Exclusive: King Princess on Identity, Pride, and The Inspiration Behind “Talia”

King Princess
King Princess – photo by Clare Gillen

King Princess, the wild and free pop sensation is setting the dyke world on fire right now. Her debut album Make My Bed is full of songs about heartbreak, falling in love, and getting laid.  Not new territory for mainstream pop, but King Princess’ heady lesbian lyrics, casually circling the profane and the divine, certainly are. The multi-instrumentalist is headlining San Diego Pride this month. We talked to her about Pride, politics and her unique social media aesthetic.

AfterEllen: So you’re performing at San Diego Pride. What does Pride mean to you?

King Princess: I grew up in New York, and it’s such an entity in the city I grew up in. It was so all-encompassing. New York Pride is the entirety of the city, and it’s this giant rager, and it was really exciting and mystical to me. I think as a young queer person, having such a visible display and celebration of pride in the city was essential to me, to becoming confident in myself. Getting stoned and walking around the city, getting heat stroke — like full heat stroke — in the middle of the summer during Pride. I feel like now I’m playing a Pride event I’m able to become a part of that tradition that was so important to me to watch as a kid.

AE: The first time I ever visited New York I happened to go during Pride. I was like 8 years old and we showed up in the family Volvo and my dad was like, ‘Gosh everyone here loves rainbows so much.’ This was before I knew I was gay (but I did know rainbows were) and it was amazing to be in this environment where it was like ‘wow, ok I can feel this, this is right.’

KP: The full flamboyance, full camp, you know. I love easy gay shit as much as I love serious gay shit and I love that, I love different types of femininity and masculinity displayed. The spectrum of people who are different and the same — there is so much variation — I felt completely overwhelmed. In a way where I knew it was something bigger than myself.

AE: Have you ever played at a Pride event before?

KP: No, girl! It’s my first Pride event!

AE: That’s awesome! Are you going to be in the parade?

KP: You bet that when I’m done performing, I’m going to be throwing down among the people. I need to be with my gays. That’s really the fun of it. My band and I are going to get to be able to enjoy Pride after.

AE: Wow, you’re going to start a dyke riot when they find out where you are!

KP: You think I’m going to start a dyke riot?

AE: It’s going to be pandemonium! One more question about Pride, and you sort of already spoke to this in talking about the different scenes of serious gay shit and camp gay shit. Pride as an entity, as a celebration, is coming up in political conversations more and more where people are like, Pride started as a protest and has now become commercialized and co-opted. How do you situate your politics in gay culture?

KP: I think I’m definitely as much as the next person turned off by brand sponsorships of Pride events. As a concept it makes me feel weird about it. It’s not what it’s about and companies you know — how many of them really give a shit? But then the cynic in me turns off and I’m like OK,  or you can view this as companies are donating huge amounts of money to make this shit even more poppin. A lot of them are donating money into organizations as well, in addition to putting money into the Pride events themselves. A couple of years ago we wouldn’t have even had these opportunities and I don’t want to be that gay who is angry all the time. I want to be angry at the system. It is effective to be a business person who is queer. You have to see the logic in like the importance of these people giving money even if it’s like they love gays during pride and they need to get better at loving gays around the clock. I’m not, like, horribly offended by that. The thing that’s important to me is that it feels inclusive. That no one person feels that pride is not a place for them in the LGBTQ community. That’s what’s more important to me. Brand sponsorship is always going to be a little ‘eeew‘ but it’s also important. Does that make sense?

AE: It does make sense. It goes back to what you were saying about partying with the regular gays. We deserve to have a celebration and a big relief from the constant struggle which characterizes what it means to be gay in a good part of this country and the world. I hate corporate sponsorship and I hate the commodification of Pride, but I also think these city-wide celebrations create this opportunity for people to feel like there is a unique culture.

KP: It’s also just about money too. Being able to have resources as a community to make our art visible. Unfortunately, those go hand in hand. I think that everyone and everything is going to get better though.

AE: I asked AE readers to contribute some questions today and the one that I thought was the funniest was one of the first things I got and that is, what inspires your bizarre social media presence?

KP: What inspires my bizarre social media presence? (laughing)

AE: I know it’s kind of leading the question to assume you think your social media could be called bizarre.

