Kim Petras is breaking barriers as music’s new pop princess

Being trans has influenced her music but does not define her.

ByIgnacio Torres and Knez Walker
June 26, 2019, 4:26 PM

Kim Petras has a story to tell and an audience eager to listen.

She told ABC News’ Paula Faris as part of ABC’s Pride Speaker Series that her “number one strength” is that “I've studied pop music really, really hard my entire life … But also I'm always trying to do new things. I don't like repeating myself.”

Petras has reached new heights of fame so far untouched by any other transgender artist in the music industry.

“It's important to me to be an artist first and to fight for transgender rights, but not have that be everything that defines me,” she said.

The 26-year-old is launching a new album, called “The Clarity Project,” and a new tour that will be the first one in which she’s headlining. It's now completely sold out.

"The Clarity Project" marks a shift in tone for the pop star, with songs written out of real-life heartbreak.

“It started out with the song ‘Broken,’ which is about me being heartbroken and going through a rough breakup and feeling really lost in life in general…not knowing what I was going to do next,” she said.

“I would go on stage every night and have the most amazing time and then I'd go home and feel really sad because my personal life was just like trash,” she said. “So I put it on to my music, and I kind of realized what's important to me and…why I do this, because writing songs is like my kind of my therapy.”

The German-born singer first made headlines at 16 years old as one of the youngest people to undergo the gender confirmation process.

Since then, Petras has owned her image and sound, releasing all her music independently and claiming more than 140 million streams across all platforms.

Two years ago, she blasted onto the charts with a new anthem for millennials: “I Don’t Want It All.”

“This song is so bratty. It's just like my bratty fantasy,” she said. “I remember I was living in, like, a tiny apartment with three other roommates and, like, a futon. I was just dreaming about what I wanted my life to be and wrote the song.”

She reminisced, saying that the song’s inspiration was sparked by her manager after she closed an “amazing publishing deal.”

“It got sparked by this visit to Sephora…my manager was like, ‘Get whatever you want, I'll buy it,’” she said. “And if somebody says that, like, I'm going in.”

The song's music video even featured a cameo by Paris Hilton.

“[It was] really incredible. I mean…at that time nobody knew who I was,” she said.

PHOTO: Singer Kim Petras performs onstage in support of her album 'Clarity' at The Fonda Theatre, June 24, 2019, in Los Angeles.
Singer Kim Petras performs onstage in support of her album 'Clarity' at The Fonda Theatre, June 24, 2019, in Los Angeles.
Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

Her music, a fantasy-filled world of songs with glossy club beats, offers a temporary escape from life’s cruel realities.

“Growing up I could never go to the concerts I wanted to go to because I didn't have enough money. And I remember saving up for a Gaga Born This Way Ball, and, like, screaming every single word out and saving up for Katy Perry's Teenage Dream Tour,” she said.

“All my worries were gone and…that's what pop music to me is supposed to do. It's just supposed to take you out of your life and your problems and just make you forget it and just have a good time for a second,” she said. “I just want to do that for…an hour-and-a-half and make people forget about the problems.”

She said it was her “goal in life to do that." Her goal fulfilled in hit after hit, from singles like “Heart to Break” to “Faded," all of it unapologetically pop.

“I don't believe in, like, guilty pleasure. I don't feel guilty for listening to anything,” she said. “I love a super big, huge, sparkly pop song with huge vocals, a ton of harmonies a ton of ad libs. All of that is my favorite.”

Petras said her musical inspiration includes “a lot of the girls."

“Kylie, Madonna, Cher, Beyonce, Rihanna, Ariana Grande, Gwen Stefani…all of them, all of the fabulous pop girls… Honestly, I have looked up to them my whole life," she said. "I’ve been really obsessed. I feel like I know every word of their songs.”

Fans were first drawn to Petras' voice through viral videos, like her cover of Chris Brown’s “Don’t Wake Me Up.”

Her sound captured attention in the music industry and catapulted her into recording studios.

“What I learned from my story, is that it’s really important to speak about it, because I get so many beautiful messages from people all over the world…like, my music, my videos gave them a place where they belong, and that’s really beautiful,” she told ABC News in 2011.

Her honesty in those early interviews helped change the conversation about trans stars, making their identity just a part of their artistry.

“I feel like I was raised in gay clubs like my whole life,” she said. “I was going to gay clubs with my friends going to hang out with my gay homies… They're my family, they're my friends…my whole life basically is a gay club at this point.”

She said it has “meant the world to have people want to listen to my songs and you know, sing back the lyrics that I'm writing and relate to it. It's really made me feel like…I belong.”

Once her daydream, her whole life is now a diva’s cocktail of rehearsals, wardrobe changes and concert lineups. But it always goes back to her fans. Her work reminds them to be brave and keep dreaming.

“I want to be a spokesperson…in the beginning I was really scared of it because back in the day, transgender was the only thing people wanted to talk to me about,” she said. “I'm not scared anymore of people saying that I'm using my identity, or using the gay community, or anything like that, because…I'm just one of the LGBTQ community. And so I’m not scared.”

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