Pop music finds its hero in a 26-year-old singer who continues to defy the odds.
On Petras: Dress by Prabal Gurung; Jewelry by Alexander Wang.
To do what Kim Petras has done in pop music is already a feat in itself, but what she could do for the future of the industry is potentially change an entire genre of music. It may seem like a large claim to those who don't know the bright-eyed, platinum blonde pop superstar, but her music speaks for itself.
The singer has over a hundred million streams on Spotify, hundreds of thousands of followers on both Twitter and Instagram and went on to perform to sold-out crowds in nearly every major city across the country after announcing her first North American tour. The European leg of it, which kicks off this weekend, sold out in minutes and takes the singer to London, Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin, and wraps in her home city of Cologne. Petras will even make several U.K. appearances at the Leeds Festival, Reading Festival and Manchester Pride. That said, she's also promised fans another Halloween mixtape to rival the previous volume that was ravenously enveloped by fans and music listeners as soon as it dropped last year.
But her latest release, Clarity, a 12-track collection of ecstatic pop hits, trickled out to fans this summer. In it, she found catharsis for a recent breakup she endured over the course of working on the project. News the artist has limited to a certain extent, opting to keep the relationship private despite the nature of her newest work.
When prodded on whether the person she dated knows about her latest crop of songs, Petras assures me: "This one was about one specific person and he definitely knows. But I don't keep in touch. Yeah, I lost his number. Oops."
On Petras: Dress by Zac Posen; Jewelry by Renato Cipullo.
Listeners will find further answers within Clarity, where she confesses to crying herself to sleep at night in "All I Do Is Cry," begged to know the truth of where she stands with a lover in "Another One," shares her innermost desires in "Do Me" and "Personal Hell" and plays the woman scorned in "Broken" and "Icy," the latter of which is the only track from the collection she released as a single.
Of the 47 songs written and considered for the singer's debut full-length project, "Sweet Spot," easily the most upbeat club-ready song of the 12 released, "Meet the Parents," a hip hop-inspired anthem with sassy lyrics, and "Shinin'," an empowering track about holding your head up high despite the odds against you, all made the cut as well.
"I feel like I can't put expectations of what something has to do for me to love it," Petras says, when asked about how she selected the final songs for the collection. "I just wanted to create something to show fans who I am and how I got through heartbreak."
She adds that she played the selections for a small group of collaborators and friends she used as a focus group, including rapper Lil Aarons, longtime co-writer Aaron Joseph and DJ Ty Sunderland.
On Petras: Dress by Alexandre Vauthier/Hat by Sarah Sokol Millinery/Rabbit clutch by Judith Leiber; Hosiery by Wolford.
Unlike her pop counterparts, Petras has the ability to create and produce music on her terms by way of her own independent record label, BunHead, which she launched in 2016. It wasn't for lack of talent that Petras decided to create her own label though. She recalls going to auditions with a "ridiculous level of self-confidence," the only way she thought she could impress music executives, aside from her voice and songwriting ability, to sign her, but soon found out they had an opinion on everything from who she was to who she ought to be. Especially, when it came to the fact that she was a trans musician attempting to carve her own path in the music industry.
"It was very crazy how people would react to me being transgender," Petras recalls. "They'd tell me that they loved my music, but couldn't sign me or else they'd go to hell. It became way too big of a deal at every record label."
So the singer stepped back and wrote with everyone she could, eventually landing a song on the Bratz film album. Exposure from a track she also wrote for Fergie got her a contract to pen songs at BMG, a major music publishing company.
"I put the money that I'd made from those projects into my own records because that was always my goal: to get into the industry being a songwriter for other people and then doing a 180 once I knew enough people to do my own thing."
On Petras: Dress by Versace; Gloves by Wing & Weft aka LaCrassia; Bracelet by Versace, necklace and rings by Renato Cipullo.
What followed was Petras' debut single, "I Don't Want It at All," a bubbly pop record co-written with Lil Aaron and produced by Dr. Luke.
Fearing the critiques of the record label executives she once auditioned for, she pulled images of herself from the cover, opting for a neon caricature instead.
“I didn’t want people to look at me and say, ‘Oh, I can see the male’ or think my forehead looked like a man’s,” says Petras. “I was really insecure about it. I know from fighting for trans rights that that quickly becomes the only thing that people want to talk about.”
But even without her face on the record, fans would find the singer on Spotify, where she followed her first release with subsequent "bops" such as "Heart to Break," "Hillside Boys" and a collaboration with Charli XCX called, "Unlock It."
On Petras: Dress by Prabal Gurung; Shoes by Giuseppe Zanotti; Jewelry by Alexander Wang.
Her voice was resolute with a purity that cut through to you, stopped you in your tracks. And the lyrics were catchy, really catchy. But the most striking thing about each song was the way it made you feel.
In retrospect, the most impressive thing about Petras is that she's done most of these things all on her own and without comparison. She's not in a lane to be the next Madonna or Britney Spears, but is paving one uniquely her own by combining talent, an ear for songwriting and sheer force of will into unforgettable music.
On Petras: Lingerie by Agent Provocateur; Purse by Chanel, provided by Madison Avenue Couture.
Photography by: Nicholas Needham, assisted by Tanner Abel; Styling by Matthew Mazur; Makeup by Joseph Carrillo, Atelier Management; Hair by Iggy Rosales; Shot on Location at The McKittrick Hotel, home of Sleep No More