King Princess Remembers Thirsting for Amanda Bynes in Hairspray
Long before Mikaela Straus, better known by the gender-ambiguous moniker King Princess, started rocking the shaggy mullet that would become a hallmark of their onstage persona, they brought a picture of Camp Rock-era Joe Jonas to a Brooklyn barbershop. A short, floppy-banged haircut—and panic—ensued. It seems a sign of the times that being outwardly queer, once a deep-seated fear for the now 24-year-old musician, is a large part of what attracts their legions of adoring fans. Still, some people don’t know what to make of Straus. Some consider them a lesbian icon, whose alpha-masc swagger and crooning, sexually-charged discography sets them apart from both mainstream pop and the mellow, lilting majority of sapphic anthems. Others see Straus as a product of the nepo baby boom, a reluctant heir apparent to an (evidently non-existent) Macy’s department store fortune with a producer father. But a new podcast from Audible is giving the Hold On Baby singer a chance to define their own story. In Origins, Straus charts their journey from city kid outcast to Grammy-nominated recording artist, following the formation of their identity alongside their emergence as a new kind of rock star. In the spirit of origin stories, we grilled Straus on a bunch of notable firsts—from a deep-cut gay awakening to their “soul-wrenching” first heartbreak.
CAITLIN LENT: Hey Mikaela. First question, how did you start your day?
MIKAELA STRAUS: Oi yoi yoi. I was woken up by my cat at 7:00 a.m. [Laughs] Then I went back to sleep and then I woke up again and immediately ordered coffee. Now I’m playing video games.
LENT: How did it feel to hear your story in your own words for the first time?
STRAUS: I felt very emotional listening to it and thinking about myself as a kid, to revisit those parts of your life and then to revisit it on a public platform. There’s parts of our childhood we all kind of want to be like, “I’m not that person anymore. I’ve grown, I’m so different.” Childhood can be very touchy. And then to have a verbal document of it is kind of crazy.
LENT: Certainly younger queer people will hear this podcast and see themselves in it, but when was the first time you saw yourself represented in media?
STRAUS: Probably on TV. The first time that I really connected and sobbed over a character was The L Word. I had a girlfriend in high school and we would watch it together on FaceTime after school. And I just remember when Dana died, I was like, “Dad, I can’t go to school.” I was like, “I have to stay home for at least a week to recover.”
LENT: That was the mourning period.
STRAUS: It was. Once I got a taste of seeing queer people on television, and being a horny, sad teenager who just wanted to be in love, I was just like, “I’m going to find every single show that’s ever had a gay in it, and I’m going to watch every single one.”
LENT: Who is The L Word character you most relate to?
STRAUS: Although I am non-binary, I’m way too femme to be a Shane. Shane is also calm. That’s what my girlfriend said yesterday. She was like, “Girl, you look like Shane kind of, but you are nothing like her personality.” And I was like, “Thank you.”
LENT: That’s an astute observation. Some people just see a shag haircut and think, “They’re a Shane.”
STRAUS: I would say that I’m somewhere between Helena and Alice.
LENT: You’re a Helena Sun, Alice Rising.
STRAUS: Yes. Because I’m a court jester, but I’m also a diva.
LENT: I love that. What was the first concert you attended?
STRAUS: I don’t even know, man. I’ve got to think about that. I went to so many shows with my dad. I probably saw Matt and Kim at Terminal Five because they recorded at my dad’s spot. So, we always got tickets when they played.
LENT: How old were you?
STRAUS: I was definitely young. But obviously I come from a rock-and-roll household. Zeppelin fans. And my mom got us tickets to that. And I remember I wore a short-sleeved shirt with the sleeves built in and a Harry Potter tie.
LENT: What was the first song you ever wrote?
STRAUS: I was five years old. There is a recorded document of this. It was called “Jackie the Dog.” It was a blues number.
LENT: I think that should be a bonus track on the next album.
STRAUS: It’s really funny. My dad sent it to me. I was five, but hearing it I was like, “Damn, I had good rhythm.”
LENT: Where was your first performance?
STRAUS: At the Williamsburg Kite Festival. That was my first with my band outside of school. But before that, I remember the first time my elementary school had this elective called Rock Band that you could join in the sixth grade. I performed for the first time at the school auditorium and I was like, “Oh my God, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
LENT: A real life School of Rock.
STRAUS: It was.
LENT: We talked about The L Word. Who was your gay awakening?
STRAUS: If we want to get technical, it would be Heather Graham in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
LENT: That’s niche.
