of it as a genre mash. I don’t think that my musical taste and the way that I write is so interconnected with the history of music that I have loved. I think that a huge part of it for me is rock and roll. Every once in a while, I just spit out a love song. And I think that’s just how I do it. I was writing that song with my friend Sam Anderson and I just came in with that guitar line burst… that comes in huge, you know, the part at the end?

K: Yeah, it’s amazing, yeah.

KP: And I was like, “I’ve been playing this all day.” I think about Queen, I think about Zeppelin, I think about these artists from history who have the ability to start small and then grow into something completely different, almost metamorphosize… and I wanted to metamorphosize within that song, because it starts off at a place of being in love with someone to a place of like truly, “Fuck you.”

K: Yeah, even just in terms of the chord progressions… there’s that buildup, then the breakdown, it just all comes full circle. it’s really, really just well done.

KP: Thank you. I really love that track too. And I think that it’s really fun to watch an army of queer people of all creeds in my audience, just like lose it to a rock song.

K: Yeah.

KP: And people respond to guitar and it’s really cool and all because I just love to smash it and throw drums around and that’s just the norm.

K: Yeah, it’s just that kind of track. I remember the first time I heard it, I thought it was a cool ballad. And then it completely revved up and then regressed, going all the way back.

KP: So my band played on that recording. My band is fabulous. In my studio, I played everything, and then I brought them in, because I knew that it had to be what it is live. And my friend Shaun Everett recorded it… he’s my favorite engineer. He just demolished it. Like it was just so cool watching him. It’s one take.

K: That’s incredible. So being a non-male identifying musician, especially in the world of rock or indie, can still be quite an undertaking. Often people are either underestimating your abilities because you are –– or are viewed outwardly as –– a woman, or focusing much more on your appearance, rather than your hard-earned skillsets. Have you faced any prejudice when it comes to writing, composing, or performing within the industry? How do you think that we can protect against that?

KP: It’s just really common for them to be like, “Well, who produced that?”

K: Yeah.

KP: And I’m like, “Well, me. I did it.”

K: We’ll get to that.

KP: And they’re like, "When Mark Ronson produced…” And I’m like, “No, I just said… I produced it.” That has encouraged me to be secretive and very much secular about my work, because of myself needing to do it a certain way. And now I realize and I’m like… well first of all, I don’t give a fuck. It’s like, people are going to figure out that I produced these. I’m not mad about it anymore. I think the minute that you start working with people, there’s like this look on people’s faces like, “Oh, who did that track?” And I want to move past that because I love working with people and I love collaborating. I always want to work with new people. I just know that like, at the end of the day, my name will be on the front of the production credit. And I think that’s enough for me and that I want to be more communal.

K: Totally.

KP: Because I think that being a non-male person… I don’t know if I was a dude with a guitar, I would be talked about as a guitar player as much in this day and age. I feel like I get a lot of praise for sharing. Whether it’s out of like, this kind of weird shit glory of people being like, "Oh, she’s actually really good live, right?”

K: Yeah, exactly.

KP: Or like, I don’t know, I feel like I’ve also been very fortunate to have a team of mostly men around me who are extremely understanding and compassionate and kind of don’t take any shit from anyone and completely see my vision. Like my manager, Adam, is this Jewish dude who is basically becoming a lesbian. He totally understands queer. I’ve known him since I was 16. I’ve watched him and my other manager, Andrew, truly learn so much about the queer voice and become so capable of answering questions. They have the perfect responses. Like watching them do that, it’s really cool, because I think it’s very telling of the type of men that non-male people should have… because if the issue isn’t men anymore, and the issue is this really kind of dark, sinister industry man that we all kind of imagine. Do you know what I mean?

K: Totally.

KP: That applies to fucking women too, it’s like snaky people everywhere. You just have to find people who are really caring, because they don’t allow you to take shit. And that’s cool, you know?

K: I understand. You also mentioned in a piece recently –– and this just bounces right off of what you said –– that you’re often disappointed by how little people speak with you regarding you producing your own music. And I just feel that especially with female presenting individuals, people so often focus on their appearances or their lyrical content versus the actual skill and craftsmanship that goes into making work.

