Kim Petras is currently waiting in the wings to ascend her throne as pop royalty. Hannah Mylrea talks to her about learning English from Britney Spears, working with Dr Luke and what it's like to write a categorical banger
With her impeccable sense of style (think Cher Horowitz meets pre-meat dress Lady Gaga), trademark hairdo in the form of her platinum blonde sidebun, and (most importantly) a complete knack for writing outrageously catchy earworms, Kim Petras is every inch the total pop princess.
Take her latest single, ‘Heart to Break’, which could be the breakout hit of the year. When Kim finished writing it, did she realise that she’d written a total banger? “With this one, yeah” she tells us down the phone from her home in LA with a laugh.
With it’s huge, sing-a-long chorus, relatable lyrics about falling into a relationship with a total snake (but not really caring at the time), and squelching synth riffs, it’s no surprise that it’s already racked up almost 5 million listens on Spotify. “When we finished it I listened to it all night until like 5am on a loop…I’m just so happy that people can relate to it, and that people like jam to it and people can cry-dance to it!”
But although Kim is now only just hitting the headphones of the masses, she’s been honing her craft for over a decade. Growing up in Cologne, Germany, she spent her early teens running home from school (“because I don’t know, I hated my life and had no friends”) and watching Britney Spears and Spice Girls videos. She even partially learnt English from them – “I recorded their interviews on VHS, and repeated their sentences”. At 13 she started to write music. “I missed a ton of parties, and stayed in my Mom’s basement instead writing songs.”
“I kind of got obsessed with names on the backs of CDs, who wrote my favourite songs.” These song writers were Kim’s heroes, but she admits that it’s exciting to now be able to release music with her own name on it: “I thought I was just going to be a songwriter for other people! And now I get to put out my own music which is amazing.”
However as Kim makes a name for herself as a musical tour-de-force, she’s no stranger to being in the public eye. In her early teens she made frontpages around the world, appearing in a German documentary pushing to have early gender reassignment surgery (she fully transitioned by 16). “I was just doing documentaries with my parents, as we wanted to help kids who don’t have supportive parents that are transgender.”
“There’s a lot of kids out there who are not as lucky as me, and so we just wanted to help people; so I wasn’t necessarily in the spotlight, as I wasn’t famous for something, I was just talking about being transgender.” Scrolling through past interviews, though, this seems to be a huge focus of discussion. Does Kim ever feel like people focus on her past, instead of looking to the future? “It was my goal to try and not make that the leading point of my career. That I’m transgender doesn’t really say anything about me as a person, but I’m a great songwriter, that says a lot about me.”
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In the digital world – this was made even easier: “It’s really amazing, as because I put the singles out on Spotify, with not even my face on it, and you know, and just built a fanbase there without anybody knowing I’m trans,” she says.
The support Kim’s received from her family has been a constant throughout her career. Kim recalls the first song she ever wrote (“it was definitely about a boy in my school that didn’t like me”), which she showed her parents “they were definitely trying to be nice and acting like it was good.” Since then her parents have always been amongst the first people to hear her new music – or at least they used to be: “It’s probably not as much, as a ton of my songs are about drinking a lot, or drugs, or stuff like that, or sex,” Kim says: “So now I definitely send those to my friends first usually”
At 19 she packed up, and moved from her home in Germany to Los Angeles, where she’s been for the past six years. Here she started to write with producers like The Stereotypes (the production team responsible for Bruno Mars‘ Grammy winning song ‘That’s What I Like’), and start to create her own music. In forging her own path, Kim ended up collaborating with record producer Dr Luke. In 2014 pop star Kesha filed a lawsuit against the producer claiming he “sexually, physically, verbally and emotionally” abused her.
When asked about working with him after his past assault allegations, Kim remains diplomatic: “I’m a big fan of his, and we write music very well together. So, yeah, it was a really good experience.“ Would she work with him again? “Yeah, totally.” Before I can ask the next question, Kim cuts in: “I would like my fans to know that I wouldn’t work with somebody I believe to be an abuser of women, definitely not.”
We then discuss another of her collaborators: Charli XCX. Kim appeared on her ‘Pop 2’ mixtape and regularly jumps on stage with her at gigs. “I love her, she’s such a princess!” Their initial team up happened naturally, if rapidly. After meeting at one of experimental pop extraordinaire SOPHIE’s shows, Charli hit Kim up asking if she wanted to hop on the second verse of ‘Unlock It’. The next day Kim went to the studio, wrote the verse, Charli liked it “and then it was out! It was really, really quick.”
Another high-profile team up Kim has already got under her belt is Paris Hilton. The OG famous-for-being-famous famous starred in Kim’s video for ‘I Don’t Want It All’, a sharp, sassy, sugar baby call to arms. The collaboration was a dream for Kim: “It was amazing; she [Paris] was very, very sweet. She took pictures with everybody” she says. “She really, like, loved the song, which was so amazing to hear!”
As for future collaborations, Kim is thinking big. “I would love to work with Drake, I think he’s such a pop star and he’s dropping amazing songs.” Anyone else? “I’d obviously love to work with Stevie Nicks, or Billy Idol, like a proper legend.”
As our time starts to run out, we look ahead to the future, and Kim reveals she’s got an album ready: “It really depends on how the singles are going when I’m going to drop it, but I’m super excited about it!” Then there’s the video for ‘Heart To Break’ coming soon “it was very ambitious – I had my first ever on camera kiss, and it’s the first video where I have full choreography. I want to get better every music video, and I think I definitely topped myself with this one.”
Anything else? “I want to become one of the songwriting greats. That’s my number one goal.” Big plans indeed.
‘Heart to Break’ is out now.