Bet You Want a Taste of Kim Petras
Story by Hilton Dresden / Photography by Oscar Ouk / Styling by Marta Del Rio / Hair by Iggy Rosales / Makeup by Gilbert SolizDec 23, 2021
This article is a sponsored collaboration between Ray-Ban and PAPER
Kim Petras takes a break from filming a new music video for her viral single, “Coconuts,” which she recently debuted onstage at the European Music Awards and is now exploding across TikTok. Her real-life coconuts (nicknamed “Mary-Kate and Ashley,” or “Cartier and Tiffany”) are perched gloriously below her long, platinum-blonde hair and lavender eyeshadow. Juggling an intense day on set, Petras still looks radiant, beaming through bites of a hurried chicken salad, while appearing entirely at ease as she cracks jokes and giggles freely. That’s not to imply the Princess of “Woo Ah!”’ (Petras’ breathy catchphrase) wasn’t ever an impressive multitasker.
But this year alone, amidst a raging pandemic, has seen the Bunhead-in-Chief complete an 18-track album — her longest and, based on our conversation, the pop star’s favorite body of work ever. Petras also recently debuted a video for another of her singles, the uplifting, forward-thinking ”Future Starts Now,” which sees her delivering expert choreography inside a rainy Eiffel Tower salon, no less. She’s been dancing at this level with a newly cast backup crew at several pop-up live shows. I caught an October stop at The Stone Pony in New Jersey, where sheets of rain pelted a freezing, exuberant audience screaming to “Hillside Boys'' as the twinks of the Greater Metropolitan Area happily caught hypothermia.
On top of all that, Petras has been busy making history, twice: in September as the first out transgender performer to take the Video Music Awards stage, and then again as the first transgender musician to headline the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (“I was giving my best Ashley Tisdale Disney starlet,” she jokes). She also signed a major label deal with Republic Records (Ariana Grande, Drake, Taylor Swift), after releasing music under her own imprint, BunHead Records. “I was a songwriter for years,” she says. “I’ve seen how labels are shelving people who make amazing music all the time. So it was scary, but I’m very happy with the decision and I love my team there.”
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Petras initially exploded onto the dance-pop market in 2017 with “I Don’t Want It At All,” the bratty, consumerist smash that spawned a video featuring Paris Hilton and a generation begging their sugar daddies to buy them Bottegas. What followed was a string of similarly impressive singles, from “Hills” to “Slow It Down” and “Heart to Break,” each song accompanied by variations of the same art: simple doodles of multi-colored bunheads (a far cry from Petras’ latest: the image for “Future Starts Now” is instantly iconic, shot by Steven Klein and styled by Nicola Formichetti). With every new track, her fanbase grew exponentially, the capabilities of this relatively unheard artist seemingly limitless.
Petras’ next album — which is technically her official debut — will be the follow-up to her 2019 Clarity EP and two-part Halloween concept project, Turn Off the Light. The new music promises to be European pop-inspired and unabashedly sexual. She notes how critics “don’t take people seriously — women, especially — who sing slutty songs or songs about sex, and write it off as not being important.” To Petras, “That’s so stupid. I embrace making slutty pop.” Following in the heels of her heroes, like fellow provocateur Britney Spears, Petras’ music celebrates a woman’s libido, rather than attempting to delegitimize it, like so much of mainstream media around her.
She wrote the album in lockdown, admittedly depressed after a planned European tour (opening for Camilla Cabello) and a Coachella set all had to be canceled due to COVID. Revisiting childhood favorite songs (Petras was born and raised in Cologne, Germany) from euro-pop artists like Scooter, she ultimately began putting the LP together as a way to cope with being isolated. But the results of her labor are far from somber: “Everything is very uptempo,” she gushes, before stressing how that doesn’t make the music any less meaningful. “Making fun music is as hard as making sad music.”