I don’t think that people understand that it’s really fucking hard to play guitar… it’s really hard to put all of these things together and learn composition and all that stuff. I’m definitely in support of advocating for more female producers as well. So what are ways in which women can get more deeply involved with music on a compositional level?

KP: Composition is an interesting term, because I think that when people hear the word composition, they get really daunted. They’re like, “Composition? That sounds classical. That sounds like scary and like proper rhetoric.”

K: Yeah.

KP: I always think of it as like, if you can play a guitar, you can work Ableton. Like, do you hear this?

K: Totally.

KP: And I tried to do a couple of Instagram lives. Obviously right now is not the time to be doing that, because there’s some important shit going on, but like, it’s been cool to do some Instagram live work. I’ve just started showing people how I do shit. It shouldn’t be a secret. Like there shouldn’t be a masked, cloaked experience that feels really private.

K: Yeah.

KP: But like it’s simple and I think that like women at first are daunted by the idea of operating the computer, like, it’s really big… but it’s a studio, it’s set up a certain way. Every studio you walk in, it’s like a computer, a chair, and then the chair is turned to a couch. And the couch has historically been the spot for the women… for the non-male people. And I don’t know if it’s because I’m like, a raging non-binary person who’s like, “I’m going to sit at this fucking computer. And if you don’t like that, then I will leave.” Even if you’re not perfect at it, I know how to top my vocals. Like, you can go and take a production class at school, but you’re going to pay a lot of money to people for some really fucking basic things. And some things are also really expensive. And so one thing that I’ve been thinking a lot about is how to make this more accessible to people.

K: Totally.

KP: How do we make shit more accessible to people who really have a love for it? It’s like $300 to download Ableton, even with a student discount. We need to make these things more available to women and non-male people, because then they walk through the studio feeling powerful.

K: Totally. I’m one of those people. I’m not intimidated by computers at all but, let me tell you, I can play a guitar in my sleep, but I cannot use Ableton to save my life. Like I have tried so ––

K: Well, yes you can.

KP: I know that technically I can, but I have to learn. So I’m included in that. I hear you and it does have to be made a little simpler. Or more accessible, I should say.

KP: Yeah.

K: I think my second favorite track of yours after “Ohio” is “Pussy is God.”. But when I was reading up for this piece, I didn’t realize that the sample from it is from ––

KP: It’s “Oochie Wally!”

K: Yeah, I did not know that. This whole time I’ve been listening to it, I actually never picked that up. So you said that you “re-appropriated a song about taking dick all day and made it a song about pussy eating.” How important do you think it is to flip the script on such a male-centric culture?

KP: Well, that was actually… I have to credit Mark [Ronson] for that, because when Mark and I were in London, he was like, "Have you finished ‘Pussy Is God’?” And I was like, "Ah, yeah, I haven’t finished ‘Pussy Is God.’ It’s like, I don’t have a chorus for it and I don’t know, like it’s pretty fucking vulgar.” And then I was like, “Okay, if you all think I should finish it, then I will finish it. But this song is nasty.” Even if I’m like, clenching my hands about it but they’re all into it, then it’s probably good.

K: No, it’s such a good song.

KP: So I was in London at the studio with Mark, this really cute studio, and Mark was like, “hey,” like, in the way that Mark does, yeah?

K: [Laughs.] Yeah.

KP: He was like, “Hey… Mikaela, there’s this dance song that I want to check out… you know the song ‘Oochie Wally?’” And I was like “Yeah. ‘He really really really fucked my coochie,’ like, that song?” And he was like “Yes.” Well, it’s obviously like… such an important song, and so meaningful, you know?

K: [Laughs.] Yeah.

KP: And just incredible, and this really special track. And Mark is very much about referencing and respecting and understanding music; Mark is the ultimate of that. Mark knows every song, every sample… his mind is a database and he’s also like, truly a master of respecting influence and where music comes from.

And that’s why I really appreciate it because a lot of people will appropriate blindly, whereas there are those who really take the time to respect and identify music and then kind of mash it together and create something new. And Mark is really good at that.

