Somewhere between nineties American pop and eighties European disco, you’ll find Kim Petras. Nodding to influences as diverse as Britney Spears, Baltimora, and the “Brat Pack,” the “side bun” sporting German-born and Los Angeles-based songstress powers up a new pop paradigm, sharing intimate lovelorn storylines over explosive production.
“Pop was always my biggest obsession,” she affirms. “I spend so much time looking for new music online. As a kid, music videos were my escape from the little town I was living in, because nothing happened there. I want to provide that kind of escapism. It’s unapologetically pop.”
By the age of twenty, she started making regular trips across the world to Los Angeles in order to write with top producers such as The Stereotypes. In 2015, she found herself penning music in mom’s basement while waiting for another visa. Stricken by heartache, the songs reflected raw emotion that spoke to producer Aaron Joseph. Working with Aaron, Dr. Luke, and other top-notch producers and writers, her sound came to life.
Kim’s 2017 debut single “I Don’t Want It At All” unlocks her world. It is about to hit 3 million Spotify streams and it hit #1 on Spotify’s Global Viral Chart just 4 days after release. Buoyed by shimmering synths and a club-ready beat, the track sees her spout sassy lines like, “I want all my clothes designer; I want someone else to buy ‘em” and “Just close your eyes and swipe it, sweetie” over production blessed by Aaron Joseph, Cirkut, and Luke with co-writing from Lil Aaron. “Hills ft Baby E” and “Hillside Boys” are the newer songs released by Petras. They were both mentioned in Spotify’s New Music Friday list this past Friday.
“In L.A., you see a lot of girls who get whatever they want in life,” she explains. “They live that sugar daddy lifestyle. I could never do that, nor do I want to. There’s something so interesting about it though. It’s fun to listen to and imagine being an L.A. girl. It fits into the theme of finding alternate realities.”
Her brand of escapism remains rooted in a boundless capacity for empathy. Knowing herself from the age of two, Kim notably began transitioning with female hormone therapy following her twelfth birthday before receiving gender reassignment surgery at the age of 16 and making worldwide headlines. Her bravery quietly and subconsciously punctuates the music.
“I have unique experiences and have had unique experiences, because I am transgender,” she continues. “Those experiences one-hundred percent go into my music. Being the outcast and being bullied makes you work harder in life. I had to fight for everything, because I was not the cool kid and had very few friends. At the same time, I’m just a girl going through heartbreak. It feels the same way to me as any other girl would feel about it. Whether or not you connect with people has nothing to do with your gender or sexuality.”
Ultimately, her experience and intimate understanding of pop yields a universal vision that’s as incomparable as it is inimitable.
“For a moment, I’d love for listeners to forget reality and have fun when they listen to me,” she leaves off. “They don’t have to think about anything negative. I hope they blast it in the cars or when they’re getting ready and want to feel fabulous. I hope it’s a soundtrack to their lives.”
Learn more about Kim Petras in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! How has 2017 been treating you? Musically, did you approach this year any differently then you did last year?
Loved 2017 so far! I definitely knew this was gonna be the year I release my first single. Which made me really excited for this year! I also knew I would have to work a crazy amount this year to get all of that going! And this year has been just that! A lot of work!
Where does this interview find you today? Is there music playing in the background? If so, what is it? What music gets you instantly out of a bad mood?
Rodeo Drive! Whitney Houston’s ‘I’m every woman” is playing right now from a tiny speaker that’s tied to a palm tree on the sidewalk. Anything by Cher & Freddie Mercury puts me in a good mood.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory?
Yes! When I was 5 years old, I remember harmonizing Disney songs with my sisters. Music has always been a part of me. I used to dance around my childhood house all day as a kid and I’d never get tired of it! I just kind of naturally started writing songs over songs on the radio and then feel in love with songwriting pretty early on!
I always like to ask artists about where they came from and how that city or town has influenced them as an artist now. So how do you think your hometown has affected who you are as a musician and the art that you create?