Our conversation — recorded using Ray-Ban Stories — took us everywhere from sex positivity, OnlyFans and The Black Eyed Peas, to her decision to work with a major label, that clip of Lady Gaga shutting down a sexist journalist and Pokémon. Ray-Ban Stories brings forward a new way to seamlessly capture and share photo and video and listen to music and calls through your most authentic moments.
You’re currently on set for the “Coconuts” music video. How’s it going?
It’s been exhausting, my thighs are burning. I’m constantly sore these days because I decided to dance choreography. So I’m sore as hell, but it’s looking really good and I’m really excited. It’s such a great surprise that “Coconuts” did what it did and went off on TikTok. People are behind it. Especially after the pandemic, I just want to make everyone forget about everything, have fun and sing a titties song.
For the video, can we expect a tropical theme?
The animated cover of it is the person who sings “Coconuts.” The girl with the purple boots and the two coconuts. So we’re just bringing her to life, really. She was like, “Bitch, make me real,” and I said, “OK.”
Was that an artist you picked out?
It’s actually my friend who lives with me, Eli Sheppard. [My friends and I] wrote the song really close to releasing it. We were like, “Ugh, it’s only Christmas songs coming out, let’s drop something slutty and fun.” It was a really fast decision. I said I wanted Nickelodeon animation: Hey Arnold!, that whole era, and we just went for it. And it worked really well. I’m proud that I have really talented friends around me, who I can just be like, “Hey, can you do this for me?” Or, “Do you have an idea for this?” It feels like my “chosen family” is super creative and cares about my project. They’re as important to my project as me, and it feels great to work with friends.
The inspo for this song... was “My Humps” at all a factor here?
It wasn’t, but I love that song. We weren’t thinking about anything, really. I was honestly really stoned and on shrooms, I think. During lockdown, I started being in the studio and having fun and smoking weed with my friends. It sounds bad, but it actually was the best escape to just think about writing. Whatever came to my mind, it was an exercise with my friends because we’re artists and songwriters, so we judge everything we do and say. I was actively trying to let go of that, and let everything out and then judge it later. That’s something that’s really hard for me because I’m super self-critical. I feel like I really let go of my guard, and just had fun and said whatever came to my mind. It wasn’t just me, I collaborated with songwriters I love and we wrote it together. But very often I come up with the idea and the lyrics and everything. I’m very concept-driven, more than structure.
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I also hear what you’re saying about letting go and not judging in the lyrics of “Future Starts Now.” So speaking of concepts, I want to chat about your next album.
It’s very European-themed. I’m from Europe, I grew up around Italian disco, dance, techno, German techno, there’s a whole scene. French House. It was kind of by coincidence that the first one, “Future Starts Now,” was French-inspired. But it’s really much more inspired by the sound of European pop, which I grew up on, and is a flavor I don’t think I’ve really put into my music [yet]. I don’t know why. During lockdown, I started listening to songs that I was listening to when I was like eight and dancing around my room. It really made me fall in love with that again, so it’s fusing that into my existing sound.
But also, it’s a lot more sexual. I’m singing a lot more songs about sex and my sexuality. One of my favorite albums ever, I mean so many of my favorite albums ever are Britney, [but] especially Blackout. People don’t take people seriously — women, especially — who sing slutty songs or songs about sex, and write it off as not being important. I think that’s so stupid. I embrace making slutty pop. I think that because you’re wearing makeup and showing your tits, that does not make you any less or more of an artist than someone who is completely covered up. Honestly, during lockdown, I was very depressed. The way that I fought it was making fun music, even though I wasn’t feeling fun. I wanted to make my fans happy. I think fun pop music gets a rep of being stupid and formulated, and that it takes no skill. But it takes so much skill to make a perfect, sexy pop song. I fully believe that takes as much skill as writing any other kind of song. And so I was like, “You know what? I make slut pop. And I’m proud of that. And you can suck it if you don’t take me seriously. I don’t care.”
It reminds me of that Gaga interview clip, with that sexist journalist.
