Kim Petras Is Winning The Pop Game
Kim Petras must be living.
A life-long student of pop, the German singer-songwriter’s album Clarity debuted late last month and is a BFD, landing 7th on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers chart. Nine of the twelve songs were dropped as singles each week leading up to the album release, and as of right now, Petras is on a 24-stop tour of North America and Europe. She could be the next big pop star, and the fact that she’s transgender is secondly, thirdly, or even fourthly, a talking point.
Petras is winning the pop game. Think Kylie Minogue + Madonna, blessed by Paris Hilton. Paris even made a cameo on the 2017 “I Don’t Want It At All” video, the unapologetically bratty sugar baby track that put Petras on the mainstream map. Petras’ mission has never wavered: she is a bubblegum pop star, serving rich girl fantasy in three minutes or less, and it’s gonna be irresistible.
Clarity is full of icy-cold bops with nods to synthwave and Italo disco stylings, all wrapped around a core of heartless materialism. “I used to cry over you, baby / I’ve wasted all this time / Now I got an ice cold heart / VVS’ is the only kinda ice I want,” she sings in “Icy.” As the song title suggests, Clarity is chilly.
In “Meet The Parents” she sings, “That’s facts, I make more than your dads / I need it all in advance, mind’s only on the brands.” It seems like she’s finally securing her long-awaited bag.
Petras has been in the public eye since she was 13, on a German TV show that spotlighted her transition. Being trans and on TV at an early age makes it easy to understand why she would want to distance herself from trans identity. She’s said, “I think the ultimate goal for me is if a transgender person can be known for anything but being transgender.”
I can wholeheartedly empathize. As a man of trans experience, most days it feels like I’m just starting to live my “real life” after a few exhausting years of extra work. Trans celebrities certainly don’t owe us anything extra, though they are constantly called on to provide education and emotional labor, with black femmes like Laverne Cox and Indya Moore often graciously providing.
KC Clements explores Petras’ complicated relationship with her queer and trans fan base in their excellent “What Does It Mean To Be An Apolitical Trans Popstar?”
“I don’t expect her to talk about being trans all the time, but if she could open up a fraction of her public image to speaking out on behalf of trans issues, to uplifting trans artists like Ah Mer Ah Su, Macy Rodman, Michete, and KC Ortiz who haven’t had access to the platform she has, she could make a big difference in the lives of many trans folks,” they write.
Another area of scrutiny is her continued work with Dr. Luke, the hit-generating producer who Kesha accused of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Other singers like Kelly Clarkson, P!nk, Demi Lovato, and Lady Gaga have all referenced Luke’s abusive behavior, shady business practices (he has been sued for ripping off other artists’ songs) or at least have all said they would never work with him again.
Petras has been equivocal in defending her choice to work with Dr. Luke. “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,” she tweeted last year.
The music industry is, like most everything, set up to consolidate power in the hands of wealthy white dudes, a system that regularly protects abusers. If cutting her teeth on pop stardom means working within that system, Petras is certainly not the first.
Celebrity for a queer or trans person is still a novel thing, wrapped in a bunch of problematic issues to boot. As she continues to drop the bad girl, money-worshiping club bangers she’s known for, her relationship with the queer and trans community will continue to be divided. A world of carats, but not without caveats.