Kim Petras | A Neon Rhinestone
The tailend of the painted lady migration makes its way around me as I sit on a bench overlooking Echo Park Lake. I’ve made the park my office this afternoon and found a quiet, graffiti-scribbled seat in the shade with a good view of the coots and mallards paddling playfully in the water. But the real show is the rare flight of millions of butterflies, Vanessa Cardui, flirting their way northwest across Southern California to higher latitudes.
Two of them, as orange and spotted as their monarch cousins, corkscrew in lovesick bliss around my head, but I am pulled out of their over-the- top PDA when my phone buzzes with a call from Kim Petras.
After exchanging pleasantries (and enjoying a brief story Petras tells me about meeting Miley Cyrus at a birthday party a week ago, where the two pop stars bonded watching a man paint a picture of the birthday boy on a canvas with his whang), the 26-year- old German-born Los Angeles-based singer tells me that she just woke up after an all-nighter.
She wasn’t partying—she was in the studio writing until six in the morning. Most of us this fresh from sleep might sound rough and raspy, but Petras’ voice flutters gracefully through my phone.
“I’m super stoked,” she says as she begins “putting on her face,” preparing to head immediately back to the studio. “I’m working on my first album that I’m going to drop this summer. I wish I could say more about it, but I want to keep it and everything else coming up a big surprise.”
While Petras may be debuting her first album in a few months, she’s been nothing short of prolific since revitalizing pop music with the release of the mega bop “I Don’t Want it at All”—a bratty, animated, and demanding 2017 single whose music video was blessed with a cameo by Paris Hilton playing both Petras’ idol and sugar mama. Its aura recalls Madonna’s “Material Girl” giving birth to an actual Bratz doll before styling it in a loose Julien MacDonald chain-mail dress.
Since the chart-topping success of the song, Petras has released a rainbow of fluorescent gems to complete her “ERA 1” suite of singles. Each of the eleven songs in the set are complimented with matching cover art depicting a mysterious neon caricature of Petras and her emblematic side bun. Together, they constitute an impressive sonic and visual rainbow. Note: some of Petras’ fans call themselves “bunheads,” and she’s even named her independent label BunHead.
When you listen to the bubblegum kaleidoscope that is “Era 1,” you’ll recognize chart-toppers like “Heart to Break,” bong-rippers like “Hillside Boys,” and autotuned collabs like “Faded (feat. Lil’ Aaron)” and “1, 2, 3, Dayz Up (feat. SOPHIE).” The singles’ sound is reminiscent of the flamboyance in Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and the dewey-eyedness of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” but with true millennial sally.
“My top goal was to make a record that feels like classic pop of the ’90s and ’00s,” Petras says as I witness a butterfly land on the back of a sleeping coot. “It’s what I did with my first record—I just kind of wanted to make the classics.”
Petras’ love of pop came early. She danced in her childhood bedroom in Cologne, Germany to Madonna, binge- watched MTV (“the only channel that wasn’t dubbed”), and picked up some English from Britney Spears interviews before finally making her own 5,684 mile migration to Los Angeles, where she began working with producer (and now roommate) Aaron Joseph. The pairings’ first collaboration resulted in Petras’ first big Soundcloud release, “STFU.”
Soon, Petras’s vocals and hard work caught the attention of Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, the controversial producer known for his work with Kelly Clarkson, P!NK, Katy Perry, Avril Lavigne, Taio Cruz, and of course, Kesha—producing or sharing credits on all of her “Era 1” singles as well as Turn Off the Light, Vol.1.
Petras has remained neutral on allegations against the producer, saying in a personal Twitter statement after pushback from fans last summer, “While I’ve been open and honest about my positive experience with Dr. Luke, that does not negate or dismiss the experience of others, or suggest that multiple experiences cannot exist at once.” “Right now,” she tells me continuing our conversation on music, “pop is boundaryless. It is constantly changing and evolving—it’s almost as if there isn’t a genre anymore that is singularly just ‘pop.’ Really anything that is culturally relevant and that people want to sing along at the club to, in a way, is pop music.”
Many outlets like Noisey and Billboard were quick to name Petras a breakout popstar, but they may have underestimated her breadth. Take her surprise full-length, critically-acclaimed mixtape, Turn Off the Light, Vol. 1 which dropped on October 1, 2018; a spooky, dark, and festive Halloween-themed collection of songs featuring a cameo by legendary vamp and quintessential Hollywood spookstress Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
“I wanted to make a Halloween record, because I feel like everybody makes Christmas records but nobody makes Halloween records,” she says, before explaining her obsession with the holiday, horror movies, and her longtime admiration of Elvira. The eight track mixtape includes eerie bangers like “Close Your Eyes,” “TRANSylvania,” and “Boo! Bitch!”
“One of my dreams is to play a Halloween tour in a bunch of churches and graveyards. I would love to do that, and I’m currently looking into making it happen,” Petras says, before telling me that Turn Off the Light, Vol. 2 will come out October 1, 2019, further solidifying herself as a true Halloween Kween. Or, as she mused to Paper, “maybe I could be the Paris Hilton of Macabre.”
