Kim Petras is turning her pop dreams into reality

By
Photography Ben Taylor

Published February 14, 2018

I first encountered the 25-year-old self-described “poptimist” Kim Petras in the 2017 music video for her breakout single “I Don’t Want It At All.” It’s a modern-day pop fairytale—she hits the mall, bags swinging on her arms à la Cher Horowitz in Clueless. She kneels in front of a bedroom shrine to one of her heroes, Paris Hilton. She finds time to hang up on unworthy boys, all while delivering lyrics about an idealized fantasy life, filled with diamonds and fancy vacations to the Hamptons.

But this isn’t the story of a self-made mogul. It’s a clarion call for Millennial desire, where everything is delivered rather than earned. “I want all my clothes designer / I want someone else to buy ‘em,” she declares, over the production equivalent of a champagne bottle popping. This is the new agenda for vacuous youth everywhere, tongue-in-cheek but also serious about feeling guiltless spending money that’s not your own. She has called it a “sugar baby anthem,” and it’s resonated to the tune of 1.4 million views from a dedicated pocket of fringe-pop subscribers.

Since the release of that first video, Petras has appeared on Charli XCX’s critically-acclaimed Pop 2 mixtape and shared her second video for  the equally as catchy “Faded.” Today, she releases her latest single, “Heart to Break,” a Valentine’s Day anthem about risking heartbreak for the sake of love, punctuated by bright, synthy production. Petras is one of the most exciting figures on the rise in pop, combining effortless charisma with a deep understanding of what makes a bop work, taking plenty of notes from XCX.

Petras was born in Cologne, Germany and moved to Los Angeles at 19 to pursue pop stardom. That’s where she connected with musicians like Aaron Joseph, rapper Lil Aaron, and, more controversially, producer Dr. Luke. The final destination of Petras’s journey is clear—the top of the charts, and she is willing to accept nothing less.

JACK MCCREADY: Tell me about your relationship with pop music and what it means to you.

KIM PETRAS: Pop music means everything to me. I’ve been listening to pop since I was kid, running home from school to watch Britney Spears and Spice Girls and Christina Aguilera music videos and it felt like it was a world to escape to for me, personally. It made me forget about my problems that I had in school because I wasn’t popular, I felt like nobody liked me. As a kid, it meant the world to me, and it still does. I’m just obsessed with the writing of it. I love amazing lyrics, paired with amazing melodies. I’ve just always had a pop obsession and was always a poptimist … [laughs] Ew, that was gross.

MCCREADY: No, I love that. What music videos have inspired you?

PETRAS: Well, probably all music videos from Gwen Stefani’s Love. Angel. Music. Baby era. I love those music videos. Fergie videos from The Dutchess were incredible to me. All Madonna’s videos, pretty much. Like I love “Borderline” and I love “Like a Prayer,” and “Like a Virgin.” Holy shit, that was iconic as fuck. And Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty,” because it’s just like so crazy that she actually did that. Nobody’s been as crazy as that, that was just such a cool moment. A lot of Busta Rhymes music videos. I love Lil Kim music videos.

I’m obsessed with music videos and I just go on marathons of watching a ton of music videos. As far as who right now is killing it, I would say SZA and Kendrick Lamar. Their visuals are so insanely amazing. But I feel like I’ve learned so much doing these two music videos. I’m really excited about the next one. I just finished the treatment and we’re going to shoot it at the end of this month. It’s just a side of me that we haven’t seen yet.

MCCREADY: Do you have a general visual direction that you’re going for with this album as a whole?

PETRAS: I’m going a little into escapism because that’s what pop music has meant to me. It felt like a different world to me that I would love to live in. We’re coming up with all these things that are beautiful and amazing and glossy-looking and then just sprinkling a little bit of dirt in it. My friend Nick Harwood, who’s my favorite person to collaborate with, he’s really creative and awesome and we’ve just always been talking about these “fallen princess on Hollywood Boulevard” vibes. Also, I’m very inspired by being from Germany and imagining what L.A. and Hollywood would be like and then living here and living on studio couches and shitty apartments—the realness of it versus the fantasy of it. So I’m trying to have as much of that as possible in my visuals. Obviously, don’t want to give it away fully because this is the album artwork [we’re talking about].

