INTERVIEW: Kim Petras "I've finished my first era, now it’s a new sound, a new look, a new everything"
German singer-songwriter Kim Petras knows all about hard work, grit and pushing yourself as much as it takes to achieve your dreams. She released her first EP in 2011, and has spent the last several years learning, improving and developing her craft. Her determination was rewarded in 2018 when her anti-Valentine’s Day, electropop banger ‘Heart to Break’ achieved critical acclaim worldwide and wound up on several ‘best of 2018’ lists including major publications such as Billboard, Paper and Noisey, achieving over 16 million streams along the way.
Petras has recently released three new singles “Homework” (featuring lil aaron), “If U Think About Me…” and “1,2,3 dayz up” - a collaboration with acclaimed producer SOPHIE - as she concludes what she calls the first era of her music career. Kim is currently playing her very first Australian shows and Women In Pop recently caught up with her to find out more about her life, career and future plans.
Hi Kim, thanks for chatting to us! So this is your first trip to Australia and you attended your first Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras on Saturday night - how did everything go?
Amazing. Mardi Gras was crazy. I was on a float and I performed at 2am. It was really amazing and it was one of the biggest, most inspiring, amazing, colourful Pride parades that I’ve been to. I’m really thankful for the experience.
You’re doing some shows here including supporting Rita Ora in Brisbane tomorrow night. That’s pretty massive!
I had no idea I could sell out shows here and do my own shows - we had to upgrade our venue to a bigger venue. I’ve never been here so it proves the power of the internet. I feel super amazing and thank my fans. There’s been fans waiting in the hotel lobby every day. It’s been really cool but kind of nuts to see this happen.
Is that difficult to handle sometimes? To turn up into your hotel foyer and have all your fans there, that must be a bit of a mind-blowing experience?
Honestly, I love it. I’ve been working towards this my whole life. I’ve been playing in empty clubs my whole life just trying to make it and trying to build a proper fan base and trying to get people to listen to my music. It has been a long, long way to here, so now I’m just excited. I’m excited to meet people, I’m excited to meet my fans. I feel like I signed up for this.
What can your fans expect from your shows?
A lot of just high pop energy. It’s basically a party. The whole set is designed to be a party. Really high energy, a lot of ad-libs, a lot of singing, a lot of dancing. All of that!
2018 was a pretty big year for you - ‘Hard to Break’ had millions of streams worldwide and it was named one of the best songs of the year by quite a lot of influential media outlets, it’s fair to say that you’ve definitely arrived. That must be fantastic validation for you?
Yeah, totally. That song just kind of changed my life and opened a lot of doors for me. I just turned on the TV today and saw it play on MTV’s Catfish here in Australia. So, I was like ‘woah!’ Stuff like that is really crazy. I always try to hold onto that feeling of ‘I can do something people really like.’ I really feel I’m obsessed with that song and I’m just so happy people like it.
What kind of music or artists inspired you when you were younger?
I was listening to Gwen Stefani a lot – especially Love. Angel. Music. Baby. I was listening to Madonna, Kylie Minogue, P!nk, Boy George. My mum is a super jazz fan so also Judy Garland and Billie Holliday. My family is really musical so there was always music on. My dad plays a ton of instruments – I think eight instruments or something crazy. My mum is a dance teacher so she always dances to something. I really got the music thing from my parents.
Did you learn instruments when you were growing up?
I did. I tried to play guitar. I tried to play piano. I tried to play the flute. I tried to play drums. I tried to do everything but I never really got good at anything. So I just started producing and making beats when I was 13 or 14. I got my first MacBook and I would make beats at home and start trying to write pop songs because I saw a documentary about [songwriter] Max Martin. I just got really obsessed with pop song writing.
Was there a moment when you decided you were going to be a singer and that was going to be your career?
I always wanted to be an artist but when I was a teenager, I was like ‘I don’t think anybody’s going to write me any songs.’ So I had to learn how to write songs myself. I came home from school every single day and wrote demos. It really sucked in the beginning, it was really just about dudes who didn’t like me back at school or dumb classes, that was my whole thing. But eventually I got better at it and I started posting my demos online and making YouTube videos. Producers would reach out and I started working with producers and DJs and writing over EDM and pop tracks – just building a network of producers and singers . Then at 19, I moved to LA and nothing happened for a pretty long time - I got tiny cuts in the Bratz movie and some commercial jingles. But then I got a publishing deal and I took that money and put it into making my own record. It’s really cool, but it’s been a long, long way. I’ve been working on this pretty much all the time since I was 13.
