King Princess, Bubble Wrap and the Queer Pirates of the New Pop
Over darkness we hear the sound of something popping. It's sharp and incessant, cutting through the air and piercing our eardrums. The spaces between the pops are tense. We cannot help but worry about what exactly we are hearing.
And then, from the silence emerges the small giggle of a child.
Fade from black to find 5-year-old me sitting on the floor, buried in piles of bubble wrap and popping maniacally, relishing in the sound and act of release. Each pop is a small victory, my chubby little body running around the room and waving it as though to say, "How can anything be this perfect?!"
Nowadays, I ask that question about a different kind of pop.
Being a gay millennial raised by a woman of the '80s more or less means pop music is as much a part of me as water. Whether I was dancing on my own with Robyn, vogueing with Madonna or practicing my poker face with Gaga, I have always known how important pop music is. These women and their peers are not merely artists but leaders who helped an entire generation of young people feel welcomed and accepted. The best of them, the artists whose songs always have you wanting to get out of your seat and move, understand the power of release. It is only fitting that the new generation of pop stars features members of the LGBTQ community. These artists are pioneers, pirates steering their ships into uncharted territories and raising our flag everywhere they go.
There's one pirate in particular who has had me hooked all year long. King Princess (given name: Mikaela Strauss), a 19-year-old genderqueer musician from Brooklyn, emerged earlier this year with the eerily earnest "1950," a love song paying homage to how queer love was able to exist in private only for so long and the overwhelming call to action you feel when you find that person. She followed up "1950" with the release of her debut EP, Make My Bed, a collection of five songs steeped in queer love and all its turbulence that adds up to an unconstrained look into what it means to be young, queer and trying to find your way.
So, you probably heard the sound of my jaw hitting my laptop keyboard last month when she donned a jacket made of bubble wrap in the music video for "Holy."
Inserted deftly between glamour shots of Mikaela floating in a pool like an angel, standing in a lit Renaissance archway like a monarch and leaning back against barrels of hay like a cowboy, the bubble-wrap jacket jumps out as a statement of both fashion and trash. For how fun it is, bubble wrap is glorified plastic, meaning the garment will never decompose, and is destined to outlive the artist, as well as you and me. In fact, Mikaela's creative lead admitted they purchased the jacket off Amazon for mere dollars. By juxtaposing it against perfect renditions of timeless looks, the artist is not only embracing her tongue-in-cheek strangeness but also the key learning of the LGBTQ community: Anything can become iconic if done correctly.
For queer artists, this bending of perception has always been inherent to our narrative. We've all spent at least some part of our life hiding who we are, and then another portion trying to rejigger our lives into what we want them to be. For those who lean toward performance, this reconstruction often manifests in how we present ourselves, what we drape ourselves in as we saunter down the street and pull all your attention toward us. To see an artist transform such a recognizable material and pull it off with a sexy laissez faire attitude all her own struck me dead in the chest, snatched my wig and left me in awe.
The girl is 19, wearing a jacket made of bubble wrap and telling her female lover to get on her knees and pray she forgives her. All hail pop music.