Kim Petras on her fans, her music and drawing inspiration from icons that paved the way

Article by Gibson Johns
Produced by Alex Hughes, Jordan Walker, Izzy Ashton and Gibson Johns

When it comes down to it, Kim Petras just wants people to listen to her music. It’s a sentiment she expressed to me throughout our virtual half-hour conversation last month on the set of her photo shoot for In The Know’s April 2022 digital cover. It might seem obvious, but looking at what it takes to be a successful pop star in today’s music industry, you realize that sometimes the actual music feels like an afterthought: The priorities seem to be trending on TikTok and rocking Instagram-ready ’fits wherever you go.

But for the 29-year-old German pop star, it’s music that comes first. Yes, she’s on top of all of the latest social media trends and, yes, fashion is a huge passion and inspiration for her, but her imagery is born out of the sounds that she puts out there. It’s her music that she gets the most back from too.

Kim Petras on In The Know’s April 2022 digital cover. She’s wearing a George Keburia top, Christian Dior underwear and jewelry by Luv AJ and the M Jewelers. Photo by Jared Ryder

“My goal is always to just complement the music — the music is the star for me. I just want to add to the aesthetic and just complement it. So I'm always just like, ‘How do I stay as true as possible to the music and pick the right visual for it?’” Petras told In The Know about her creative process. “I make so much music, and I want to write all the time, and that's my priority in life — to just be writing  all the time. I like to just make it and then drop it so that it's fresh and new for everyone. That's what excites me about music.”

There’s a lot to love about Petras and what she brings to pop music, but it’s her awareness of who paved the way for her success and her willingness to pay homage to those women that became evident during the interview on set with In The Know. During our conversation, the “Heart to Break” hitmaker referenced Britney Spears, Marina and the Diamonds, Pamela Anderson, Lady Gaga, Lana Del Rey, Carmen Electra, Amanda Lepore, Jenna Jameson and Paris Hilton, all in reference to their work, iconography or impact on culture. Petras is a true student of pop culture, and it’s a huge asset for her to have in her arsenal.

With her official debut album on deck and a high-profile Coachella performance coming up on the heels of her recent Slut Pop EP, Petras is continuing to lay the groundwork for her inevitable pop music takeover. We’re lucky to have tickets to the show.

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Gibson Johns: You’re at your cover shoot for In The Know’s April issue, sitting on a spinning pink bed under a mirrored ceiling and wearing a full latex ensemble — it’s fully serving the Slut Pop era. How are you? You must be feeling pretty good.

Kim Petras:
I'm great. I'm in so much latex, which feels very familiar. I've done latex a lot — it fits really well. My bed spins, so I feel amazing. Like, naturally. That's all I need for a day to be good: For my bed to spin and to be in latex!

We're on the heels of the release of the Slut Pop EP, and you’re fully in this new era. What was the response like to the new music, from your perspective?

It was amazing. I mean, people freaked out over it! I think the surprise really worked, because I knew for about two months that we were gonna drop it on Valentine's Day. Everyone was pre-saving something [on streaming services], and they had no idea what it was going to be. The reaction has been crazy. I've been hearing it everywhere. 

Where do you want people to listen to Slut Pop

Honestly, I feel like Slut Pop is a perfect getting ready experience. It's a perfect club experience, like, going out with your friends. I missed going out these last few years so much that I just wanted to make club music … for my diehard fans who love to go out and love to party — who love to go to raves and love all that stuff. It's really for them. Before I drop the big debut album, I just wanted to really give [something to] my core fans. Like, “I love you guys and I'll never leave you, and I'll always come through for the gay clubs and be there and perform, and that's never gonna end.” You know? So, for me, it's a thank you to the diehards. I love writing gay club music. I'll never stop doing it.

Some of these visuals that I'm seeing from this era remind me of the early 2000s: Christina’s Stripped era and Blackout era Britney. What were some of the inspirations you were drawing on for the visuals?

