19 Jul 2024

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Princess Chelsea


The name Princess Chelsea started off as loving teasing almost 15 years ago. Her bandmates from Auckland’s Teen Wolf “were being sarcastic, because when we were on tour I was often looking really dishevelled, and they would joke that I was a princess.” Chelsea took on the princess title, and complicated it playfully. Hers is a partial yet whole-hearted embrace of femininity which emphasises the aesthetic labour of beauty, and unsettles it. In Teen Wolf she began working her classical training as a pianist into New Zealand’s underground music scene. Subsequently she lent this talent to indie pop outfit The Brunettes.

In 2011 Princess Chelsea’s full-length bedroom recorded debut, Lil' Golden Book, was released by local label Lil' Chief. A “musical fairy tale,” its songs follow her youth and coming of age in Aotearoa New Zealand. Baroque arrangements of nostalgic synthesisers and chamber pop instruments sometimes explode into psychedelia, layered over with innocent vocal melodies and lyrics. Chelsea’s debut defined her knowing poise and ornate synth-pop atmospherics and with its original release, Chelsea made a series of DIY videos which became YouTube hits. The Cigarette Duet video featured Chelsea in a pink wig and heart shaped sunglasses beside Jonathan Bree (The Brunettes) in a hot tub. Its viral popularity cemented her cult status and garnered attention in mainstream press. The Guardian named her “The new band of the day.” The video has made a resurgence on TikTok, pushing views over 75 million. But Princess Chelsea is more than an internet sensation. She has a steadily growing, loyal fan base spread around the world, to which she connects through touring and social media.

Lil' Golden Book was reissued for its 10th anniversary as a limited edition package in 2021. A golden vinyl was accompanied by a collectible A1 poster, reversible cover art, gatefold artwork with lyrics and a foiled golden spine. It is a love-letter from Chelsea to her dedicated fans. For some this will be nostalgic, for others a new chance to own the album.

Lil’ Golden Book was followed by The Great Cybernetic Depression in 2015. In these ten tracks, layers and layers of synths set the scene for an epic sci-fi opera. In its fantastical near (and retro) future, the world is immobilised in depression brought on by technology. With unconventional song structures, and a baroque flair, the songs are more like compositions than one might expect from synth pop – glittering with Chelsea’s classical background.

In 2016 Chelsea released Aftertouch, a collection of covers recorded between 2010 and 2016. The selection, chosen by their ability to “move me emotionally” gives insight to Chelsea’s musical palette and development. Songs by Nirvana, The Beatles, Interpol, Lucinda Williams and Marianne Faithfull are given the Princess Chelsea treatment. The title track was written by fellow Kiwi synth musician Disasteradio. It is an ode to their shared medium, referring to sustained pressure on keys.

In 2018 came The Loneliest Girl, with Chelsea returning to songwriting. The album foreshadows Nikkel’s breakdown, examining the loneliness of a strong work ethic and the pull of artistic satisfaction. Here, adult issues and social commentary are presented in a light and sometimes childlike manner. In closing track All I Need To Do Chelsea attends a Springsteen concert feeling both insecure and inspired. She reminds herself “All I Need To Do is make the music and try to be true”.

The Loneliest Girl marked a turn away from synth-heavy production, instead returning to the eclectic pop sound of Lil’ Golden Book. She captured moments of inspiration, madness and spontaneity, through single take recordings, free form waxing lyrical, yelling, collages of guitar shredding and sketches recorded in under an hour. This slightly looser attitude to recording is developed further in forthcoming Everything is Going To Be Alright. The new album is an exemplar of her singular Princess Chelsea vision, her strength as a collaborator, and as a live performer. For this album, Chelsea’s instrumental arrangements are inspired by her live band, whose interpretations of her bedroom recordings have produced a legendary and somewhat surprisingly ‘heavier’ show than what one might expect.

Photo Credit: Frances Carter

Band Members:
Chelsea Nikkel


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