For someone who flies under the radar of mainstream audiences, King Princess has cultivated one of the most rabid, passionate young fanbases in modern pop music. The screams and adoring vocal trills reached a deafening level as they walked out onto the stage and the lights turned a soft, warm golden hue, flanked by four backing band members all dressed in customized white painter’s jumpsuits. King Princess sat at the sky blue upright piano with the confidence of a young Elton John, and played it with matching bravado – within the first few bars, the reasons for everyone’s fierce appreciation were clear. This was good, complicated, messy pop music produced by someone equally as complex.
There are many easy, lazy tropes about pop music. The most common one is that it’s music without much depth, nuance or intelligence – an accusation that occasionally bobs up like the vestigial tail of the 90s boy band era that it is. But modern pop stars have worked hard to firmly debunk that myth over the last few years. Artists like Charli XCX and MØ are megastars in their own right who have pushed pop production and soundscapes past their natural limits, while Carly Rae Jepsen and Taylor Swift use lyrics to paint vivid scenes of their lives with a degree of artfulness that would make Joni Mitchell proud. Of course, the music industry is still a machine that demands to be fed a blood sacrifice, and many a young hopeful gets chewed up and spit out by it, but it feels like now more than ever individuality, vision, and artistry have a fighting chance of making it to the surface without major alterations. I recognize that King Princess’ music might not be for me, as a cisgender man in his 30s, but it’s still pretty damn good. However, I can’t help but feel that there’s still a lot of that they’re leaving on the table.
King Princess as a performer is equal parts alluring, captivating, and threatening – reclaiming their sexuality and playing with our expectations. Cheap Queen as an album is fun, easy listening that hums along nicely and comfortably. As such, the disconnect between the persona on stage and the majority of the music performed was a little jarring and candidly disappointing. This is a ten out of ten artist performing tunes that never reach the same heights. It reminded me of seeing Harry Styles live – an artist with all the tools at their disposal, but being let down by the fact that the music isn’t taking enough risks. I understand the need to build a fanbase and excel at fundamentals, but I kept hoping for that extra oomph that would take what is a solid, respectable album to that next level when performed on the stage.
Given their musical ability, theatrical (and dramatic!) stage presence, and soaring voice, all of the classic elements of a successful career are already in place for King Princess. On the evidence of two back-to-back sold out nights at the 9:30 Club, everyone else is already at the party and loving it. I just wish I felt the same way.