Growing up in cologne Germany always made me feel like the music industry was this unreachable place that’s so far away! I always wanted to be a part of it. I was really into American pop culture and music was a form of escape from reality. Also the weather can be very grey for long periods of time there. I feel like my surroundings just made me work twice as hard on my skills as a songwriter. I always wanted my life to be exciting and felt like there was nothing to do in my home town! The coolest thing about Germany and Europe especially is the eclectic music on the radio! A lot of weirder stuff becomes popular in Europe I’d say and it definitely influenced and inspired me.
What was the inspiration for your debut single, “I Don’t Want It At All”? Have you surprised at all by the quick positive reaction to it? What was it like working on it with your team? How do you think this song prepares people for more music from you?
One day after a meeting my manager took me to Sephora and said I could get whatever I wanted. When he saw the total he got kind of tense then the cashier said “just close your eyes and swipe sweetie!” The next day I wrote the song. I was super surprised at the positive reaction! My goal is to make people feel good and have fun and lose their selves. So I think the song is just that and sets up the next few songs perfectly! It’s very unique and definitely stands out but it does make sense with the narrative of the next few songs!
Can you talk a little about the newer track that you have more recently put out called “Hillside Boys”?
I wrote “Hillside Boys” about rich boys breaking my heart. The brokest kid in private school and all my first three boyfriends were rich kids and broke my heart. So, when I got to LA and saw that all the rich kids live in the hills, I just kind of put the two things together and wrote the song.
What about your other track, “Hills ft. Baby E”?
When I got my first publishing advance, I blew it on a place in the hills in LA. I had no money for anything but I had a really dope place. So, my friends would come over and we’d just cruise through the hills all day. I wrote the chorus a while back in that house and sent it to Baby E because I’m a huge fan of his, and it felt right up his alley. He loved it and we wrote the verses and the pre-chorus together one night and then it all made sense!
When do you hope to release more new music and an EP or full –length album of new songs?
Not too long from now! I definitely want to have this song lead for a little while longer! There’s no solid dates but there’s a lot of finished songs!
With the summer being just about over, what was your favorite part about it? What was something fun that you did or tried for the first time? Did you get to play out live at all?
I actually spent about every day of the week in the studio. I’m still as pale as ever and wish I had a tan! I went on a writing trip to Hawaii though which was definitely my favorite thing I did this summer!
We are living in a crazy and at times rough world right now so I am curious how you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today? Do you think that new music being created today is going to reflect these hard times?
From when I was really young to now, music always had this power to lift me up and make me feel like everything was okay when everything wasn’t! It’s always been this amazing escape for me that I could go to when I was sad! It’s my main goal to do that for other people. Especially since I get to do what I love every single day now which is such a dream come true and luxury to me. I get a crazy rush of happiness when I write an amazing lyric that expresses exactly what I feel! So these moments in songwriting when everything falls into place are why I make music! All the songs are very honest to me and reflect everything I feel and feel about the world and love and life!
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely love to work with in the future?
I really love all kinds of music! I really just love great songs! I’ve always loved Stevie Nicks a lot! I can’t stop listening to the Cardigans, the Cranberries and early No Doubt records lately. I really love all kinds of music from daft punk to Phil Collins to Dashboard Confessional, the Killers to Drake and Rae Sremmurd to Cyndi Lauper! I’m very song driven! I’d love to work with all of the artists above! I’d love to write a song with Muse! Just to see how they write their songs. Totally would wanna make a song with Danny Elfman one day! Mostly I love writing on my own though. Working with people is fun but I get a lot of my songwriting visions on my own and then I bring them to sessions! Also I have worked with a couple people on this record that I really wanted to work with and have been a fan of for a while!
What do you hope is the message of your music and what do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
I really most of all want people to have fun listening to my music! I hope they can find lyrics in my songs that relate to their life in their own special unique way and I hope they get to forget their problems and the world for 3 minutes!
What advice would you give to someone just getting started on this music path? Or even to someone young that is thinking of becoming a musician one day?
Be unique and stand out! Work hard on your songwriting skills! Don’t let anybody tell you what to do or what not to do! know exactly what you want and be persistent about it! And love every minute of doing it!
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers about yourself or your music?
I’m just having fun making music and happy I get to do what I love everyday!