King Princess could become the queen of pop. She’s that talented.
Reigning at the Palace Theatre on Tuesday night in St. Paul, she showed the unrequited emotionalism of Amy Winehouse, the pop songcrafting smarts of Katy Perry and the liberating spirit of Lady Gaga. All that was missing: the rock-star swagger of Billie Eilish and, of course, hits.
King Princess — she cheekily said her fans should address her as “Miss King,” though to her family she’s Mikaela Straus — manifested an unchoreographed and unschooled stage manner, dancing like an exuberant fan in fits and starts as if no one were watching.
By turns mouthy, flirty and funny, she bantered with concertgoers about drinking, tossing undergarments onstage and the cable password a local fan gave her earlier in the day.
Having turned 21 in December, King Princess is relatively new at touring. A year ago, she kicked off her first solo trek at First Avenue, which was sold out on the strength of her alt-pop hit “1950,” touted as an ode to queer love inspired by Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel “The Price of Salt.”
Even though she’s not fully experienced onstage, King Princess is well schooled when it comes to music-making. She grew up in a Brooklyn recording studio owned by her producer/engineer father, Oliver Straus, who worked with the likes of Mumford & Sons, Pink and Mike Posner. At the precocious age of 11, she was offered a recording contract but prudently declined.
After a year at the Thornton School of Music at USC, she dropped out and signed with Mark (“Uptown Funk”) Ronson’s Zelig label, releasing “1950,” which was endorsed in a tweet by Harry Styles (he has invited King Princess to be his opening act in Europe this spring). Last fall, she delivered her full-length debut, “Cheap Queen,” one of the best pop albums of 2019.
Backed by a four-piece band at the Palace, King Princess played every selection from “Cheap Queen” plus a few of her earlier singles. She started the night with “Isabel’s Moment,” seated at a spinet piano, painted with clouds on its back and her name on its top. Before the 90-minute performance was over, she showed her considerable facility on electric guitar, as well.
King Princess sings a lot about lust, yearning and things gone wrong. She may not display the literary drama and vivid details of Lorde, but her songs are heart-tugglingly emotional, musically uncluttered and filled with such bon mots as “you taste like danger but I feel so safe in your arms” (“Homegirl”).
In concert, King Princess noticeably punched up her musical arrangements, adding impactful dramatic pauses to “Trust Nobody,” pumping up the dance beat on “Hit the Back” and spiking “Talia” with a clubby headiness. With her hazy but strong alto voice, those tunes — and others — trumpet hit potential.
“We’ve come to my one hit,” the singer said before playing “1950” late in the concert. “I need more hits. I need all your help. I’m tired of it. But it’s what got me here.”
All told, King Princess was a heady mix of unpretentious cool and youthful restlessness, displaying a bit of a punkish persona that seemed more posturing than threatening. After unleashing some roaring guitar feedback on the uncharacteristically raucous closer “Ohio,” she stomped on her instrument, trashed some drum gear and tossed her microphone stand into the stage pit. All revved up, this royal rocker was ready to march offstage triumphantly but — wait — she stopped to grab her beer cup atop the piano.
When you become the queen of pop, the beer — or whatever you want — will be waiting backstage.