pop diva kim petras talks paris, britney, and her new single "faded"
“I want to be seen as a good artist most of all, but yeah, I’m transgender and I make pop music.”
Photography Charlotte Rutherford courtesy the artist
If there’s one pop starlet to watch, it’s definitely Kim Petras. The bubbly German songstress recently made waves with the debut music video for her bratty anthem I Don’t Want It At All, which features droolworthy fashion from designers like Nicopanda and Christian Cowan, art direction straight out of a 90s flick’s dream sequence, and an unexpected cameo from the HBIC (head brat in charge) herself: Paris Hilton. Yes, it’s amazing. Yes, you should watch it right now.
No stranger to the spotlight, Petras is the youngest person recorded to undergo gender affirmation surgery at the age of 16, and was featured in a German documentary following her transition. But to her, that was all just a part of coming into her own, and she’s turned her focus to perfecting a unique brand of pop escapism.
Today she drops her newest single Faded, a perfect harmony of bouncy synths and scale-climbing vocals–your summer bop just in time for Christmas. On the occasion of her new release, we caught up with Petras to talk pop divas, Garageband beginnings, and the difficulties of simplicity.
How did you get into making music?
I’m from a very musical family. My mom’s a jazz singer, for fun kinda, and a dance teacher, and my dad plays like eight instruments or something crazy. We were always playing music and I always used to harmonize with my sisters.
Then at about 12 or 13 I got into songwriters, because I checked the backs of my favorite CDs and saw the same names on them. And I was like, “Who are these people who write all these songs?” And then I started watching documentaries about songwriters and stuff like that, so I got really obsessed with songwriters. I was like, “I want to be the next Max Martin,” and just write great pop songs. My childhood dream was always to be a popstar. Like hairbrush, mirror—totally cliché.
Was it always singing you were interested in or did you play instruments, as well?
I started producing. I got a Macbook for my 14th birthday and did Garageband demos. I started getting good at it, but then I started meeting great producers and was like, well, they do it better than me. For sure. I can do it enough to make an arrangement for writing a song, for getting the point across of the song, and what I want the production to be like.
Were there any pop stars that you idolized as a kid?
Britney and Christina, obviously! I love them so much. I love Fergie, I love Madonna—I really loved every single pop star there is. I always loved Boy George. My mom’s obsessed with Culture Club.
Is there something about the pop star idolatry that attracted you, being a pop star, or was it always about the music?
It was the music videos I was obsessed with as a kid. When an artist would drop a music video, I would run home from school to watch the music video, and I would watch it over and over and over again. It was kind of a little escape from my countryside youth. Because I was outside of the city, always wanted to live in a city, but couldn’t as a kid. I felt like nothing was going on and I wanted my life to be different and I felt like my life sucked. So I was just watching music videos all the time.
So you felt like that was your way of connecting?
Totally! Like, I want to have a life like theirs. Even though, in their music videos, it’s so crazy and glamorized and insane.
Did you have any favorite music videos?
You Drive Me Crazy by Britney Spears. I watched that a million times. And Stronger by Britney Spears. And when Christina [Aguilera] put out Lady Marmalade—oh my god, I’m so obsessed with Lady Marmalade.
Is there anyone you wish you could collaborate with?
I just collaborated with Charli XCX. That was on my bucket list and I’m obsessed with her and I love her, and I’m going to be on her mixtape and I’m so excited for that. I really want to work with SOPHIE because I’ve been to her first show, and it was incredible. I’d love to do a song with Polow da Don, who are the guys who did Glamorous and London Bridge and those Fergie bangers. I’d love to work with Max Martin because I’m still a big fan.
It’s mostly songwriters that I want to work with to be honest. I love working with my friends and people I know from being in the studio all the time.
What is it about pop music as a genre and artistic medium that attracts you?
I just like when everybody knows every single word to a song. That’s just my favorite thing in the world, when a whole bar sings a song, when you get ready with your friends to go to a party and stream pop music. It just becomes the soundtrack to something. Like, oh, that’s when I had a phase when we were hanging out all the time, or that’s when I had a heartbreak. It’s the stuff you connect with pop music.
I read a Pitchfork interview with Björk where she said, “Pop music is so often an attempt to make sense of something that’s really complicated in everyday life.” I loved that and thought it was so correct.
Aw, I love Björk! Yeah, that’s totally, completely right. Simplifying is sometimes the hardest thing ever to do. It’s tough to to say something in as little words as possible, so it’s memorable and catchy. I find myself overcomplicating stuff all the time and then dialing it back, dialing it back, until it’s there. I feel like that’s often my personality: just way too much of everything.
How has the reception been to I Don’t Want It At All ?
Amazing! People freak out to it and think it’s relatable. People have that same fantasy sometimes. Like, “Ugh, I just wish somebody would just pay for everything and I could get whatever I wanted.” I feel like that’s people’s secret little fantasy they have sometimes when they’re frustrated and broke. Paris Hilton gives me a credit card in the video and that’s totally just a straight up dream of mine.
You’ve been in the media for most of our adulthood. What’s it like growing up, and especially transitioning, with that kind of attention?
My first documentary was when I was 12. My doctor was like, “I have this amazing case. This young girl, 12 years old, and she’s super sure of herself.” My parents sat me down and were like, “If you do this, you’re going to help a bunch of kids in the same situation who are not fortunate to have parents who support them.” So I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to do it.’
People still reach out to me about this documentary, like, “Oh my god, that helped me so much to become myself.” So anything negative that would’ve happened during that time couldn’t be negative enough to cancel that out. I’m super happy I did it. I’m super thankful I could help people. I will always support the transgender community because it’s fucking hard to be transgender. I want [being transgender] to not be seen as this crazy thing. I want it to be a normal thing. Because when you’re transgender, it feels super normal and natural.
Do you feel you have a responsibility to the trans community, as a role model and public figure?
I just love the trans community and I’m constantly inspired by trans people that I meet. I want to be seen as a good artist most of all, but yeah, I’m transgender and I make pop music.
This article originally appeared on i-D US.