For sure Blackout. I mean, Blackout is one of my favorite albums ever made. It’s perfect front to back, but I was also inspired by Carmen Electra. I was inspired by Jenna Jameson. Just that whole early 2000s porn-star look, because that's kind of when I grew up and I loved it. I love Pamela [Anderson]. … We kind of just went for this look. But also, all the girls in Germany would have these block streaks, so it's also kind of Euro, you know? I grew up around a lot of Russian immigrants and all kinds of cultures, honestly, and this was definitely a look that I remember vividly from my childhood and from my teen years, so I kind of needed to bring it back. 

You’re one of many artists these days that don’t adhere to traditional release strategies with really long rollouts for your music. You drop things when you want to drop them without huge campaigns, because those have proven to largely be pretty antiquated. Is that natural for you?  How does operating in a streaming-dominated music industry affect your creative process as an artist?

I celebrate that it’s how I've built my career — just by dropping a song weekly or monthly and all that stuff — to really have people keep listening to my music. It's really exciting, because it's not about [someone] clicking on [a song] once. It's about who listens to it over and over and over again. What I'm proud of — and what I love — is that there's not, like, that one song [people know me for]. Like, “Oh, she's the bitch from that one song.” People actually listen to an entire album of mine and do it again and again, which is the coolest thing for me. I always love themed albums and themed things — Electra Heart comes to mind; Born to Die comes to mind; The Fame comes to mind. I love an era. So, yeah, that's the most exciting thing. I make so much music, and I want to write all the time, and that's my priority in life — to just be writing all the time. I like to just make it and then drop it so that it's fresh and new for everyone. That's what excites me about music.

Kim Petras in a crystal body suit and heels by Disco Daddy and a vintage robe and belt. Photo by Jared Ryder

"I make so much music, and I want to write all the time, and that's my priority in life — to just be writing all the time."

Kim Petras in a vintage corset dress and gloves, Honey Birdette latex tights, Gucci shoes and jewelry by Fallon and Luv AJ. Photo by Jared Ryder
Kim Petras in a George Keburia top, Christian Dior underwear and jewelry by Luv AJ and the M Jewelers. Photo by Jared Ryder

Another thing that you do really well is understanding current trends on TikTok and just the general meme-ification of everything. You clearly have fun with images and visuals that you create online. What is that creative process like for those? Who do you work with to cultivate your visuals?

I recently hired my friends who started out as fans. Over the pandemic, we started playing Minecraft and talking about music, and I started playing them demos and stuff. My fans have been so amazing with social media and making memes from the beginning of my career. We've kind of been working together on making this happen. So, honestly, my fans make a lot of stuff, and I'm like, “Let's just post what the fans are making because it's awesome.” I like  keeping it fun on social media. I don't take myself too seriously, and I don't think my fans want that. My fans are here for the fun and the chaos, and I'm glad because that's what I do. If people weren't down, that would suck.

But image-wise, I work with my creative director, Eli [Sheppard]. We did this shoot together. We were very detail-oriented and made sure that every little detail of the look was exactly what we wanted it to be. I care a lot, because I think of the cover of something and the aesthetic of something is what people see in their minds when they think about the song or the music. So 100%, my goal is always to just complement the music — the music is the star for me. I just want to add to the aesthetic and just complement it. So I'm always just like, “How do I stay as true as possible to the music and pick the right visual for it?”

Some of your most notable looks from the past year that come to mind are the Richard Quinn look at the VMAs and the Gucci horse look at the Met Gala, which both speak to your understanding of how to use fashion to make a true moment. Whether it's during a performance or on a red carpet or even just a paparazzi shot, you know how to make a moment that lasts through your fashion choices — and that's a skill that not everyone has.

Thanks! I mean, yeah, literally the more memorable something is, the better the memes are. And, I don't  know, I feel connected to my fans through memes and through humor and through entertaining moments [like that]. I just want to be entertaining. I’m someone who went to school and would get made fun of for my clothing because I would go to vintage stores and wear latex and leather and all kinds of things to school. I would get made fun of all the time. So, when I get an honor like going to the Met Gala, I want to do something crazy so that people are like, “What the hell is this?” Because it might give someone in the middle of nowhere [reassurance]. Like, “You know what? I like to dress crazy, and I'm gonna f***ing dress crazy. I don't care what anyone says about it, because Kim does it!” I was in the middle of nowhere in Germany, and no one wore anything good — ever!

