Kim Petras wants it all, or nothing at all. When the German-born singer talks about making and consuming pop music, she speaks with utmost urgency. The genre served as an emotional buoy when she was a child, and now, she is intent on rising to the top with gleaming pop songs of her own creation. Petras' music is both relatable and transformative; while her lyrics detail the specifics of heartache and desire, the glossy sheen of booming bass lines, undulating synths, and irresistible "Hillside Boys" also serve as euphoric escapism — and that's exactly what she wants.
Petras got her start writing songs in her bedroom as a teenager, and has since relocated to Los Angeles to broaden her career options in the music industry— a move she wishes she made earlier because of how beneficial it has been. In the last few years, the 25-year-old breakout pop sensation has worked with pop mainstays like Charli XCX and SOPHIE, and is touring with Troye Sivan this summer in support of his sophomore album, Bloom. With millions of Spotify streams and a rapidly growing fanbase, it's clear that America's ready for — and demanding — an artist like Petras.
Related | SOPHIE's Whole New World
Paris Hilton, who interviewed Petras for PAPER Pride, is, of course, one of the great pop culture icons of our time. She is a businesswoman, a socialite, a reality TV star, a social media pioneer, and a self-proclaimed expert in "words, pink lip gloss and making an entrance." As a symbol of the luxurious, fast-paced LA lifestyle that Petras' music naturally evokes, she was the perfect person to make a cameo in the music video for Petras' debut single, "I Don't Want It At All," complete with a hot pink "Paris" credit card and shrine.
The bubblegum track, which helped launch Petras' career, unabashedly pays homage to all the things women are shamed for: reveling in the dream of designer clothes, unapologetically demanding attention, daring to enjoy the saccharine rush of a catchy pop hook. Together, Petras' and Hilton, who both embrace these frequently shamed aspects of femininity, form an unstoppable team.
Blouse: Vivetta, Skirt: Clio Pepiatte, Choker: House of Harlot, Earrings: Lorelai
Kim Petras: I'm so excited. This is my first cover of anything ever, so it means a lot that you can do this.
Paris Hilton: Hell yeah. Congratulations.
Thanks! Congratulations on coming out with your clothing line!
Super dope stuff.
What was the beginning of your music career like?
Well, I started out writing songs in my room. I just got really obsessed with songwriting at 13 and was just like, "I want to be the next Max Martin," a big pop songwriter. I wanted to find the formula of pop. I was a little bit crazy. Ever since then, I've been writing songs. I realized early on that nobody was gonna write me any songs, so I needed to learn how to write them myself, and I basically spent my whole teenage years writing in my room all the time and not really going out much. And then at 19 I moved to LA because nobody in Germany is really into super pop. There aren't many pop producers. Everybody told me that pop wouldn't really work in Germany, so I was like, "Well, then I'm going to LA and gonna become a great pop songwriter. I've collaborated with amazing producers, learned so much, and feel so lucky to be able to have a shot at putting out music and to have an audience for it.
"I wanted to find the formula of pop."
Pants: Dans La Vie Rira Sugawara
Well, you're killing it and I'm so proud of you.
Thanks babe. Yeah, like a lot has happened since our video!
I know, it's crazy. So awesome. What was it like moving to LA? How does living in the US, and LA specifically, influence your sound?
I love Cali hip-hop and trap, and just what my friends are listening to. I think it has totally influenced my music. In Germany, sometimes things are gray for a really long period of time and it's cold. I feel like in LA, I write a lot more feel-good music, which is ultimately what I want to do. I just want to write songs that make people happy and dance. That's my goal. It was a little scary moving out to LA by myself. I didn't really know anybody, I barely had any money. Then got like, a bunch of roommates and it took me two years to get a cut with anybody. It was definitely a struggle and a real hustle. I was working really hard to achieve something. There are so many songwriters in LA, it's crazy, but it's probably the best decision I've ever made. I kind of wish that I would have done it earlier even because I really feel like I have become myself and found my sound and grown so much in LA.
Why did you want me in the "I Don't Want It At All" music video?
Um, because you're the best! I was a super fan of you and still am. You were the perfect person. There was nobody else better. It was such a freaking dream. It really gave my video such a push, and made a lot of people click on it, so thank you so so much. It really helped kickstart my career super hard and I am so thankful for that.
It was an honor for me to do it and I had so much fun. It was such a sick video, so thank you for thinking of me.
Of course, no, thank you so much for doing it, and you were the best. Everybody came off the set and was like, "Paris was the best person. I feel inspired to become like Paris!" You just have this amazing attitude about you. I really admire it a lot.
Thank you. It's just me. What was the creative process and direction like on that video?
My roommate and I were putting together the whole concept and pulling from movies that we really love, like Pillow Talk and Dallas Love. We just kind of decided, "Okay let's write this treatment." And then we involved Charlotte Rutherford who's an amazing photographer. She shot you a bunch, so that was kind of our way in. Then we sent you the song, and you loved it, so it just worked out super well. Will all of the videos, I have a vision, whether it's like a color or a crystal castle or shopping on a treadmill. I love making music videos. It's a skill to learn, and feel like I'm getting better at it. It's really interesting to do a bunch of music videos and find yourself as an artist.
Hat: Lazy Oaf, T-Shirt: Mimi Wade, Trousers: Soulland, Earrings: Loreil
Yeah, it's amazing. I really love what you do. You're so creative and you're a true artist.
