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Kim Petras said she knew she wanted to be a pop star since she was a teenager writing songs in her childhood bedroom. Born and raised in Germany, Petras moved to Los Angeles with $500 and a dream.
She found herself immersed in sudden fame when she released her debut international single, “I Don’t Want It at All,” which topped Spotify’s Global Viral Top 50 in 2017. The accompanying music video featured a cameo appearance by Paris Hilton.
Soon after, Spotify selected her as one of its four RISE Artists, a designation that signaled belief in her potential to become a superstar. By the end of 2017, Paper magazine had labeled Petras “Most Likely to Dominate the Pop Charts.”
“I wasn’t discovered,” she told Interview magazine in October. “I discovered myself.”
Petras released 11 digital singles during her breakthrough period in music, when she began working with producers in Los Angeles and was struggling with imposter syndrome. The unofficial collection of tracks, dubbed “Era 1,” gave a glimpse into a time when she didn’t think she could actually be a pop star, she said in an interview with Dork magazine.
“I didn’t think I was good enough. I didn’t think I was pretty enough. I didn’t think my songs were good enough, all of those things,” she told Dork. “I love all of those songs about what I’ve wanted to be, like this super confident, bratty pop girl. I was blown away when people reacted well.”
Her debut album, “Clarity,” charted on Billboard’s 50 Best Albums of 2019 and landed on The New York Times’ list of Best Albums of 2019. The month it was released, Petras took off on her first international tour across North America and Europe.
Petras has been critically acclaimed for her experimentation within the genre, hopping from bubblegum pop to synthy electropop — as demonstrated in her Halloween-themed studio album, “Turn Off the Light,” and her unabashedly sex-positive EP “Slut Pop.” She told W magazine her music doesn’t always reflect real life: It can also be a tool for creating new worlds.
“I sometimes go through phases where I’m bored of my reality and writing about my feelings. I just want to make music that is a completely different character,” Petras said. “Everyone has a million sides to them; the best thing about being an artist is that we get to show those sides.”
Petras has also stirred controversy over her collaboration with Dr. Luke, who co-wrote and produced songs from “Clarity” and “Slut Pop”; he was accused in 2015 of sexually and verbally assaulting Kesha. Petras has said she doesn’t want to involve herself in ongoing litigation.
Before her launch to stardom as a singer, Petras made headlines as a teenager when media outlets claimed she was the youngest transgender person to have undergone gender-confirmation surgery, at 16 years old. Although Petras says she has always known she was a girl and is proud to be transgender, she also said she doesn’t like to bring her identity into her work.
“I’ve never written a song specifically about being transgender. It made me the person I am and that’s a big part of me, but I think music is about your feelings and your fantasies and it goes deeper than your gender or your sexuality,” Petras told HuffPost in 2018. “I really fell in love with music and I hope that people can see me for my music and all of the things that I am.”
This year, Petras is scheduled to headline NYC Pride’s first in-person Pride Island music festival since the Covid-19 pandemic began, closing out the weekend as the event’s first transgender headliner.