I guess my music loving this week revolves around Harry Styles's current and former opening acts. This wasn't intentional at all, but it just sorta happened that the new music I got into in the last few weeks had that common thread.
The first artist I want to talk about is King Princess who I am now heartbroken I won't get to see as Harry's opening act because she's only on the European leg of the tour. Anyway, everyone on Twitter was talking about her and then she popped up in my YouTube recommendations, so I clicked. I was instantly captivated by her breezy, funny personality as she discussed and lyrics, and her music was just as intriguing. I haven't gotten through all of it yet, but I've had "1950" and "Ain't Together" pretty much on loop since I finally heard them. I feel so late to the party, but, if you haven't listened yet, don't miss out. Her sound has a sorta folksy tinged dark pop sound which combines everything I love. Her voice is undeniable, and her lyrics are even better. Her songs are proudly queer in a way that has nothing veiled or metaphorical about it. While some artists leave out pronouns and keep the songs ambiguous, King Princess isn't going to give you a chance to wonder who the song is directed like, and, at first, it's sorta shocking. Not in a bad way at all but in a way that makes you sit back and realize how heterosexually coded pop music is. Aside from the occasional Halsey or Troye Sivan song, it's rare to find songs that take on the subject matter as boldly as Mikaela. Talking about this, she told them.us, in a great article that's defiantly worth the read (find it here), "I’m not somebody with chill,” she quips. “So, my writing has no chill either. I talk about ladies and it's just obvious, and I wanted it to be obvious. I think I wanted to emulate these male music figures that I had that were able to just talk about the women that they wanted to be with." I love supporting teen artists who are doing amazing things, and beyond awesome music, she also has an amazing sense of the world. She's one of those artists that just makes me happy she's out there creating art and being someone that others can look up to.
As for the two songs I want to talk about, they both have a unique and captivating sound that grabs you from the start. If you're not living under a rock like I was, you probably are well aware of her breakout song "1950". I love how bold and forward in the mix her voice is with the perfect mix of drums and electric guitar in the background. It's also just such a bold song lyrically. She is both writing a modern story and proving an understanding and reverence for queer history which she emphasizes in interviews about the song. I think that's such a cool thing for an artist to do. It's a song about unrequited love (one of my favorite topics) and about how queer love often had to be hidden in the past. She makes the themes of the song explicit from the start opening with, "I hate it when dudes try to chase me/But I love it when you try to save me/Cause I'm just a lady" which is such a good picture and a perfect show not tell example. It's just so rich and then maybe the best hook ever, even though it's not in the chorus, "I love with when we play 1950/It's so cold that your stares bout to kill me/I'm surprised when you kiss me." The mix of how her voice dips when she sings this part with the historical allusion hits all the right chords for me. This song is just so interestingly written it's fun to study. "I love it when we play 1950" was also the lyric that Harry tweeted, in true Harry fashion, with no context in March of 2018.
My other favorite song, about my other favorite topic in songwriting as you'll come to see, is "Ain't Together" which is about an undefined relationship where someone doesn't want to admit they're in love. This one has a very different sound with a sweet, soothing swing and almost jazzy vocals. And, of course, she had the perfect line to sum up the song, "cute and sad, perfect for any occasion. Wedding, funeral, corporate function, lesbian seance.” I mean, who doesn't love a song that can work at any occasion, right? I love the chorus as it sorta pulls together the other person's fear of commitment from the verses. "We say 'I love you' but we ain't together/Do you think labels make it taste much better?/Darlin', do you think that if I talk enough/I will make you want to be mine?/But we ain't together." Love is a weird thing, and this song captures that perfectly. I actually included this one on my top 20 of 2020 list.
To end, I want to add another perfect final quote from the them.us article. "It’s a big step that a song or a video like mine is being responded to the way it is. It makes me so happy, because it means that other people can start to come in who are far more diverse than me, a white girl from Brooklyn…This world is ready. We're ready for it… And it's not a competition — it's a movement.”
Okay, almost totally switching gears, there's Kasey Musgraves who I have heard tons about but never listened to till last week. I guess I'd heard a bit of "Space Cowboy" cause I'd seen the clips of her singing it with Harry at her Nashville show, and I liked her voice when they dueted on "You're Still the One", but I don't consider myself a country fan beyond early Taylor Swift albums, so I'd never checked her out. And then I was listening to old Podcast episorodes (It's a great podcast if you're into pop music) were they were discussing Kasey. They played a clip of her song "It Is What It Is" which she prefaced by saying that her grandma called her slut song, and I was sold. Not by the grandma's reductive description but the song itself.
Like I said earlier, I find romantic relationships that aren't fully there fascinating. There's such an interesting lens and mix of feelings brought out by blurry lines and relationships that aren't there but aren't unrequited. This song is all this and all storytelling. Like Taylor's early work, this has plenty of country roots but has clear nods to pop and is designed to cross over well. I love acoustic sounds and this song delivers that part of country I love without a lot of feigned accents or sexist tropes. The song tells a whole story about a pair that's more than a hook up but can't be together because sometimes it just doesn't work. She does so much painting of the scene and where the relationship is at. Again, a perfect showing song. "I think we're thinking too hard/So put on your shoes and get in your car/Put it in drive and point it this way/We don't have to talk, we don't have to stay". This last line reminds me of the resignation in Ariana Grande's "Just a Little Bit of Your Heart", one of my all time favorite songs. It makes it clear that one person is far more invested than the other. The last two lines of my chorus are my favorite of the whole song because it captures a whole, weird emotion in such simple words in a way that makes so much sense, "Maybe I love you, maybe I'm just kinda bored/It is what it is, till it ain't anymore."
I also had to laugh when I noticed the album is called Same Trailer Different Park.
I haven't gotten through Kasey's discography as in-depth as I'd like to, and I plan to talk about her on the podcast at some point, but, for the second song for now, I'm going to talk about "Space Cowboy" because I think it illustrates where Kasey sits in country super well. On Instagram, she ended her post about this song, "Make peace with what doesn't belong. You'll find something better." The whole song is about letting someone you love go. It starts sorta like a piano ballad. Hits of an accent come out through the beginning and her voice is very raw. The references and images are deeply routed in country in this particular song, but the sound of it wouldn't be out of place among the slower Top 40 songs. Though there's a lot of country crossover these days. She does it more gracefully than most, though. I also love the space this song sits in thematically. It's about letting go of someone you love without resentment. You can keep the good times even if it doesn't end in forever, and, if someone doesn't want to be with you, you shouldn't try to keep them. There's such a line she plays with on the nostalgia front. In verse 2, she sings my favorite line, "Shoulda learned from the movies that good guys don't run away." She also plays with heavy use of country tropes in a way that doesn't feel performed like it sometimes can. At the top of the chorus she sings, "You can have your space, cowboy" and then in the second half of the chorus, she uses some metaphors and images that I really appreciate, "'Cause I know my place, and it ain't with you/Sunsets fade, and love does too/We had our day in the sun/When a horse starts to run, there ain't no use in closing the gate/So you can have your space." She somehow manages to use a lot of tropey things and pull it off which takes a certain kind of talent. And I also love how she takes the line "you can have your space, cowboy" and then twists it into a super eye-catching title that makes you wonder what the sound is.
Thanks for sticking with me through these two mini deep dives (does that make sense?). These are both artists that I want to spotlight on the podcast at some point. Do you have favorite songs of theirs that I haven't mentioned? Let me know in the comments!