“You get to see this version of femininity that is funny instead of being serious, instead of being competitive, instead of being sexual,” says Straus, an obsessive RuPaul’s Drag Race follower who appears in campy, drag-inspired makeup on the Cheap Queen cover. “That, to me, was really important: Knowing that there’s femininity through humor, through comedy, through art.”
The project is infused with that same sharp, self-deprecating wit: In the trippy music video for “Cheap Queen” (which makes use of the same Big Comfy Couch-inspired set piece), Straus serenades a flying sandwich (then eats it), puzzles over an ad for "Kidz Boop" and sings melodramatically into a nonexistent earpiece. But lyrically, Cheap Queen is also deeply emotional, written for a generation that “loves to feel.” “I’m not chill at all,” she sings about the urge to define a relationship on the folky “Ain’t Together” featuring Father John Misty on drums; another track is titled simply, “You Destroyed My Heart.”
Straus says the idea was to detail a distinctly 2019, teenage love story, but with melodies that are completely timeless. "It doesn’t need to sound modern for it to be emotionally relevant to a young generation," she explains. Over another violin-backed ballad, she describes “watching my phone, thinking about you,” and references to the particular woes of communication in the digital age are speckled throughout.
All this is punctuated by several glistening, emotion-flooded interludes (notes Straus, “The tea is in the interludes”). “You say you want me back,” she scoffs on the hand-clapping “Useless Phrases,” while “Isabel’s Moment,” featuring Tobias Jesso Jr., name-drops one of her close friends.
Asked if she feels that she’s adjusted to the spotlight, Straus sighs. “I don’t really want to be super good at being in the spotlight,” she explains. “I think it gets scary when you are really good at that. But I’m really happy with how much I’ve grown as a person. I feel like I’ve adjusted to the point where I have all these new skills, and I love that.”
She says she already has an idea for another, short record (or in Mikaela speak, “a bite”), which she’s working on with several friends. Meanwhile, she’s getting ready to kick off the next leg of her national Cheap Queen Tour at Life Is Beautiful festival in Las Vegas on Sept. 20. This time, there will be no stage fright.
“There are people who have to be pushed out onstage,” she says. “I’m going to run the fuck out there.”