You had your first on-camera kiss in the video for "Heart to Break." What was that like?
Really so much more work than it seems. I was really really nervous and I brushed my teeth like five times in an hour and just went a little crazy. I was really scared of it, really frightened, and then we did it and we kind of just plowed the whole thing through and everybody watching was like, "Hot! Yeah!" So it was a fun experience, but totally not romantic in any way. Also the dancer, Julio, is amazing. He's my prince in the video. Totally the sweetest dude, so he just made it super easy. How was it being killed on camera? I loved your iconic death in House of Wax.
It was brutal because they had to put all of that fake blood all over me, and I had to sit in one position for like hours while they filmed every angle. I love it but I also felt weird. It wasn't the most glamorous thing ever. What artists influence your sound?
All kinds of artists, really. I love old school music. I love Freddie Mercury and Queen and Boy George, Blondie, Cyndi Lauper, early Madonna. I also listen to a lot of rap music. I love Rae Sremmurd and I love Kanye and Drake. I stan a bunch of the other pop girls. Like I love Ariana, I love Selena, my friends that I see in the studio like Baby E and Lil Aaron that are always around are really inspiring because they write like, six songs a day. I get really inspired by my songwriter friends, too. So many artists! I could like go on for a year!
What do you love about pop music specifically?
I just love that it puts you out of your real life and your problems and takes you to this little bubble of pop music. That's what it always did for me in school. I was bullied pretty hard and I had no friends. I felt like nobody liked me and then I put on Gwen Stefani music videos and I felt okay. I felt like I could escape my struggles. Ever since then I want to do the same thing and make crazy music videos that are their own little world that weird kids like me can watch.
How does your work relate to mainstream radio pop?
Well, right now it is a very specific sound on radio. I feel like everything's a little softer. There's a lot of tropical house. I'm on the super pop side of things. I go all in and I sing really high-pitched songs, with a bunch of ad libs. I really go there. I just started this crazy radio tour through America, and so far it's going pretty well and people seem to like it. People have been playing my single. I hope there is a space for it on radio.
"[I want to] make crazy music videos that are their own little world that weird kids like me can watch."
I always play it when I get dressed to get ready, at night like I always play your music, I love it.
That's so cool. That's my favorite thing I've ever heard.
I've been watching your tour on your Insta story and you've been killing it. I know how much work it is to travel the world and do all that, but you're really just doing it amazingly.
Thanks so much. Yeah, it's been back to back, two shows a night, then off to the next city, how you really imagine it. It's been really great hustling. I've always loved doing this and I used to just be sitting on my couch with chips and being like, "When do I get to be a pop star and do pop star things?" And now I'm doing them, so it's been amazing, even though there's not much sleep involved. I'm sure you know that from like, crazy promo tours. I feel like you probably never sleep. Like, you also have your fragrances, damn, you must not get much sleep.
I don't stop.
Yeah but those are the best people. I love people who are just go-getters and hustle.
Jacket & Trousers: Jayne Pierson
Jacket & Trousers: Jayne Pierson
Hustler for life. You have said that you hate using your identity as a tool, and often feel pressured to make your work or your public persona about your identity. At the same while you don't want to be restricted to any one identity, you have also said you always fight for the transgender and LGBTQ+ community. Does it feel limiting or empowering to claim that identity?
Well, both sometimes. Sometimes I do interviews and people are literally only talking about me being transgender and asking really weird, rude questions. In Germany, on a radio interview they asked me, "Do you think you have better sex then men because you used to be one?" It's crazy shit like that that makes me want to not speak about it and makes me want to be like, "Hey, I worked really hard and moved out of my home country to be a songwriter in LA, and have hustled my way over the last 10 years of writing songs, and you guys want to ask me is about my literal genitals." So sometimes, it can feel a little frustrating and a little sad.
But at the same time, I always think about the kid that's like me that doesn't really see the way to live as a girl and gets bullied in school and is scared. Because I hated my gender. I cried every day of my youth because I didn't identify with my gender. And the suicide rate is so high, so I always want to be a good person to look up to and help make things better and be like, "Hey, you can be transgender and live a really cool life and be a happy person." I definitely want to help, but sometimes it can feel like people want to make it this gimmick, or people wanna make me only a trans artist, and I really just speak about the things that I feel and at the end of the day, I am a woman. I feel like I should be treated the same way.
Well, you are a huge inspiration to so many people around the world and you inspire me. I think you are so beautiful and talented.
Thanks so much. You inspire me back.
Aw, good. What is on the horizon for you?
Well, I am going on the Troye Sivan tour in America. I think it's gonna be like 32 days, so it's my first legit full tour which is gonna be so lit, I can't wait. And I want to drop my album as soon as possible. I have a bunch of collaborations and stuff coming that I am super excited about, and yeah, performing in clubs as much as I possibly can. It's go time!
Keep killing it and send me a song soon because I want to record one!
Yes! I still have to — it's been hard finishing anything, but I'm going on a writing trip with the perfect people to write a song for you. So we're gonna do it. It's on my mind all the time! It's going to happen.
Photography: Charlotte Rutherford (LMC Worldwide)
Photo Assistant: Morgan Kranston
Set Design: Liam Moore
Art Assistant: Shannon Pollak
Styling: Louby McLoughlin
Styling Assistant: Lillian Rose
Hair: Iggy Rosales
Makeup: Mikayla Gottlieb (Opus)