You have another big moment coming up, too. Live performances have been back for a minute now, but one of your next gigs is one of the biggest in the world — Coachella, which must be next-level in terms of what you can do. How are you preparing for a performance this big?

It's going to be a one-of-a-kind show. I'm not going to do the same thing on tour, and we've been busy planning the whole thing. I feel like my whole life right now is dedicated to Coachella, so I don't want to spoil anything because I really want it to be a surprise. I'm gonna step up my show a lot. We have some pretty sick ideas, and I can’t wait.

One of my favorite recent TV shows was Paris in Love, and you made a great appearance on the two-part finale when you sang Paris Hilton’s song, “Stars Are Blind,” at her wedding. I know that Paris has been in a couple of your music videos, and you clearly are friends, but for her to ask you to be there and be part of such a big event in her life speaks volumes. Can you talk about that a bit?

She has just been such a supportive person for me. I mean, that music video that she's in? I didn't really have a budget [to book her], so her agreeing to be in it was amazing. I had, like, no followers, and I had no proof of concept. I had just put out a single, and ever since then she has just kind of been a little bit of a fairy godmother to me. She just really gets it and has been saying such nice things about my music and posting my music. I love her for that. I also think she’s one of the sweetest people I've ever met. I'm always inspired by how kind and nice she is to everybody she meets. She's just a big  inspiration. She's so smart, and she gets up every day and does a million, trillion things and is so efficient. She’s also kind of ahead of her time. So, yeah, that was crazy. I feel very honored that she asked me to do that, and it was something I'll never forget. Like, that was incredible. “Stars Are Blind” is forever.

"I just want to inspire people to be themselves because it took me a long time to dare to."

Kim Petras in a crystal body suit and heels by Disco Daddy and a vintage belt. Photo by Jared Ryder

Are there any other highlights from the past five years or so as your career has really taken off that feel particularly surreal and memorable to you? Like, moments that, if you had told yourself even 10 years ago that you were going to do those things, you wouldn't have believed it? 

For me, meeting Amanda Lepore was a big deal, because she was, like, the only trans woman I'd seen on TV in Germany, through reports about New York nightlife and stuff like that. She was the first trans woman I'd ever seen, so when I met her, and I got to tell her that, that was really special.

Also, [during] my club-kid days in New York, when I was just partying and then, suddenly, there were lines around the block for clubs where I was playing. It really picked up in Brooklyn and New York, and that was crazy. Just hearing the music out and about and seeing that there's people who are down to listen to it because I was always like, “I don't know, I like making music. I hope people like it.” And then, as it happened, it just made me feel like I'm not alone and people get why I make music and people liked the music I made. I just kind of made songs about being a bitch, which I love, so it was cool that people accepted me and listened to my music. I thought that was amazing.

Pop stars are always thinking three steps ahead and laying the groundwork for whatever they have planned for the future, but do you ever think even further ahead than that? About what your legacy might be or what lasting impact you’ll have?

I don't particularly think about my legacy. I think about just who I am as a person, and how trapped and not understood and outside of society my childhood and my teen years felt. I just want to inspire people to be themselves because it took me a long time to dare to. Once you dare to — and you dare to make an idiot out of yourself, or go for it and get to that point where you feel like yourself — and you're not looking left and right, like, “What do I want to do?” — and you’re like, “I like this. I feel inspired by this. This is what I want to do.”

I’m all about passion, and I just really want to inspire people to create and be passionate and find inspiration and be themselves — not necessarily just do everything that other people are doing. I want to inspire people to be themselves. I'm going to continue being myself, and that's not perfect. Nobody is [perfect], and [all that] role model stuff is cool, but, really, I just want people to listen to my music and be like, “What do I want to do? What is my thing that I really want to do?” Hopefully there are more trans artists in the future and [more of] any kind of artist who [have felt] like they have no chance because they never saw anyone like themselves on TV. Now it’s a different world, and it's amazing to be part of it.