STRAUS: But then I could also say Amanda Bynes in Hairspray.
LENT: Oh my god, the lollipop scene alone. What’s the story of your first kiss?
STRAUS: Oh my god. Magical. So, I was at my first party before high school. I had this one friend, who went to a different school when I was in middle school, and she was popular. She just randomly chose me. She threw a party, and when I got to this party, there was this girl there that I knew. By the end of the night, I was like, “I have to go home. I have a curfew.” And she was like, “Well, kiss me.” And I was like, “What do you mean?” And she was like, “Kiss me.” And I was like, “Really?” And then we kissed. And it literally was some movie shit. I was like the world stopped. I was like, “Oh, I’m gay. This makes total sense now.” Most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me.
LENT: What is your go-to first date?
STRAUS: I get anxious, so I would probably take them to a really cute dark bar and sit down and just talk. I’m such a talker. I need to kiki with someone before we move forward.
LENT: What was your first heartbreak like?
STRAUS: Every heartbreak is a different level of soul-wrenching. But the first, I can’t even describe how painful it was. And I think everyone should experience something like that, because it showed me so much about what I could make, and what art could do for me. And what songs could do for me. But I just remember lying in my bed being like, “Why, god?”
LENT: Pierced the heart. Speaking of, what was your first piercing?
STRAUS: Okay. First piercing was at the mall in upstate New York.
STRAUS: Piercing gun, I’m sure only moderately sanitized. I still have them. My first tattoo was with my mom and my mom’s AA sponsor, because we all lived at this house together in Brooklyn. And we got the address of that house tattooed.
LENT: What was your first regrettable haircut?
STRAUS: I was in the fifth grade. I had just watched Camp Rock. And I printed a photo of Joe Jonas on my mom’s printer and brought it into a salon and was like, “This haircut.” And I got home and I was like, “Oh fuck. This was a poor choice.” Everyone already thought I was a dyke. So I was like, “Fuck. Now I’ve really shot myself in the foot.” So, I wore a hat for a whole year while it grew.
LENT: Note to self, no Joe Jonas reference pics.
STRAUS: Now that would be a dated reference.
LENT: I wonder who the new regrettable haircut icon is.
STRAUS: I probably took that crown. I can’t even tell you how many people have my haircut at my shows. I was performing and I looked out in the audience, and there was a full King Princess cosplay situation happening.
LENT: You were definitely one of the one 21st century mullet pioneers. What was the first thing you learned to cook?
STRAUS: Steak. I wanted to be that bitch. Cast iron on the stove first, and then the oven.
LENT: Okay, speed round. Do you buy the first round?
STRAUS: It depends on which friends I’m out with. If it’s my wealthy friends, no. But if it’s my girls from home, of course. But if it’s one of my boys, I’m like, “No.” I’m like, “Chivalry.” I pull the chivalry card a lot with my male friends. They’re like, “Mikaela, you’re not even a woman.” And I’m like, “I don’t care.”
LENT: Do you make the first move?
STRAUS: Historically that’s been my zhuzh. I’m a good risk taker.
LENT: What is your villain origin story?
STRAUS: I definitely am a villain. If we were a basketball team, I’d be Dennis Rodman. I want to be Michael Jordan, but I’m not. I’m Dennis Rodman. I would say crippling insecurity and anxiety taught me the powers of comedy. Watching so much television and just being like, “Oh, I guess if I’m not going to be popular, I’m going to be funny.”
LENT: Is there a first that you regret?
STRAUS: Drugs. [Laughs] No. Let me think. I don’t really regret a lot of stuff. Everything I’ve done has contributed to my growth in some way.
LENT: No regrets. What’s the last time you did something for the first time?
STRAUS: I tried What-A-Burger in Texas. I was so stoned. So it was really amazing. I was like, “Wow, this is on a different level.”
LENT: When did you roll your first joint?
STRAUS: I used to date a girl who rolled the most beautiful joints. And it was right when I was starting college. And I decided that I was not going to be that bitch who just sat there waiting for her to roll a joint. So I sat in my living room and I practiced. I haven’t honestly rolled a joint in a while because I mostly smoke out of a pipe, because I’m trying to protect what’s left of my vocal cords. So that was when I first rolled a great joint. In high school I probably rolled a shitty joint.
LENT: The first got the job done. But this was a thing of beauty.
STRAUS: It was an artistic triumph.
LENT: I think we can end on that note.
STRAUS: Perfect. I hope you enjoyed me.