“I think a lot of people love Halloween so much because they feel like it’s the one day where dressing up is allowed,” she says. “But I strongly disagree. I feel like every day for me is about fashion, and dressing up.”
Although Petras has had a slew of notable looks in her videography, shoots, and public appearances, one of the most recent ensembles perhaps best encompasses her inimitable style: thigh-high God Can’t Destroy Streetwear Jigglypuff boots, a matching Jigglypuff purse, a black Daisy second skin jumpsuit, and styled bright yellow hair. Petra’s captioned the look, “JIGGLYTHOT.” She looked like Venus Sailor from Sailor Moon come to life. (The anime is a favorite of Petras’.)
“I used to get bullied when I was younger for wearing, like, pink latex dresses to school,” she says. “I would get judged really hard on that and get into trouble because I was dressed quote- unquote ‘slutty’ or you know ‘crazy.’ So I think Halloween is like, look, we’re all family here.”
After supporting Troye Sivan’s Bloom Tour this past fall, headlining Sydney’s Mardi Gras Party, and opening a handfu l of shows for Rita Ora’s Phoenix World Tour, Petras is preparing for her first solo tour, following the release of her first album. Until then, she’s booked headlines at a slew of Pride festivals, including the biggest—New York City’s WorldPride Pride music festival, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. “I definitely want to cross over and perform the biggest gig that I can do, but [gay clubs and events] will always be home for me, and will always be really fucking fun for me to play,” she tells me.
In a recent interview with Junkee, Petras elaborated on being pigeon-holed as an artist, saying, “I wanna really piss a bunch of people off with my existence... most importantly, I just want to write hit songs. That’s always been my number one thing. I just wanna be in the studio writing absolute, undeniable bangers that can play at any party.”
Petras’ latest single, “Broken” drops this month and is the beginning of a seemingly never ending supply of bangers the 26-year-old gifts her fanbase on a nearly monthly basis.
“I was cheated on just before I went on tour,” she tells me. “The easiest thing for me to do was to just bury myself into my work and just work and think about it as little as possible.
A lot of the songs [on the new album] have that emotion coming out after trying not to feel anything, because I was just excited do my job during my breakout year.”
While “Broken” is at its core a song about heartbreak, Petras beams resiliency. Her next era, “Era II,” is infused with nostalgic R&B influences and splashes of trip-hop. Some standout lyrics: Hope you’re happy with your new bitch/ How you livin’?/ I’m in Paris in Marc Jacobs / life’s amazing.
“Somebody really broke my heart,” she tells me, “but at the same time, I love my life. It’s incredible, and I’m totally coo l by myself. So the song has this braggy and fun take on heartbreak. The whole new album is a much more personal look into my life.”
Petras is being shuttled in an Uber from her apartment in Toluca Lake when our call comes to an end. She and Aaron Joseph are threading the 745 foot notch of Cahuenga Pass on the busy 101 to her studio in Hollywood. It’s late afternoon on a Friday, and Petras plans to spend the evening, perhaps even the weekend, “working out the problem of one of the most tedious new songs on the album.”
I gather my notebook, pen, and recorder. I slip on my shades and walk towards the Lady of the Lake statue, watching tourists in campy swan boats pedaling across the water. A group of 20-somethings sit on a blanket on the grass below the fairy duster palms to my right. They are playing music from a Bluetooth speaker. They are sipping wine from red plastic cups.
As I stare at the lake and watch the spectacle, one of the songs that eventually comes snapping from their speaker is, coincidentally, Petras’ “Heart to Break,” which is her most popular track, now at nearly 19 million streams. “Butterflies,” Petras sings, Every time / gonna give you my heart to break / Devilish, every kiss / gonna give you my heart to break.
I spot what must be fifty more of the brave painted ladies bobbing like air buoys over all the park, covering miles and miles and miles on their northward voyage. They are forthright and fearless and I am proud of every single one of them.
6/11 Nashville, TN @ The Basement East
6/12 Atlanta, GA @ Center Stage
6/14 New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
6/15 Silver Spring, MD @ The Fillmore Silver Spring
6/17 Philadelphia @ Theatre of Living Arts
6/18 Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair
6/20 Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall
6/21 Minneapolis, MN @ Fine Line Music Café
6/24 Los Angeles, CA @ The Fonda
6/25 Los Angeles, CA @ The Fonda
6/26 San Francisco, CA @ Mezzanine
6/27 San Francisco, CA @ Mezzanine
Kim Petra’s tour sold out in a few hours, tour dates have been added in another show has been added at Los Angeles’ The Fonda Theatre and in San Francisco. The Atlanta and Philadelphia performances have also been moved to bigger venues. You can get up-to-date information on Kim’s tour routing and ticket availability by heading over to her website: https://kimpetras.com/
Photographer: Julian Buchan.
Flaunt Film directed by Devin Kasparian
Location: No Vacancy, Los Angeles.