The singer/songwriter’s juicy bubblegum pop modernizes a classic 1980s sound.
Whether it’s rooted in ironic or genuine appreciation, the early 2000s are having a style moment right now in all of their Juicy tracksuited, capri pantsed glory. And perhaps the patron saint of this style era is Paris Hilton, who up-and-coming German singer Kim Petras chose to feature in her recent music video for “I Don’t Want It At All,” an ode to Los Angeles’s proliferation of sugar daddies and sugar babies.
“I want all my clothes designer
I want someone else to buy ’em
If I cannot get it right now
I don’t want it, I don’t want it, I don’t want it at all”
A shrine to Paris, she of the now-iconic early 2000s excess, appears at the very beginning of Petras’s music video, the rest of which Petras, who has bubbly, bouncing blonde hair and wears tones of pink and purple, spends swinging shopping bags in front of what seems like endless shopping plazas. “I think she represents the fantasy I’m talking about in the song perfectly,” Petras says via email. “There isn’t one person who was born in the ‘90s who hasn’t dreamt about going shopping with Paris Hilton.” In the video, with her cornsilk-colored locks framing her face and her signature side-bun at the top of her head, Petras pouts impishly, coquettishly, until she gets what she wants.
Petras, who is 25, moved to Los Angeles from just outside of Cologne, Germany. She had been writing music since she was a teenager and posting tracks online. She even wrote songs for German detergent and cell phone commercials while also working as a model. Eventually, a producer stateside listened to some of her personal work on YouTube and decided to send her some tracks to work on. She started writing on them, too, and their demos got attention from other producers. “I was always writing English pop music, and most producers in Germany always told me my music sounded too American,” she says. “So I had always planned to move to America and become a pop songwriter!” She saved up, and eventually moved to the West Coast as she planned. Los Angeles is now all over her lyrics, she says. “I really started learning to collaborate with people there and got to know so many amazing people who became my musical family,” she says, including but not limited to producer and friend Aaron Joseph, a collaborator of Dr. Luke.
Growing up in Cologne’s countryside, Petras felt stuck and often escaped into music instead. She has been especially influenced by Culture Club, The Cardigans, Queen, Baltimora, and ‘80s-era Italian disco. And hearing her music, these influences entirely make sense: Culture Club’s campy new wave, The Cardigans’ acerbic playfulness, Queen’s swaggering confidence, and Baltimora’s effervescent synth-pop all show up in Petras’s tracks, perhaps most notably and all at once on “I Don’t Want It At All.” This song in particular, Petras says, was inspired by a shopping trip with a former manager after a particularly successful meeting. “[My manager] took me to Sephora and told me I could get whatever I wanted, and I did! When it was time to check out the cashier said, ‘Just close your eyes and swipe it, sweetie.’ I thought it was the best lyric. We wrote the song the next day!”
Since then, Petras has released several other tracks, from her recent feature on the Charli XCX track “Unlock It,” to her own synth-heavy “Faded,” sultry “Slow It Down,” and upbeat, poppy “Hillside Boys.”
“Slow It Down” in particular is Petras’s slow dance-style ode to the prom she never went to. “I miss slow jams and prom scenes in 80’s movies,” she says. “I never went to prom, but this song is totally my imaginary American prom night.” In a pop landscape that’s currently fascinated with ‘80s style beats blended with the era’s matching pop vocals, Petras fits perfectly, to the point where she currently shares a manager with Britney Spears and Fifth Harmony.
While in the U.S. Petras is a rising popstar and songwriter, she is widely known in Europe, and has been since 2006. That year, at 13, Petras appeared on a national German talk show discussing her gender transition. While in Germany a person cannot undergo gender confirmation surgery until the age of 18, Petras was featured in a documentary at age 14 in hopes of receiving the surgery earlier, which she eventually did. She became the world’s youngest person on record to receive gender confirmation surgery at age 16. But for Petras, as it should be for any artist, her gender doesn’t matter. “I think the only thing that should matter is if I’m good at what I do instead of what gender I identify with,” Petras writes. “I’m okay with being labeled a transgender artist, but at the end of the day, I’m an artist.”
Today, Petras continues to strive to be the best artist she can be while continuing to release new music. For example, she is constantly on the hunt for the perfect lyric. “It’s so hard to find, and you bang your head against the wall for days sometimes to find it. But when you find it…it’s magical!” she says. She draws inspiration from heartbreak, her emotions, quotes from friends, movie dialogue, slogans, synth lines she makes on GarageBand, tracks her friends make, and more.
As an artist in Spotify’s RISE program, which promotes the work of exciting emerging artists, Petras has been shining bright: within four days of its release, “I Don’t Want It At All” had over four million streams on Spotify and skyrocketed to number one on the Global Viral Spotify chart. She hopes to get to number one on the Billboard Hot 100, too. “My goal is always to become better! A better songwriter, a better singer, make better music videos, be a better performer. I can’t wait to put out more songs,” she says. “I really just hope I can keep making music I love that people can relate to.”
Watch the video for Kim’s latest track, “Faded,” below.