KP: Well, you already labeled it for me! If you’re not laughing you’re crying. I just put a lot of funny shit up. I try to make it funny. It reminds me of having a journal — being able to express your funny thoughts but also being able to put up imagery. I find social media extremely interesting. I’m sure a lot of people use it in a lot of different ways. But in the past, people who are successful in their careers focus on using things that are appealing to get people to follow them, whether it’s posting something hot or some rich people shit. That’s cool, but I also love meme culture and dad shit. The shit that makes me laugh is what I want to see on the internet. I don’t know if I could be as happy or confident with myself if I was putting up shit that was different from what I’m putting up now. It’s our job to make sense out of social media as artists. If you let someone else do it, it can be sterile, and if you get obsessive with it, it becomes an emotional crutch. There has to be an in-between and that’s where comedy falls for me.

AE: That makes a lot of sense. I will never forget that titty bounce Instagram you posted a couple weeks ago. I nearly fainted.

KP: Really? (laughing) There are a couple recent ones I’m pretty proud of.

AE: Your Instagram always stops me in my scroll with wtf is this? Or this is hot! Or this is too much!

KP: I like when the kids are like: thanks, I hate it.

AE: another reader question: one woman asks if you can talk about the inspiration behind Talia.

KP: I had a really savage break up (groaning). As we all do. It was about my first love. I think first love is hard to talk about for all of us because your young and you can’t differentiate between just being a crazy, young, hormonal person with what’s actually going on. It’s about savage heartbreak and recovering from it. But that’s what all my songs are about.

AE: I just have one more question for you and this kind of goes back to what we were talking about before with Pride. I’ve seen you in other interviews describe yourself as gay but I don’t think I’ve ever heard you use the word lesbian and I was wondering if you could talk about that.

KP: What a great question. I feel like all female queer people have this conversation about the words and how we feel about it. I felt so much more connected to the term lesbian when I was younger. Because I think in some ways my gender situation is difficult for me to connect to the term lesbian as much as gay.

I use the term lesbian sometimes and it doesn’t feel wrong in any way but something in my body tells me I’m gay. That same part of me fully wakes up not feeling in the correct body as I have since I was a kid, as a lot of people have. My identities might have once thought to be contradictory but what I love about the time we are living in now is that you can express gender queerness, that you’re gay, that you’re a lesbian, a girl dating girls. Because I am a girl who dates girls and I have been for a long time. So I am a lesbian. But sometimes I feel like a gay man, you know? (laughing) Just in my spirit. I’m learning how to be comfortable in between. If you can harness that and feel comfortable in the in-between, it can be freeing and fun. I show it in my art. It’s a great perspective to have and I’m happy to have it.

AE: what a nuanced perspective, thank you for sharing. It’s such a personal relationship that we all have. Lesbian is a word a lot of people don’t want to touch.

KP: I will say, of all histories, of all media I connect most to lesbian media. I watch the most lesbian content of anything I watch. I love it, I connect to it. Does that mean the term feels more right to me than the term gay? Not necessarily. There is no right way to be a lesbian. We are a picky ass community. And I love that. We are demanding. But we also have to like loosen our assholes and understand that there’s a lot of different people to include under one label. And if you identify as gay it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad lesbian.

AE: I hear what you’re saying. And I also think there’s a long history in lesbian culture of women who don’t feel comfortable in our bodies, as you were saying, the idea of the ‘right’ body or the idea of not fitting into the mold of what a woman ‘should’ be. That’s a common experience in lesbian culture.

KP: It’s like this new show on HBO!

AE: Gentleman Jack?

KP: The language back then was if you weren’t traditionally feminine people would call you *a man*. There’s a lot of gender stuff happening with lesbian women back then. You’re grappling with the thought that maybe your gender itself wasn’t right. There was no language to describe what a lesbian was back then. So gender has been present in the narratives of lesbian women for a very long time. Gender is critical in talking about being queer. I love to look back to references of books and movies where they nailed it, talking about gender. It totally gives me hope because it was so effortless, they didn’t even need to have language for this because it was based on feelings.

Catch King Princess at San Diego Pride on Saturday, July 14th. She is on tour and making lots of festival stops.

Also look out for her new material, including a new single, Cheap Queen which was released today.