Oh, yeah, I used to watch that all the time, when she was like, “If a woman sings about sex, then she’s a slut, and if a guy sings about sex, then he’s a rock star”’ Absolutely. I think that still holds true, very much. I think maybe even worse. Censorship of sexuality now is so intense. I’m super sex positive. I love sex. I think girls should love sex and get what they want out of it. It shouldn’t just be, “Guys love sex and girls don’t, really”’ No, girls can love sex, too, and it’s totally great. I love the USA. I live here, but there’s so much repression around sexuality, and people not wanting to explore any of that and it being a bad thing. If people were more open with it, it would be a better place. Be kind to yourself. Every human is sexual in one way or another. It’s human and it’s OK. I like sex, guys like sex, nonbinary people like sex, everybody likes sex. And honestly, [songs about fucking] are fucking hard to write. Come at me bitch.
Everyone loves sex!
Totally, what’s wrong with that? And the whole OnlyFans thing, everyone and their mom is on OnlyFans because there’s porn on it. That’s the whole reason they exist. And then the first thing when they get big, they’re trying to ban the people who made it? It made me so upset for so many people. Honestly, I have a large following who’s on OnlyFans. I think they’re dope, I think they’re brave, I think they’re absolutely a valid part of life. They shouldn’t be treated badly. I care about sex workers. I have a lot of fans who are sex workers and I want them to be respected. I don’t think it’s dirty or disgusting as many people in America [seem to]. Can’t people just get over that? It’s not a bad thing.
Sunglasses: Ray-Ban Stories, Suit and necklace: Laurel DeWitt
So with the album, aside from “Coconuts” and “Future Starts Now,” “Hit It From the Back” was teased at the EMAs…
I love “Hit It From the Back,” the verse is such a star. I’m excited for people to hear [it] because it wasn’t in the performance. But it’s 18 songs, so it’s the longest album I’ve ever made. Everything is very uptempo. It’s all inspired by different genres of dance music, or electronic music, or EDM, techno. It’s hard to talk about because every song is completely different from each other, but when you put them all together they make an experience, which I love. I don’t really love making a project [with] only one specific sound, even though Turn Off the Light kind of is. But then there’s “Everybody Dies,” “Tell Me It’s a Nightmare,” [giving] different takes on it. I don’t like just making the same song a million times and then calling it an album. I know people think that of me, that I make the same songs, but if you listen to the lyrics, I don’t.
Are there any songs on the new album you’re most excited for people to hear?
One is probably my favorite. I’m going to be performing it on New Year’s in Miami, it’s called “Je T’Adore.” There’s another one called “Revelations” that’s probably one of my favorites.
You recently signed with Republic Records. How has that experience been so far?
They’ve been interested since a lot of them came to my show in New York, Halloween 2019, I think. I really get to keep my creative freedom, get final approval on anything, and they were just like, “We want to help you.” I played them the whole album and I felt like this music was better than anything I’d ever done. I feel this music deserves to get heard by as many people as possible. There still is a machine in music and it’s like, how much do you want to get into that or not? Because [as long as] I have creative freedom and I can make the music that I make, I’m glad if people are behind me, getting it to more people, and things like the VMAs or EMAs. As soon as I signed to Republic they were immediately possible, where before that the doors were absolutely closed for me.
As long as I believe in the music, what can really happen? I’ve been so supported, and have such a great team there, that it just felt completely right. I feel like I’ve got a new musical family with me that helps me get more done, because I’m only one person and I was like, checking the budgets, doing a lot of stuff, where I could just be in the studio writing new music, or I could be working on the next performance, being creative, which is the one thing I do well. There’s so much shit I had to learn. I’m glad I learned it, because I basically learned the music industry from the ground up.
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I’m so happy for you. To go back to your early original singles, like “I Don’t Want It At All.” Did you ever have intentions of putting those onto an album or were those only ever meant to be singles?
