11 Jan 2024

Indie-pop artist Princess Chelsea

From Summer Times, 11:30 am on 11 January 2024

Princess Chelsea AKA Chelsea Nikkel is a classically trained pianist who burst onto the alternative, baroque-pop scene in early 2010s. Her song 'Cigarette Duet', went viral on YouTube in 2012 and has since amassed over 100 million views.

Over the past 11 years, she has refined her dreamy cinematic pop, producing five albums, one EP and 11 singles.

Princess Chelsea

Photo: Frances Carter

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She and her band have just returned from the US and she is currently touring her new album in New Zealand

“We’re doing full album shows for my latest album, it's called Everything is Going to Be All Right. It won the Taite Music Prize which we're really, really happy about.

"And so we decided to perform it in full. It's the only time I've ever really played an album from start to finish live. So, it's been really fun."

Her song ‘Cigarette Duet’ has racked up 100 million YouTube views she says having had a second life thanks to Tik Tok.

“It's kind gone through two viral stages. It's actually quite an old song it was on my first album which was released in 2011.

“So, around 2013, inexplicably, it just began to become quite popular, which is quite interesting, it was a very grassroots popularity, people hearing the song and it just kind of exploded and it was really exciting and interesting.

“And then in the last two years, it's happened again, but an even bigger scale, 10-fold.”

People are miming singing along to it on Tik Tok, she says.

“A friend of mine sent me a clip of Tommy Lee from Motley Crue like singing along to it a year or two ago.

“I was like, what is Tik Tok? What is a Tik Tok? And I still don't have Tik Tok - I decided to stay out of it.”

‘I Love my Boyfriend’ is another song that’s had a social media boost, she says.

“It kind of goes to show the power of audience chooses, you know, there isn't really any gatekeepers anymore to what songs or how old the songs are, or what can be popular, which I think is a really good thing.

“It's one of one of the benefits of the new kind of streaming, oversaturated internet arrangement when it comes to music. A lot of downsides, but that's a benefit.”

The band has just returned from a successful US tour, she says.

“We got just got back from playing six weeks of shows in the US. So, we played nearly every night for six weeks. And I brought with me eight people from New Zealand, that's my full band.

“It's kind of a nuts thing to do actually, because logistically and financially it doesn't make a lot of sense. But my life ethos I just want to people to really celebrate seeing a live band and everything performed live, because it's becoming less and less common these days.

“I don't have anything against people that utilize backing tracks or whatever. I think that's a cool way to perform, but I wanted to do something that's seems like it's dying out a little.”

Her music is often described as cinematic pop, so how would Princess Chelsea categorise it?

“It's pop music in the sense that it's catchy, and it's focused on song writing, but the arrangements that I do are cinematic in the sense that they're quite layered, and quite keyboard heavy.

“If you think about bands like Tangerine Dream, or David  Lynch soundtracks, or ‘80s movie soundtracks; music that creates a world around it, which makes it seem like almost scored or cinematic.

“In saying that, it’s quite eclectic as well. The song that you just played [Cigarette Duet] is very reminiscent of maybe Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood - something like that. “So, there's a lot of pop culture references through it as well. As I'm somewhat of a music lover.”

Next she says it’s time for a break after a busy year and then there are more shows planned for New Zealand and beyond.

“I'd like to do shows that have extra musicians like string players and harp players. So, we'll see how that goes.

“And then it looks like we're planning on going to Asia for a tour as well. There's all sorts of ideas and plans that are still I guess, not exactly confirmed, but these are the goals.”

Princess Chelsea plays the Duncan Pavilion Whanganui on Thursday, Meow in Wellington Friday and St Peters Village Hall in Paekākāriki on Saturday.