Having only arrived on the pop scene in 2018, King Princess blew up in no time. You wouldn’t be able to tell from the tracks she blew up with — “1950” and “Talia” give off the impression that she’s been on the scene for years now. Yet, Cheap Queen is the first album to come from the songstress.
On Cheap Queen, King Princess reflects on her ascension into popularity. “I’m getting too cocky since everyone wants me,” she croons on the catchy title track, a song that gives the repeat button a reason to be. It’s both a brag and a moment of honesty delivered with as much confidence as the lament she follows it up with: “it’s harder to be myself.” Earlier in the same track, she sings, “they drive all the way to the west side to see my face”, in stark contrast with 2018 hit “Upper West Side” wherein she makes fun of the girl she’s crushing on who lives a luxurious lifestyle.
Although King Princess is reflecting on the changes that have come with her newfound fame, she hasn’t seemed to change at all. Cheap Queen is brutally honest as always, coming from an artist unwilling to compromise who she is, whether that means rocking a cowboy outfit and drawn-on mustache in the “1950” video. In fact, she even takes it further in the new “Prophet” video, where she’s baked into a cake and watches as she’s eaten.
Clearly, King Princess is unafraid to show every facet of herself to the world and Cheap Queen showcases that. Yet, it manages to do so in a way that’s humble and soft while still allowing her confidence to shine through.
The promotional singles for Cheap Queen are the strongest the album offers, both a positive and a negative to the album. They are all enchanting pieces of music sure to draw new listeners into Cheap Queen and King Princess as an artist, but unfortunately, the whole album can’t match up to the magic of “Prophet”, “Hit the Back” and “Cheap Queen”.
For instance, the second track, “Useless Phrases”, had the potential to be a heavy hitter. The song only features vocals from King Princess for about 30 seconds of the minute it takes up. Still, her vocals are strong, hiding background vocals where she harmonizes with herself. This is a common theme in multiple songs off Cheap Queen, lacing together into one cohesive record. But, the short runtime of one minute and 16 seconds doesn’t feel purposeful. “Useless Phrases” feels half-baked, as though an unfinished version of a song was tacked onto the album as an interlude.
“Useless Phrases” isn’t the only song on Cheap Queen that suffers from this issue; other shorter songs, “Do You Wanna See Me Crying?” and “Isabel’s Moment”, which features the album’s only feature from Tobias Jesso Jr., don’t feel fully realized either. They wind up lost among the other songs.
While some of these songs feel like filler, the standouts are intoxicating, holding strong next to her hits like “Talia”.
“Prophet” is the exact halfway mark of Cheap Queen, preceded by a mix of forgettable tracks and humble songs with replay value. But “Prophet” is the King Princess we know from her prior release, Make My Bed. “Prophet” feels effortlessly cool, featuring sultry vocals that range from soulful to breathy over a simplistic yet unforgettable instrumental that’s an earworm in itself.
Despite the punchy bassline and airy keyboard combo, the self-assured nature of King Princess’s vocals are the song’s selling point. Sure, King Princess doesn’t have the powerful vocals we’ve heard from other pop stars, but her vocals have an alluring presence.
“Hit the Back” is second-to-last, standing out by being danceable and loud, contrasting with the subtlety of the rest of Cheap Queen. The chorus feels 80s-inspired, complete with wavy synths opposing King Princess’s sharp vocals. “Ain’t I the best you had?” she asks over and over, tone forceful and brave, cementing the sentiment from “Cheap Queen” — she’s gotten cocky. But this song also proves it’s for good reason.
Cheap Queen is a mixed bag, but it’s ultimately a grower. The first listen may feel a bit underwhelming, as King Princess has built a catalogue of punchy songs over the past year, making Cheap Queen feel rather slow in comparison. The album as a whole feels understated, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing — it’s an easy listen; it’s simplistic and King Princess’s voice is soothing and irresistible.