I did, I still do. There are a lot of songs from that time that have never been heard. I still love the whole era one, but it’s so interesting how, as soon as something is an album, it’s suddenly serious and you’re either succeeding or not. So I was like, “I’m not calling shit an album. Fuck it.” I can make projects and stuff like that, and not put that pressure on myself, because for me music is not about charts. It’s not about numbers. I don’t want to base my love for music on any of that because a lot of my favorite artists are not huge superstars. I always remember that. Absolutely, there should be an anniversary where I finally package it, but I just haven’t gotten around to it, because there’s so much going on. This album came along and fucked everything else up like, “I’m the most important one. Pay attention to me.”
Do you have a favorite of those originals?
Yes, I do. “Slow It Down.” Performing-wise, “Hillside Boys,” my favorite song to perform ever, I’ll never not have it on my set list, because my fans go nuts for that song.
The crowd really does go wild. I’ve seen you live four or five times.
Oh my god, where did you see me?
Most recently, The Stone Pony.
Oh my god, you were there? It was raining. Thank you for coming to that, it was so wet.
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It was so great, the crowd went crazy. To pivot again, I’m a huge Turn Off the Light fan. You mentioned a potential volume three?
Yes. It was always supposed to be three volumes, a trilogy. Lord of the Rings trilogy. All the best shit is a trilogy, sorry. But I’ve always felt like Turn Off the Light could be a great musical, or series, or horror movie. I think it’s all in there. I’ve had talks about what to do with it. I love Halloween and I would love nothing more than to make a Halloween classic movie, show, horror spectacular thing. So I’ve been holding off on doing too much and ruining it before I can do it right. And Turn Off the Light is so precious to me, I really want to do it justice. Then Turn Off the Light Vol 3 will come out and it will be done. But I want it to be the biggest thing it can be. I love how much it’s been in horror movies and shows. It’s really becoming this classic in the horror community, and I love horror movies, so it’s just been such a blessing.
M.I.A. I’ve always been really obsessed with M.I.A. She was definitely my teenage angsty idol. I remember going to a show of hers in Cologne, Germany, and it just being the most badass. Floodlights. Not giving a shit about anything. She seems genuine, because she doesn’t just jump on people’s songs. If she doesn’t think it’s cool, she won’t do it, and those are the artists that I love. They think whatever they think is cool is cool, and they don’t do any of the other shit. That’s how I aspire to be, too. I love Robyn, I love Charli XCX, I love Cher. Cher is one of my all time favorite people in the world.
But also, Karl Lagerfeld is one of my biggest inspirations. I always think about, “What would he say? What would he do?” And designers, directors... I’m obsessed with this guy Dario Argento, who made these Italian horror movies in the ’80s including Suspiria, but also a million other incredible ones. I feel like I kind of do the same thing. I have a vision and a picture in my head, and I’m just trying to get it exactly like that, and protect the vision, and protect what it needs to be. I think that’s something directors and fashion designers have to be extremely good at. Concising the idea to exactly what it needs to be, nothing more, nothing less. That’s how I see pop music, pop videos and pop performances.
For fun: I saw you are a Pokémon girlie, so what is your dream team of six?
Absolutely. I’m a big Bulbasaur stan. Jigglypuff. Jolteon. I don’t have a fire one... Goldeen, because it’s so bitchy. Fuckin’ Charizard? Also, I’m playing Pokémon Pearl right now, so there’s all these new ones. This cute little pink cat... Skitty. But the only tattoo I want to get is one of Jigglypuff. I feel like I am Jigglypuff. I cannot wait to one day go as an amazing Jigglypuff for Halloween. A really slutty Jigglypuff.
Photography: Oscar Ouk
Styling: Marta Del Rio
Hair: Iggy Rosales
Makeup: Gilbert Soliz
Nails: Britney Toyko
Video direction: Devin Kasparian
Set design: Eric Vidmar
Digitech: Aly Whitman
Photography assistants: Natalie Obermaier, Matias Biraben
Styling assistant: Lauren Wathey
Production: Amanda Kahle
Type treatment: Callum Abbott