MCCREADY: You just recently worked with Charli XCX on Pop 2, how did you guys meet?

PETRAS: Yes! So we met at this amazing show, that I will never forget. It was SOPHIE’s first live show and I’m a big SOPHIE fan. So Charli XCX was there, we just kind of briefly said hi because friends of friends knew each other, and watched the show and were just like, “Oh my God, this is one of the best shows we’ve ever seen.” Then we partied. And the next say she just shot me a text and was like, “Hey, you want to jump on this song?” I was like, “Oh my God, what the fuck?!” It was just super cool. She’s like the sweetest, coolest girl and I’ve been such a big fan of her, for a while. The next day, I wrote the verse and we sent it to Charli and she was like, “I love it,” and that was done. It was super quick and I can’t wait to get in the studio with her and collaborate in person. But yeah, that was awesome and I love how the song came out.

MCCREADY: I think one thing about Pop 2 that was cool, was that it was sort of this United Nations of Pop, especially including LGBT artists. And then taking into account the rise of people like Troye Sivan, is it exciting for you to be in pop at a time where there’s a lot of reflection of the community?

PETRAS: Yeah, for sure!  I love that there’s more reflection of the LGBT community and Troye Sivan is amazing. He’s really sweet too. [laughs] I’m excited about that. Yes, I’m transgender, but I just want to be seen as a great artist. I think that goes for all the artists out there. It’s exciting I get to make music and live my dreams and have my music be well-received.

MCCREADY: How did Paris Hilton come to be in your video for “I Don’t Want It At All”? I’ve noticed that she comments on almost everything you post online.

PETRAS: She does and I love her! We text all the time, too; she’s a cutie patootie. I love her, it’s been really weird how that came together because I was writing a treatment with my friend and roommate together for the music video. We had planned the photoshoot with this girl, Charlotte Rutherford, and I’m a big fan of her aesthetic and meeting her we were just talking about doing a video together. It totally clicked and we were like, “Yeah, let’s do this together.” And she just kind of had the idea to send Paris the song because she had just shot Paris Hilton like a couple days before or something and she sent Paris the song and posted a video of herself singing to it and dancing to it in her closet, so that was basically her “yes, I’m going to do it.” Then she showed up on the day, did her little weird science scene and it was awesome. She was super sweet to everybody and she did it over and over and gave me like a ton of her perfume. She was super cool.

MCCREADY: What inspired you in making “Heart to Break”?

PETRAS: It’s basically like love suicide. Here, have my heart, I know you’re going to suck and you’re going or break it and you’re going to kill me with this, but fuck it, I’m going to jump into this unhealthy relationship with a smile. [laughs] Which is very autobiographical for me. I just have a history of falling in love with the wrong guys, where everybody is like, “Dude, don’t,” and then I totally do and I don’t care. I totally know how it’s going to end but I still do it. That’s just a repeated mistake that I make and so it’s a song about that. I love it. We’ve had it for a while. It took so much time to write it because we never felt like it was just right. It took three months or something to get the right version. I think there were 14 versions of it. I’m really proud of it and I can’t wait for everybody to hear it!

MCCREADY: In terms of your work with Dr. Luke, I know fans have been skeptical of that decision. Do you have any response to that skepticism?

PETRAS: My response is that, as I know him, he’s been really great and supportive to me and I’ve been learning a lot from him. He’s been a really nice person and I wasn’t there when that whole thing [with Kesha] went down, but from my experience he’s a great guy and I’ve been having a good time working with him.

MCCREADY: Going forward will you continue to work with Dr. Luke?

PETRAS: I’m always working with other collaborators. I’m always working with whomever the hell I want to work with. But it’s been really great working with him and I’ve been really happy with how it all came out.

 

KIM PETRAS’S LATEST SINGLE “HEART TO BREAK” IS OUT NOW.