K: Yeah.

KP: He sent me this sample and I was just like, “If I do this thing, will you top it?” And I was like, “Okay.” And so he sent it to me and I already had the track on my computer and I redid the drums for “Pussy Is God.” And I was like, “Do the drums sound better now?” And he was like, “Yeah.” And I was ready to format it into the chorus and then I realized that it wouldn’t fit. You know, the “he really, really, really” didn’t fit in the chorus around this vocal that I was doing, and I was like, "Damn, okay. But now I guess my song has ‘Oochie Wally’ in it.” And Adam, my manager, was like, “It’s fucking brilliant. Like, you know, this is a song about truly taking dick all day. And you’ve turned it into a song about the exact opposite.” But I think the sentiment is kind of the same, which is like, at the end of the day, loving the person you’re with, you know?

K: Totally.

KP: So I didn’t think about it. Like, I honestly didn’t think that it would be such a huge thing. I don’t know. There’s a lot of disparity, like does “pussy” mean anything? That’s the other thing that I like. I thought about it the other day, I was like ––

K: Pussy can be metaphorical.

KP: Yeah. I want people to sing it and be like, whatever the thing is for you… is what it is. Like, it’s not biological female pussy, my goal in my song is that I want everyone to be able to sing it and be able to take something from it. Once you release it, it’s not really yours anymore. I want it to be kind of a metaphor. Like when you look at your partner, whoever they are, whatever they present as… like, your pussy is God, like that’s gorgeous. That’s a gorgeous thing. I see gay boys singing it to each other all the time to their partners being like, “Your pussy is God.” I’m like, “Your pussy is God.”

K: It seems that you are extremely self-possessed and also simply confident. For people out there, particularly queer individuals, who may not yet feel comfortable accepting who they are at their truest selves, what advice would you offer them? And is there anything that has helped you along the way? Just in terms of your own self-discovery and acceptance?

KP: Oh, I would say like, first of all, don’t look for information from J.K. Rowling on Twitter. Don’t do that. But for real, and I’ve said this before… every identity that you embody is a gift, because it’s a lens. And you get to look through that lens every day and not everyone does. And it opens your eyes to so much shit. And I cannot say often enough how much of a gift it is to be in the queer community. No matter which part you embody, it is a gift. And it can be a challenging gift, because it can cause disruption.

It’s sometimes this bizarre fucked up place that eats away at people, that makes people feel illegitimate, because they’re not capable of seeing through the eyes of what you’re able to see. And so I think the biggest thing that I can just say is what an amazing fucking gift you have and there is nobody who can fucking tell you otherwise. They can try, but they will never see and be a part of the tapestry of history that we are a part of. And that is so important and beautiful. At the end of the day, you are chosen. Do you know what I mean?

K: Absolutely, I feel the same. I’ve never had issues with self-acceptance from the time that I was a kid. I literally got pushed into thorn bushes while being called a dyke. And I’m like, “So what?” Do you know what I’m saying? It’s so beautiful… it’s something that I’m really grateful for.

KP: I had my gay sob… I got call a dyke on a school trip and I had my gay sob. And I was like, why am I crying? Like, it’s true. Like, she’s right… I am a dyke and the fact that I haven’t said it yet just means that I haven’t claimed that word because I didn’t feel ready to claim that word yet. But you know what, I claim it. And I also claim the fact that I wake up being like, “What the fuck are these tits?” I just don’t, I don’t know… I don’t know what to do with them. I don’t know what to do with my body most of the time. And like, you know what? It’s also a gift, because I get to have this incredible experience of kind of morphing into whatever I need to be and want to be on that day.

And it just fucking breaks my heart to see that people –– but especially those in the lesbian community –– are so reluctant, so reluctant to learn about transness and it frustrates me, because I’m like, if we’re not all unified, then we’re nothing.

K: That is something that is also beyond my comprehension and it is something that I will never understand. We have to do better; we need to educate and disband with this ignorance. We need to come together, absolutely.

