Hold the line, hold on to the past or hold on to love.
On her album Hold On Baby, Mikaela Straus, better known as King Princess, revisits the wreckage of an exhausting relationship and ponders what she might hold on to. Putting aside the sparkling pop energy of her debut EP Make My Bed and the playful, mascaraed glamor of her first album Cheap Queen, King Princess shows her most vulnerable, authentic and effortlessly beautiful self.
The album feels like a film — a deeply contemplative dive into her haunting past that has undermined her mental health. The opening track “I Hate Myself, I Want to Party” immediately outlines her internal struggles and fully exposes her vulnerable side to her listeners.
“I hate myself, I want to party/ And pretend that I’m a part of something,” she sings. The first section of the song finds her in swirling emotions of unworthiness and loneliness. The stripped-down instruments in the background make her unflattering self-portrayal more authentic and poignant.
But, the second part of the song collects pieces of hope amidst her emotional wreckage and puts them together into a reviving decision. “I don’t wanna live like that,/ And I know it’s my track,” Straus sings, setting off her journey to confront her tumultuous past and regain hope for her current life.
An unmissable track, “Little Bother” perfectly delineates a tedious relationship that slowly dies like embers through a long night. Beginning with low humming and nostalgic guitars, the song slowly enriches itself with drum kicks and layered vocal harmonies until it reaches an eventual outburst of revelation — “Was I a crumb on your sleeve? You were something like a god to me.” The understatement “just a little bother” demonstrates her total frustration over how the love could have worked out right in so many ways, but still died away due to apathy and inaction in an unequal relationship.
“Crowbar,” another highlight on the album, details how an intimate relationship can also hurt the most. Warm piano and soft drums start the song, recalling a time when Straus “feels adored” by her lover, whom she calls “a personal anchor.” But the person she depends on the most eventually puts everything to a cold “closure,” leaving her in ruin.
However, the album is not just filled with disheartening memories. “Too Bad” and “Dotted Lines” are tracks that briefly restore Straus’ reckless love and rebellious energy, though only to distract her from a painful reality. “I understand it, I’m manic,” she calmly admits, giving listeners deja-vu of Cheap Queen.
“Change the Locks” is the apex of the album, capturing King Princess at her bravest, yet most vulnerable, moments. Starting with an indie-inspired, melancholy flute, she dives into deep waters, excavating the shipwrecks of her failed love. The simplistic production perfectly fits with her grasping voice, making the sound cleaner and more candid. Her plunge arrives at a heart-wrenching revelation: “You’re changin’ the locks on your heart ‘cause you’re bored.” Here, the song transitions into full-blown drums, raging like a storm.
However, no matter how fiercely a storm jostles a sea of memories, a sunken ship remains at the sea bottom. Straus has no way to recover a shipwreck — nor does she need to. On the final track “Let Us Die,” she jokingly lists all the ways she would’ve once died with her lover to make their love eternal. But, the love between them has already died, and there’s no point in holding on to a past if it continues to hurt her current life.
Her deepest, most consistent work to date, Hold On Baby reveals a more vulnerable and authentic side of King Princess, arriving at meaningful revelations and reconciliations with her burdening past. Sometimes, letting go is the best way to hold on to hope.