The success must be so much more satisfying when you’ve been working towards it for so long?
Yeah, 100 per cent. I really appreciate this above everything else. I really love that I’ve got this platform and this opportunity. I have my own label so I get to release whatever I want and make music that I want to make. My fans come to my shows and I can tour the world and… it’s really such a dream.
You’ve recently released 3 new singles including ‘1,2,3 dayz up’ featuring the producer, Sophie. What was the whole experience of working with her like?
Really, really amazing. We have the same creative director. So, we would go to the same parties and have conversations, just kind of getting to know each other. She came to the studio for like three hours and we wrote four songs. Things just happened immediately. It was really cool and really inspiring. The way she works is really different. She has this crazy soundbox she comes over with and she has all these crazy sounds and she just makes beats super fast and super quick. She’s like nobody I’ve ever worked with. It was a really cool experience and I’m such a fan.
Who else is on your list of dream collaborators?
I really want to work with Post Malone. I would like to duet with Selena Gomez, I love Cardi B. I really want to write a song for Cher, Rihanna and Kylie Minogue.
What inspires you when you’re writing your music?
It can really be anything. I’ve always been really in love with words. I think movies are really high on the list, I watch movies and I’m like ‘that’s a perfect song title!’ I write songs when I’m going through something and when I’m learning about something that just happened to me. Sometimes a melody just pops in my head and I keep singing it until the words come with it. Sometimes I’m in the studio and I freestyle over a track and something cool happens and I rearrange it. I also love collaborating and I think collaborating is really important to making great music. It’s like being with your friends and talking about what’s on your mind and writing songs about it. That’s my favourite.
You are a very important and influential member of the transgender community (Petras was one of the youngest people to undergo gender confirmation surgery at age 16 in 2008). How do you think things have changed in terms of how the community is treated and perceived since you first came to public attention?
There’s more people out there that you can look up to now. When I was a kid there really weren’t that many [transgender] people. There was Amanda Lepore, and I really looked up to drag queens. There have always been trans people but they just weren’t as visible and it was hard to follow them or find them. I think now with social media it’s just really changed and there’s much more awareness now. I think people are starting to care. I feel like that wasn’t always the case. It’s changed.
Do you think we’re at a good place now or would you like to see more change?
I think there’s always room for improvement with anything. But I think we’re working on it. It’s getting better. All we can do is just keep pushing forward, hope for the best and hope ignorance gets less in the world. That’s all you can do - hope for that and fight for that.
There’s been a lot of debate recently about gender equality. What are your thoughts about sexism in the music industry and how female artists are perceived by the general public and are perhaps given less respect for their art than male artists?
I do think there’s a general problem with the public. When a pretty girl has a success and it’s a pop girl, people are like ‘oh she must sleep with the producer.’ That’s a common thing that people are always saying about girls. It happened to Madonna, it happened to Cher, it happened to Dolly Parton. It always happens. It’s an ongoing thing where people just think that women can’t achieve things for themselves. I know a lot of amazing women in this industry, some girls are just really bosses. They’re like ‘this is what I want to sound like. This is what I want to say.’ That’s why a lot of young girls look up to these women, they know what they want. I do think it’s bad in America especially. Women don’t top the charts and so many guys get Grammys and so few girls get Grammys. It’s a work in progress.
What is next for Kim Petras? What do you have planned for the rest of 2019 and beyond?
A lot! I had I think 5 days in the studio to write songs before I came to Australia and we wrote like 14 songs. So I have a ton of songs that I’m finishing right now. Pretty soon, the first single from my next era comes out which is really cool. I’ve finished my first era of songs, now it’s a new sound and a new look and a new everything. I’m super excited to show everybody what I’ve been working on.
Can you reveal what your new era will sound like?
I feel like I’ve just grown a lot and I’m influenced by very different sounds, artists and genres. I’ve been listening to a lot of Kanye West, Post Malone and Travis Scott. So it’ll sound slightly different, but I’ll always do pop, I’ll always do really big pop. I’m just so stoked about it!
She is performing in Melbourne this week at the Northcote Social Club on March 6 and 7. For tickets click here