Sunday, October 27, 2019

Review: Cheap Queen • King Princess

It’s hard to classify (and reconcile) the music and persona of King Princess. In interviews, she’s a casual college-aged woman in oversized sweaters who scoffs at the thought of earning a Grammy; in music videos, she’s comically overdone and as performative as a grade-A pop star; and throughout her debut record, she’s an old school vocalist, a current-minded lyricist, and an expert mood-maker. Cheap Queen, her self-declared “beautiful lesbian heartbreak album,” very much follows its creator’s philosophy: Just as hard to define, it follows no rules and knows no boundaries. But alluring and extremely accessible, the record proves that she excels at whatever it is that she's doing.

Loosely pop-rock, Cheap Queen borrows from a range of musical experiences: plenty of mid-‘90s singer-songwriter and early ‘00s pop, a bit of rhythm and blues, and a splash of soul. Miss King (as the fans in her Twitter mentions and YouTube comments call her) boasts a voice that is smoky and full-bodied, giving even the most upbeat tracks a sensual smolder. She holds her own against the beats that eventually appear on the title track and “Hit The Back,” for example, and slides with swagger over the obsessive little number “Prophet.” And on the phenomenal finale “If You Think It’s Love,” her voice becomes the main attraction. The track is largely bare, aside from the plop of an electronic guitar and her vocoded backing vocals; the melody alone is enough not only to draw in a listener, but hypnotize them.

King Princess reached her debut record in a similar fashion to most Twitter-era acts: A musical childhood, one streaming single, and a celebrity co-signature online. But unlike many, she hasn't gotten hung up on her most successful track: It doesn't appear on the record, in favor of an impressive show of new material. As it stands in the ashes of a snuffed-out love, the record explores every aspect of the aftermath, from denial ("Watching My Phone," a building 21st century ballad) to acceptance (the swaying "Ain't Together," "You Destroyed My Heart"). And while Miss King takes a risk in allowing the record to remain predominantly mid-tempo, it has resulted in an incredibly gripping opening statement for a career destined for long-term success.

Cheap Queen is available now under Zelig Records and Columbia Records.

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