L.A.-based German pop star Kim Petras released her debut Clarity project last year, and then followed it up with the Turn Off the Light Halloween mixtape a few months later. Prolific to a fault, she’s already moving forward with the “Malibu” single. We talked about all of this and more…
L.A. WEEKLY: How old were you when you started making music, and when did it get serious?
KIM PETRAS: I think I started singing when I was a kid, just singing movie songs and Broadway songs with my mom because my mom loved stuff like that. Then I think when I was 12, 13 I started writing my own songs. I always felt like I was a pop star, so I needed to be able to write my own songs. I started in Germany in my bedroom, on my keyboards with GarageBand. I started making my own tracks and writing every single day. I was really determined. It wasn’t very good in the beginning, It took me hundreds of songs to get good. But it was my passion and it became almost a diary of stuff that happened to me.
What was it like growing up and wanting to be a pop star in Germany?
They’re definitely behind. With music, everything’s later than here. I grew up with the internet and YouTube, making YouTube videos and kind of being really connected to Americans and people all over the world. I always had friends I would write with from all over the world. I feel like the internet really changed that. But I grew up in the countryside in Germany, and definitely I was knocking on studio doors when I was 15, 16. I was finding everybody and saying, ‘Work with me.’ Most people weren’t really interested in making the music I wanted to make. Big pop music. There was not really an interest. It was clear that one day I’d move to America, L.A. especially, and become a real songwriter. I moved here when I was 19. Since then I’ve been a writer, writing every single day and writing for other people. Writing songs for commercials. Anything, just writing. It’s been an interesting journey.
By 19 you had moved to the United States and had already transitioned, which is a lot at that age. People would have been inspired by you — is there a pressure that comes with that?
I always thought of it as something good, that people look up to me and are inspired by me. It makes me feel grateful and happy. I don’t see it as pressure. I got the transitioning over with when I was really young. I had the final surgery when I was 16 and then that was closed for me. I felt OK in my body and OK with my identity. I used to do documentaries about that and really try to educate people on transgender being a normal thing. My parents were really supportive. They’ve got my back. I really owe everything to the gays and LGBTQ nightlife and culture. I always had great friends — I was born and raised in the gay clubs. I wanted to write pop classics because that’s a big part of my culture.
You released two full length projects last year and a new single now — why are you working so fast?
I love writing. I don’t feel like there’s any time to waste. Also, I just got lucky. Inspiration just dropped and I wrote the Clarity project which came out last year. It just came out and I felt blessed. But I’m 24/7 music. I barely have a personal life and I don’t have any hobbies. Music is my entire everything. I want to drop music and I can’t stop putting it out. That’s my only goal in life. When I’m watching movies or having a conversation with a friend, music is always on my brain.
There’s usually a manager or label head slowing artists down, telling them to pace themselves…
I have my own label so I’m able in the streaming era, use it as my marketing tool to put out music consistently. I’ve got a dedicated, loyal fanbase so I want as many songs as mine out there as possible and I get to do that. There’s nobody telling me not to because, I don’t know, Taylor Swift’s album is coming out that same week so it’s being pushed a whole year. Those are stories my friends are going through. I would never have become a priority at a major label. I can prove to people that it doesn’t matter if you’re transgender — if you’re music is good you can achieve anything. I feel like my career is based on music, which is what I’m really proud of.
What is the new single “Malibu” about?
I was listening to a lot of old school songs. Early Madonna, I love old MJ shit. I combined that with ideas that I had of Malibu — seeing it on TV and the fantasy of it. Once I got there, it was quite boring. Tons of rich people. I wanted to write a song about my imaginary version of it.
How will you be celebrating Pride in lockdown?
I’m going to livestream a lot. I’m sure I’m gonna Zoom party. I’m sure I’ll do a makeup look and post it. I love Pride and going out with my friends. I have great memories during Pride. It’s sad that there’s not going to be a real party, but as soon as everything opens up hopefully we’ll get to make a Pride.
What is the first thing you’ll do after the lockdown is lifted?
Probably go to my apartment in West Hollywood. I’m with my friends who have a studio setup, and I haven’t been to my apartment in over a month so I just want to check on it. It’s in the back of my head — what’s going on there. I think it’s fine. But simple things — I miss going to a restaurant and hanging out with my friends. Watching a movie. I can’t wait to perform again because it affects my whole life. It’s crazy for me not to be on a stage for this long. I don’t think it’ll be possible for that many people to come together in the same place until 2021 maybe. It’s going to be interesting.