Kim Petras on Nicki Minaj, Madonna and her new music
Kim Petras has been making music for more than a decade.
Songs such as “I Don’t Want it at All” and “Heart to Break” have earned kudos from club kids, pop music devotees and the gay community that reveres Petras, who has been openly trans since she was 16.
But in the past year, the German pop singer-songwriter has catapulted into the mainstream, scooping up accolades from Variety (Innovator of the Year), Billboard’s Women in Music (Chartbreaker) and, mostly prominently, her first Grammy Award.
Petras, 30, and longtime friend Sam Smith earned the trophy in the best pop duo/group performance category for their deliciously seedy smash “Unholy,” making Petras the first trans person to win in that category.
Now, as fans hyperventilate over every morsel about a new album (coming soon, she promises), Petras is teasing them with “Alone,” her sassy new single with hip-hop goddess Nicki Minaj, whom she finally met while shooting the video for the club banger.
Checking in from her home in Los Angeles, Petras chatted about her adoration of Minaj, being a voice for the marginalized and how meeting Madonna was “one of the most iconic moments” of her life.
Question: You’ve been very public about wanting to work with Nicki Minaj, so do you feel like you manifested this collaboration into being?
Petras: Maybe! I’m a Barbz (the nickname for Minaj’s fans). I think I’ve tried to write songs for Nicki since I started getting good at writing. It’s always been a big dream. She’s so inspirational as a lyricist and she constantly pushes herself and always drops the freshest (music).
“Alone” samples Alice Deejay’s 1999 Euro-thumper “Better Off Alone.” What significance does that song hold for you?
If you grow up in Europe, it’s a classic song that plays (in the clubs) at the end of the night. I’ve had a lot of moments to that song in clubs – good ones, bad ones. (Laughs) Every time I hear that song it does something to me.
Before the clubs, who did you listen to growing up?
My mom is into jazz, so a lot of Billie Holiday. My dad is into free jazz, so it was a very jazzy family. But for me, Madonna, Britney (Spears), Michael Jackson, The Spice Girls. I loved dance music. Once I found pop, I wanted to become someone who could write really good pop songs. I found what I’m good at. I really suck at everything else. (Laughs) Performing and writing songs is my talent. Everything else … I’m just OK.
You’ve been making music and on the charts for more than a decade, but I think a lot of people were introduced to you through “Unholy” and your Grammy acceptance speech. How did those things impact your career?
It was a huge honor to sing with Sam (Smith). They were so genuine and wanted to make a song together and I can’t thank them enough. I’m so grateful for the Grammy and the moment they allowed us to have. That means a lot to my fans who were watching. That someone can win who is not necessarily a candidate people think can win at life. So many people doubted me ever winning in general. Like, who is going to listen to your songs? And only gay clubs? There was so much doubt on me and what my music could do because I’m trans and open about it.
Do you feel pressure being such a prominent voice for marginalized communities?
I think being a voice is about being authentic. I don’t put it on thick. I feel what I feel in the moment and go with my intuitions. I’m not someone who likes to speak; I like to sing. I’m not good at speeches. The way I express myself is through music and that’s exactly what I should be doing. I want to tell people that you define your life and you make sure you’re happy with your life. I feel especially now so many people have an opinion about being trans who are not trans (themselves). Don’t mind them. Everyone should have the right to live their life.
What was your reaction to the Bud Light flap because of the company’s support for trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney?
To be honest, I haven’t seen enough to have an opinion. But from what I heard, it’s silly. Like, OK. Big deal.
You released “Brrr” in January and now “Alone” with Nicki, so what’s the status of a new album?
I knew I had to go and push myself so I did an album the major label way and worked with so many cool people and recorded in Sweden and London. It’s very close to coming out. “Alone” is a good taste of things to come. I have a lot of (club) memories to draw from for this new album. It’s inspired by EDM, house music, Euro and techno.
In addition to your own singing and performing, you’ve had a long career as a songwriter. Who else are you creating music for these days?
I’ve been focused on my own music, but I always have ideas floating around. I’ve always wanted to write for Madonna, for Shania Twain. Now that I’m in the (final stages) for my album, I can go and be creative for random things again.
Since you’ve checked a Nicki collaboration off your wish list, who else would you like to work with?
I’m a big fan of Lana Del Rey. Anything with Madonna would be incredible. Lil Nas X, I really love. And Charli XCX, she’s the best. With collaborations for me, it needs to make sense with the song. I feel like Nicki really elevated “Alone.”
You’re obviously a Madonna fan. Have you met her?
I did when she introduced us at the Grammys. In the little break before we went on the air, she cracked her whip and mouthed, “Go get it, bitch.” That was one of the most iconic moments of my life. She is the blueprint for all of us.
You’re doing some big festival dates this summer, but might we see you on a more formal tour?
Yes, absolutely. It goes along with the album. I can’t wait to announce (a tour) soon, but first things first. I know exactly what I want it to look like. I’ve sketched all the outfits.
Have you been inspired by other live shows?
I know every second of Madonna’s “Confessions” tour (in 2006). My absolute favorite, ever. I love Muse’s live shows and I’ve been watching (German metal band) Rammstein. Their shows are really inspiring and their lighting is pretty major. But my goal is always to be focused on myself. I want to carve out my own thing.
What kind of physical preparation do you do before a tour?
I think it’s all about health. I’m very hard on myself and want to be able to give 100% every night. I know now that I have to have vocal rest between shows, so I’m quiet. I work out. I’m in rehearsals a month or two before the tour starts. In the last few years I’ve gotten more into dancing and there’s more choreographed bits so I have to be in shape. I love being on a health kick. I love when I’m in that zone of being really healthy and performing every night. I love waking up in a different city every day seeing and meeting the fans. It’s what I do everything for – so I can tour.