It has been a busy week for music. Kanye West finally dropped his highly anticipated Jesus is King, which, in a surprise to nobody, was filled mostly with cringy bars that feed his persecution complex and half-hearted attempts to redeem his public image. Rex Orange County released a disappointment of an album, Pony, his third and least likeable project yet. Cigarettes After Sex’s newest album was as bland as we’ve all come to expect at this point. Gallant, an up-and-coming R&B artist, released his sophomore album; while it was enjoyable, repeated listens revealed just how sonically monotone it really is.
I was so excited for the new music this week but was mostly let down. However, there is one exception: King Princess’ debut album, Cheap Queen (wow, so many royalty allusions).
If you knew King Princess before this album, it was most likely due to her viral single from 2018, “1950.” She released a few more singles throughout the year, and I can’t say I really enjoyed any of them, despite public opinion. As a result I wasn’t really excited for her debut.
Earlier this year, Mikaela Straus, the artist behind King Princess, signed with Mark Ronson. Despite my lukewarm attitude toward Ronson, the production assistant his label was able to provide must have done something, because I was shocked at how much I enjoyed the round of singles she put out off the album before its release. Nothing about them was new or inventive — or really even objectively good — but they were fun as hell.
The best of these is probably the titular track, “Cheap Queen.” In it she really wears her influence on her sleeve. It honestly sounds very similar to a song from Lorde, if Lorde was, well, good (I know this is a controversial statement and I do not recant). The production is pretty standard. You might even call it boring. But there is something, some indescribable aspect, that makes this track one of my favorite pop-bangers in a while.
The song “Prophet” is another standout single. Played out over this jazzy piano, she describes developing feelings for someone after a casual hookup. In the backend of the track, Princess switches up her normal soft-spoken flow and flexes her vocal talent. While very good, I wonder if this was ultimately detrimental to the album, as it only left me wanting more of that energy.
Upon the full album release, I was pleased to see that she didn’t spend all her good material in the teasers. The opening track, “Tough on Myself,” is probably my favorite of the bunch. It’s backed with this reverb-heavy psychedelic rock guitar, yet the track maintains a light and bouncy pop tone. The main line in the chorus, “I get too tough on myself / sitting alone making fun of myself,” really stands out. The song is about wanting someone who wants you back, but its general pop appeal makes it ideal for any “sadboi” hours in the day.
This album opens very well, but each time I listen to it, I can’t help but get restless by the eighth or ninth track. It is fairly front-loaded and could have done without some of the later tracks. For example, “You Destroyed my Heart” incorporates a kind of noise influence, but it is so sanitized that any appeal the noise genre brings is really lost.
Even with more consistent quality across the tracks, however, I’m not sure this feeling would change. I understand that it’s Princess’ debut, and she is working to establish her own unique sound. That being said, the album can feel very monotone at times. Especially as I listened on repeat for this review, each track started to blend together. There can be a fine line between cohesiveness and sameness.
Unfortunately I think this album tends toward the latter. Sure some songs are a little dreamier than others and some incorporate acoustic guitars, but overall there really aren’t enough differentiating aspects between songs.
However, take this criticism with a grain of salt. This music is fun, if not technically good. The scrutiny I put each track under in these reviews is not really the purpose of the album.
It is not trying to be critically acclaimed. It is not trying to do anything revolutionary. The album is meant to be background music when you’re with friends, not alone over a desk with a pen and paper. In that context, it absolutely succeeds.
I ruined this album for myself so you could enjoy it. I am a martyr, call me Joan.