So for my final question, on a personal note, between “Yoü and I,” no pun intended, two gay ass New Yorker Gaga stans, I have to ask… and I am going to judge you… I’m just telling you, I’m going to judge you right now… What is your favorite Gaga album and what is your favorite Gaga track? This is hard. I can’t even do it myself, but I want to see if you can.

KP: I’m glad that you are asking this, because the last couple of times I showered, I have been listening to like all of her previous work because I’m like her biggest fan.

K: Me too.

KP: I don’t know, because my girlfriend is like, “Could you please stop blasting that?” And I’m like, “No, I can’t.”

K: You’re like “No.”

KP: “No, I can’t.” I’m like, “No, actually, I fully can’t.” Like this is my literal culture. Hmm, fuck, okay, favorite album. So ––

K: There is only one correct answer to this in my mind, so you better hit it, bitch.

KP: I mean okay, alright. Okay, the obvious one is like… well her first album is fine, but I didn’t think of that. The Fame Monster is the best album for me.

K: Okay. “So Happy I Could Die” is one of my favorite songs of hers actually, so I’m down for that.

KP: That being said, I like Artpop.

K: Okay wait, me too. Honestly, I don’t why people hated that album. I love Artpop. “Donatella,” “Fashion!,” “Sexxx Dreams,” “G.U.Y.,” they’re all so good.

KP: I like the crazy shit. I like “G.U.Y.” But my favorite track of all time by Gaga is “Alejandro” because I think that is quite literally the most perfect pop song ever written.

K: Okay, I can live with these.

KP: But then also I just listen to Born This Way, which is my second or third favorite album.

K: Born This Way is my favorite. It’s her masterpiece.

KP: I love “Scheiße.”

K: Yes. Here’s the thing about it… so Born This Way is my favorite album. I will say though, my two favorite tracks are going to be “Hey Girl,” which she did with Florence [Welch], which is so special to me and immaculate, and also, “So Happy I Could Die.” But Born This Way as an album is pure perfection. To me, that’s her masterpiece. We still don’t have anything to this day that sounds like that. “Government Hooker,” “Scheiße,” and “Heavy Metal Lover…” Oh my God, “Heavy Metal Lover.” Those three tracks are the holy trinity.

KP: I also just like, I fucked With Joanne, because that’s like my dad’s record.

K: Yeah, it’s so funny, because she’s one of the only people I’ve never met.

KP: I met her.

K: Bitch. [Laughs].

KP: I met her on my birthday.

K: Did you really?

KP: Yeah, and I hugged her and I was like, “I get it.”

K: [Laughs]. That’s what you said?

KP: I like hugged her, she like hugged me and I was like, “I get it.” And I started crying. And Mark was like, “I never see you truly speechless around someone… it’s kind of weird.” And I was like, “Well bitch, I smoked five joints and you brought me back here like, thinking this would be a nice birthday gift, meanwhile you know, like, I’m shitting my pants.”

K: [Laughs]. Yeah.

KP: Because this is like… I don’t know, she’s just important to me. I also fuck with Chromatica. I don’t know, I fuck with everything. I like the weird shit; my favorite is when she speaks other languages. I don’t understand why more people don’t speak other languages in their songs. I personally don’t think that I should, because I am not a linguist. I’m not a cunning linguist. That’s why, for me, “Alejandro” is the perfect pop song.

K: It is really good.

KP: Lyrically, it’s fire. The video is one of my favorite videos of all time.

K: That was a Steven Klein one, right?

KP: Yeah, I remember looking at it when I first heard it. I remember the bondage, the hot gay men with the bowl cuts, and I was like, “I get it.”

K: Yeah.

KP: I’m into her.

K: The only people that I haven’t met yet that if I met I would freak out over are Gaga, and I fucking love Pink. Pink was my childhood hero. And I still have not met either of them.

KP: I feel like that’s achievable.

K: I know, I mean, I know I can do it. It’s a very feasible goal. I just need to prepare myself for a decade beforehand, because those are the two people where I just like… I would need backup on hand, because I would just pass out.

KP: I feel like Pink just wants to hang out.

K: Yeah, right?

KP: No, you can do that. That’s doable.

K: It’s doable. One day…

Photography by Vince Aung