I first chatted with pop princess Kim Petras about a year ago. At the time, Petras had just released her first Halloween EP (Turn Off the Light Vol. 1) and was on tour with Troye Sivan. Her iconic singles “I Don’t Want It At All” and “Heart to Break” were played in every gay club I entered during the summer of 2018, and, by that fall, they had even started to chart. The young, German singer seemed to be standing on the cusp of a major mainstream breakout.
Sure enough, Petras has had an absolutely explosive 2019. From releasing two major musical projects (Clarity and Turn Off the Light Vol. 2) to turning heads at New York Fashion Week to headlining her first world tour (and selling out), Kim Petras is busy doing it all. Luckily, I got the chance to catch up with the pop star just in time for her show at The Fillmore Silver Spring this Wednesday, November 20.
As an openly transgender woman, when Kim Petras first emerged within the music scene, she was determined to be known for more than her gender identity. Thanks to her distinct bubblegum aesthetic, she was able to make a name for herself as the Princess of Pop. Embracing this title wholeheartedly, Petras indulged in the silliness of pop to sing about boys, clothes, and parties in airy vocals.
However, in June 2019, Petras released Clarity, a collection of songs that marked a distinct departure from her prior singles due to their darker tone and heavy trap influences. Whereas singles from her previous era flirted frivolously with desire and fantasy, the tracks on Clarity are drenched in real-life heartbreak. Inspired by a difficult breakup, Clarity is an intensely cathartic project. “I feel like Clarity is like hanging out with me as a friend,” says Petras. “I feel like you get to really understand me… and what it’s like to go through a breakup with me.” I’m not surprised when Petras tells me that after her breakup she sought comfort in emotional records by artists like Travis Scott, Kanye West, and Daft Punk: Their impact on her work is evident throughout Clarity’s trap beats and smoothly rapped verses. Still, despite its careful collage of musical references, the collection never loses sight of Petras’ signature indulgent style of pop.
Although it may be some of her most sophisticated work to date, Petras is clear that Clarity is not her debut album but rather a “12-track project.” The rising star’s dedication to her craft is absolutely palpable when I ask her about this decision. “I’m still building up to my critical moment,” she explains. “I don’t feel like I’m there even now; I have a lot of growing to do.” In the meantime, Petras is going to keep writing songs and refining her sound without worrying about an album. “The way to release as much music as possible all the time is to not call it an album and just drop [songs].”
And just dropping songs is exactly how Petras rolled out most of Clarity. In the 10 weeks leading up to the project’s official release, the singer dropped a new single from the collection every week. For an up-and-coming artist like Petras, weekly drops were a brilliant strategy to build momentum and maintain her audience’s attention over time. “It started feeling like a TV series,” the singer muses. “You could get excited every week for a new song.” Dropping a cohesive project track-by-track would be a difficult feat for many musicians, but Petras is a skilled hit-maker, and each track is a certifiable bop, perfect for clubs and live shows.
However, Clarity wasn’t the only major project the busy star released this year. She also recently completed Turn Off the Light, a wonderfully campy holiday record in two volumes. And by ‘holiday’ I don’t mean Christmas. No, Turn Off the Light is a Halloween record. That’s right, Kim Petras released 17 Halloween themed dance tracks to be played at every party of the spooky season. “I love Halloween music and dark pop,” Petras tells me. “I don’t feel like there’s enough of that. I feel like there’s so many Christmas records that I want to make Halloween music instead.” The project itself is an exceptional collection of dance tracks that bring glitchy and glitzy sounds together. Like Clarity, it shows off her musical versatility and breadth, this time by dipping into pure and intoxicating electropop.
When Turn Off the Light comes up, I ask Petras in particular about a track on the first volume called “TRANSlyvania.” She laughs when I bring up the title: “Transylvania isn’t about being trans. It’s just a dance track and I thought that was a really funny title. So, I kind of just did it because I can. I don’t sing about being transgender or anything like that; I just kind of sing about my emotions.” But this doesn’t mean that Petras isn’t open and proud about her transness. She’s incredibly true to herself, her roots, and her fans, in everything she does. Even as she starts to play larger and larger venues, the transgender singer never leaves behind the tiny gay clubs that brought her up and launched her career. “I feel like I was born and raised in gay clubs,” she responds full of love when I mention how special it is for fans to be able to see their favorite pop star in their local bars. “I think the funnest shows I’ve ever played are just popping up in any gay club and everybody freaking out.”
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There’s no doubt that Petras loves her fans. She constantly finds new ways to relate to them be it through visiting their local clubs or maintaining a carefully curated social media presence. Just scroll through her Instagram feed to see glossy glamour shots next to bloody horror edits and lots of Jigglypuff memes. When she released Clarity single “Got My Number,” this past spring, the star even leaked her friends actual phone number and eagerly video-chatted fans from his phone. It’s this desire to connect with audiences that makes Petras such a charismatic and down to earth performer. She’s unmissable live.
Don’t miss the chance to see Kim Petras live at the Fillmore Silver Spring this Wednesday, November 20, 2019, where she’ll perform songs from Clarity and Turn Off the Light. Tickets are available online.
Feature photo by Byron Spencer.