“Are we getting fucked up tonight?” enquires Kim Petras, rhetorically, as the crowd go bananas on the second night of her two-date Manchester stint, before launching into ‘Got My Number’. With revolving platforms and costume changes, the German singer-songwriter is essentially cramming an arena-pop spectacle into a relatively intimate, 950-capacity venue.
Despite commanding a massive, fervent online fanbase and streaming numbers, none of her singles have dented the Top 40 and there’s a feeling that she should be as mainstream-big as her touchstones: ‘Blackout’-era Britney Spears, Lady Gaga before she retired the artifice, and early Katy Perry. While pop is increasingly prone to making grandiose or political statements or artists like Charli XCX and the PC Music fold claim to be disrupting the form altogether, Petras specialises in a kind of pop-purism: kitsch, colourful and larger-than-life.
On her opening number tonight, ‘Clarity’ (the title track from her 2019 album), she sings ‘I wanna feel like Madonna’ – and the DNA of ‘80s Madge is present tonight, particularly on the bouncy ‘I Don’t Want It All’, which comes on like an updated version of ‘Material Girl’. The original video underlined its camp ode-to-avarice status by featuring a cameo from Paris Hilton (whom she’s also collaborating on an upcoming track with). As she provides a relentless barrage of sugary hooks, tosses bags out into the throng and knowingly name-checks designer names, the effect is akin to eating a whole bag of Haribo while someone recites their Amazon Prime wishlist.
Backed by a DJ, she effortlessly commands the stage, donning a swimsuit and shades to perform the likes of the Cyndi Lauper-ish ‘Hillside Boys’ and her Charli XCX collab ‘Unlock It’, and rotates on a plinth in thigh length boots and PVC leotard during her Halloween-themed ‘Turn Off The Light’ tracks – including the pounding goth-techno of ‘There Will Be Blood’ and ‘Wrong Turn’. With its dramatic OTT synthetised organ opening, the winningly goofy disco of ‘Close Your Eyes’ sounds like the Phantom of the Opera is about to rise through the floorboards and start sniffing poppers. ‘Everybody Dies’, meanwhile, is a power ballad more blustery than storms Ciara and Dennis combined.
This is pop that could be throwaway, but the force of Petras’ charisma and her personal background gives it an edge. She’s now 27, and as a teenager she was one of the youngest people to undergo gender-confirmation surgery: like a lot of her LGBTQ+ fanbase out in force, she knows the palliative power of pop as escapism. She pays tribute by praising Manchester Pride: “I’m still not over that shit. You guys made it magical to me”.
As she drops new track, the defiant break-up sad banger ‘Reminds Me’, and whirs through precision-tooled favourites like the Robyn-recalling ‘Heart to Break’ and the iridescent early noughties Kylie disco of ‘Sweet Spot’, lassoing her ponytail around, she sounds like an alternate reality chart-dominating pop star – who’s waiting for the real world to cotton on to the fact.
Kim Petras played:
‘Meet the Parents’
‘Got My Number’
‘Blow It All’
‘I Don’t Want It at All’
‘Unlock It / Click’
‘There Will Be Blood’
‘Death By Sex’
‘Close Your Eyes’
‘Can’t Do Better’
‘Heart to Break’