Kim Petras Proves the New "It Girl" Is a Trans Woman
Kim Petras didn't come out of nowhere — not exactly. The German-born pop singer made dance floor bops in her teens before going viral on a Charlie XCX song ("Unlock It") in 2017 and recruiting Paris Hilton for her "I Don't Want It At All" music video. Moschino's Jeremy Scott and Gaga stylist Nicola Formichetti were early fans, as was Christian Cowan, who sat the emerging pop princess and trans rights crusader next to Lizzo at his 2018 fashion show. And when I ask a former boss — now a stylist at a major French label — if he knows who Kim is, he practically chokes on his espresso. "Are you kidding?" he says. "I'm a gay man in fashion. I live for Kim Petras."
Teens of all types are catching feels, too, fueling her Spotify streams — nearly 42 million this year alone — and flooding their TikToks with nascent hits like "Coconuts," which came out about 5 seconds ago and already has 715k shares. Meanwhile, the fashion world has doubled down on their embrace of the 29-year-old musician, inviting her to the Met Gala and enlisting her to close CFDA nominee Maisie Wilen's show this past September. (She wore the eco-powered designer Collina Strada; it was, as the kids say, a very good look.)
Fast forward to holiday season, and Kim Petras has joined Megan Thee Stallion and Jennifer Lopez as a marquee face of Coach. She even performed on their Macy's Thanksgiving Day float, making her the very first transgender star to hold the honor. Not bad for someone who — as Petras tells it — "came to America with $500 in her pocket and started booking open mic nights hoping to get noticed."
Here's how Petras feels about her kinship with Steven Spielberg, her love for Goldie Hawn, and why female politicians make pop music better.
You've become a must-see at fashion shows and parties. When did you realize style would be a huge part of your life?
I remember stealing my sister's clothes from her closet. She would get really mad at me, but I would wear anything pink; I just wanted to wear pink. And it just made me feel happy to wear dresses, and you know, things that I wasn't supposed to be wearing at the time. That was when I was, like, five, when I was a tiny kid. Also, in school, I would wear crazy outfits under the clothes that I pretended to wear in front of my parents. And then I would zip them off and wear dresses and things like that. And that's how I really felt like myself…
[As a teen], I would buy magazines like InStyle using my pocket money — and I didn't have much pocket money. It all went towards fashion magazines, because they kind of showed me a glimpse of the world that I wanted to move in. I was living in the countryside in Germany. So I'd say that was when fashion first really meant so much to me.
You talk about clothes making you feel powerful. When did your music career start making you feel that way?
When I came to LA at 20, and I started doing sessions as a songwriter. And I would get invited back! And I realized that all my hard work since my teen years had really made me a better songwriter. I was independent, I came to America by myself with, like, $500 and made something happen. So, I think that was the first instance that made me feel powerful and made me feel like I was a good writer and a good singer. But truly, I think my full potential hadn't been reached until I was able to do my own tours. The Clarity Tour [in late-2019], that was really when I was in my element as a singer, as an artist, as a performer. I grew a lot, learned a lot, and it wasn't until I had learned about vocal health and how to keep my voice healthy, that I felt truly in control as a performer.
What's the difference between being a 'power woman' in America and being one in Germany, where you're from?
Well, we've had a female president for a long time. And I think in general, a lot of the culture is less sexualized and repressed than it is in America. You know, there's naked women on TV, nipples are uncensored, and stuff like that. And I think it makes people objectify women a little less. I definitely think here in America, the objectification of women, and all the limits we put on women is something that's changing, and that's really great. I think in Germany in general, I feel like that male gaze is less. And like, because [sexuality] is just in the open, you have access to it. It's not hidden. Women aren't objects, women own themselves and can be president, you know, so I think in that sense, that's something in Germany that I think is a little further, but America's getting there.
A lot of people are saying you're the future of pop music. Who do you think is the future of fashion?
I really just go to people that inspire me, people whose point of view I like… I don't really care about if it's a big designer, I just care about supporting and being at fashion shows that are inspiring. I think Saint Sintra and Collina Strada are exciting, newer designers and Christian Siriano.
What made you want to perform for Maisie Wilen instead of a bigger label?
I think there's a lot of similarities between emerging fashion designers, and emerging actors, musicians, directors. I think that showing support to up-and-coming designers is exciting. I get a big kick out of wearing things first, discovering designers first, being at designer shows when they're still making a name for themselves. As a musician, I can support smaller artists that deserve to be seen. So that's what that means to me. And that's why I make amazing friends that are designers that are pushing things forward. That's something that excites me.
Do you have any mentors or role models? How do they influence you?
My parents were supportive, but they were like, "Oh, [music is] cool, but you keep going to school." I kind of had to be self-motivated, but I always feel inspired by women that I looked up to when I was a kid, like Goldie Hawn or Naomi Campbell or Amanda Lepore... or even RuPaul. Those were the kind of people that I saw when I was a kid that made me think "I want to be like that when I grow up."
I also feel very inspired by directors, I kind of go through phases where I watch only David Lynch movies, or watch only Kubrick movies or Steven Spielberg movies. I get obsessed with directors because I feel like, in many ways, as an artist you have to be a director. You have to protect your vision, you have to make it exactly what you see, and you gotta, you know, fight to get the vision right. And that's what directors do well; they get everyone to work together to make a vision become reality.
You're entering your 30s. What do you hope the next decade will bring for you?
I want to get better at what I do, always. I think people put too much weight on age. It's very linear to me. I go by, you know, "how can I be better as myself no matter what my age is?" So I kind of disregard it, but you know, I want to be on top of my game. I want to keep learning. I think a lot of my idols were great later in their life, like Madonna, Cher… I think my greatest is probably going to be when I'm an old lady and I'm 70 and I'm fucking fierce and I know exactly who I am. So, I feel like I'm at the beginning of everything. That's kind of what my single "Future Starts Now" is about as well. It's about seizing the future, making the best out of life, and celebrating change. I tried to get that across in the music video that just came out because that's how I feel.