By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
Onstage, the Princess is just a grant shy of performance art. One night, she appears in full Chanel regalia, summoning the long-lost spirit of Linda Evans from Dynasty more than, say, Mary J. Blige. The next night, she's a new-wave freakshow in black latex and rooster hair, popping and locking like a robot and breaking out a mini-Casio keyboard, more Beck than Beck is himself. And as soon as that image becomes too familiar, she's wrapping her body in Christmas lights under a see-through plastic jumpsuit, mascara smeared, rolling around on the stage like some kind of pagan yuletide sacrifice.
But sitting in a Waverly Street café, Concetta Kirschner is neither a princess nor a superstar. Her hair indeed looks like a punky rooster's, but only because it's angrily barretted to keep out of her eyes. Otherwise, she's a three-dimensional 28-year-old East Village chick in a fleece vest and blue jeans, cell phone at the ready, ever-present Rollerblades at the foot of her chair.
She finished the new album three days ago. Although she says it's the best thing she's ever recorded, she's a complete wreck about it. And, she adds humbly, "I mean, I've only done three albums." Humility is a surprise from a woman with the balls to name her trilogy Strictly Platinum, C.E.O., and now, Last of the Great 20th Century Composers. And, remember, she has the nerve to be a white girl who raps.
"I just decided to shed my indie-rock roots and get more into hip-hop, because that's the music I always loved the most," Concetta says. "I couldn't quite figure out how to do hip-hop. I mean, it's hard, but I practiced my ass off, and practiced rhyming and doing the beats." The record also has elements of drum'n'bass, dance, techno, punk"I have no idea how to classify it at all," she says.
"Oh God, I've heard it already," Concetta says of her gender-genre-race encounters. "Is she like a female Kid Rock or is she like a white Lil' Kim, or what is she?" Everyone who hears Princess Superstar's music has an opinion, and many who flaunt contracts and big money appear more than happy to force their opinions on her. On C.E.O. in 1997, Princess Superstar memorialized record industry hacks with a track called "Trapped in a 401K-Hole," featuring snippets of alleged phone messages from various major- label types. One sound bite says, against a backdrop of furious drum'n'bass, "We want you to do a duet with Bryan Adams."
Princess was born in the teenaged Concetta's bedroom in suburban Philadelphia, and raised on Maximum Rock and Roll and piles of homemade tape loops. "It's funny, when I first started, I had this vision where I worshiped Fugazi and the whole DIY thing of starting your own label, being political," Concetta remembers. "But I will say that in the very beginningI started in '94I had no idea how the music industry worked, and I had a really good review in CMJ for a little crappy tape that I made, and the next day all these major labels called me on the phone. These labels would take me out to dinner and they would tell me really gross stuff, like what they thought about me and what I should dolike I shouldn't play guitar or I shouldn't rap anymore. Luckily nothing did happen, because then I signed to an independent out of Canada [5th Beetle Records, which released Strictly Platinum in '95] and that was really great, but finally I was like, you know whatforget about the majors, forget about the indies, I really feel like I could just do this better myself."
Surviving her share of corporate hassle, Kirschner created her own label, The Corrupt Conglomerate. (Its name was originally A Big Rich Major Label, but style was ultimately chosen over novelty.) Concetta is the company CEO, and business partner Louise Crane is president. Says Crane of her investment, "I've worked in the music industry since high school, and I'm sick of major labels. I like working with good musicyou work at other labels and don't enjoy the music, and that's that." When she heard Princess Superstar's second album, she was hooked. "I thought C.E.O. was def, but she showed me her bio and it was horrible." So Crane offered her industry know-how.
Princess Superstar has gained the attention and support of some big names, and they've helped to put together her new album. While her previous records were more band-oriented, this time around the music mainly comes from the Princess and her songwriting partner/coproducer/engineer, Curtis Curtisbut with contributions from the likes of Prince Paul, Jon Spencer, and Cypress Hill's Baron Ricks. Prince Paul is featured on last winter's holiday single, "I Hope I Sell a Lot of Records at Christmastime"; Ricks is on another single, the raunchy "Come Up to My Room"; Spencer brings up the rear (so to speak) with a bonus-track remix of "Do It Like a Robot."
Last of the Great 20th Century Composers is also enhanced with, believe it or not, four cleverly silly Atari-like video games. Designed by Jonah Brucker-Cohen, the suite of games, entitled "How to Be a Superstar," begins abruptly with an image of Concetta's face, accompanied by her shouting "I RULE!" The Princess parodies Lara Croft, dissing sucka MCs left and right. Another game features her head as a spaceship in an Asteroids-style challenge, in which space rocks are shaped like major label logos. One game even lets players (not to be confused with player-haters) plan out a dance routine for the Princess.
So where does Princess Superstar the self-made icon end and Concetta Kirschner the daydreaming full-time wage slave begin? According to everyone involved, it's all one big party. Concetta met Curtis Curtis a few years back through his girlfriend, who had worked with the Princess at a Manhattan pizza parlor. The Corrupt Conglomerate was modeled in part on Concetta's day job as a secretary, which also provided her a loan with which to create the record label. Her day job also informed her sensibilities as a businesswoman, which she recently explained in a self-penned how-to article published in Bust magazine.
All this, in the face of an album conceived as a step toward more presence in the hip-hop community. With a tour and video also in the works, and a recent collaboration on It-boy rapper MC Paul Barman's debut EP, Concetta's looking forward to getting her gluteus maximus in gear. "I love being on stage. That's when I'm the happiest, when I'm vibing with the audience. And then there's the fact that there are B-boys. But we won't go there." And for those who dare besmirch her booty-shaking royal masterpieces, Princess Superstar will be the first to suggest where to stick it.