Transgender pop star

Transgender pop star

“I don’t care about being the first transgender teen idol at all,” said the German-born singer.

Kim Petras Just Wants to Be a Pop Star

“I don’t care about being the first transgender teen idol at all,” said the German-born singer.

Kim Petras dreams of being a pop hit maker. Her songs have been streamed millions of times on Spotify. Credit Credit Caroline Tompkins for The New York Times

    March 17, 2018

Kim Petras’s debut music video, “I Don’t Want It at All,” dives deep into the heart of teenage girl greed. Set in a fantasy world of Los Angeles boudoirs and boutiques, the clip finds the singer on a frenzied shopping spree, outfitted in what she calls “my bitchiest clothes,” some of which make her look like a walking wad of bubble gum.

“I want all my clothes designer,” Ms. Petras sings. “I want someone else to buy them/If I cannot get it right now/I don’t want it at all.”

It’s a sendup of petulance and avarice so sly, it could be a millennial’s answer to Madonna’s “Material Girl,” a reference that makes Ms. Petras, 25, swoon.

“I always thought that was one of the coolest pop songs ever,” she said over drinks at Dylan’s Candy Bar Cafe, a cartoon-colored Upper East Side restaurant that looks like Pee Wee Herman’s idea of a fine dining establishment. “As a kid, I watched every Madonna documentary and tour. I was obsessed with her, and with any pop star of the ’80s.”

As an aspiring music artist, Ms. Petras has emulated them. But she has also brought a rare back story and perspective to the pursuit. Ms. Petras, who is transgender and was born in Germany, has lately made major strides toward becoming a specific kind of pop star.

While many transgender artists have achieved significant success in music, including Teddy Geiger (who has written for One Direction and James Blunt) and Sophie (a recording artist who has produced songs for Madonna and Vince Staples), Ms. Petras’s character falls closer than any before her to the classic girl-pop mold of a young Britney Spears or Katy Perry.

In the last year, Ms. Petras signed with one of teen-pop’s modern-day hit makers, Larry Rudolph, who has managed the careers of Ms. Spears, Miley Cyrus and 5th Harmony. Ms. Petras has appeared on a giant billboard in Times Square (“I’m basically the new Liza Minnelli,” Ms. Petras tweeted the day it went up). And she was one of four young artists chosen for Spotify’s Rise program in October for emerging pop “superstars,” shooting her song to No. 1 on the company’s Global Viral chart.

“When I heard Kim perform live in our studio, the hair on my arms stood up,” said Troy Carter, the global head of creative services at Spotify. “I hadn’t been blown away like that since seeing Gaga at the start.”

Ms. Petras has amassed more than 16 million streams on Spotify, with songs informed by a style and point of view that’s both modern and antique. Much of her frothy approach harks back to the era of “Dynasty” shoulder pads and Cyndi Lauper quirks, bolstered by Ms. Petras’s full-throated vocals and ultrabright melodies.

“There’s a soft spot in my heart for the color and fantasy of the ’80s,” Ms. Petras said while surveying a room anointed with cupcake-shaped banquettes. “My whole theme is fantasizing about the way I want life to be.”

Desperately Seeking Gloss

Ms. Petras has shown uncommon will in making her personal and professional dreams come true. In 2004, as a 12-year-old growing up in Uckerath, a suburb of Cologne, Germany, she joined the first wave of children to receive hormone therapy paid for by German health care. (She had full gender reassignment surgery by 16.)

Crucial to this was the unwavering support from her parents. Both have arts backgrounds: Her mother, Kornelia, is a dancer; her father, Lutz, is an architect. While they are liberal politically, “they’re not activists or anything,” Ms. Petras said.

“I was 5 or 6 when I told them, ‘I’m a girl,’ and they were like, ‘Yeah, we figured.’ My mom had a couple of transgender friends,” Ms. Petras said. “But I was still depressed and wanted to kill myself because I didn’t identify with my body. My mom told me once I’m old enough, I can do something about it.”

Until then, they told her to dress neutrally at school, though at home she was allowed to wear “the most out-there, girly-girl outfits,” she said.

In middle school, she was bullied. Then, she faced doubters in the medical community. “The first few doctors we went to told my parents, ‘Your kid’s crazy,’” Ms. Petras said. “They would ask gross, random questions, like ‘Are you attracted to your mom?’ It took us a year to find a psychologist who said, ‘It’s pretty obvious you’re a girl.’”

By 14, Ms. Petras began to throw herself single-mindedly into songwriting, making demos on GarageBand, the music app. While her parents loved the cool of Miles Davis, and her older sisters were drawn to the antisocial force of heavy metal, Ms. Petras preferred the gleaming sheen and universal allure of pop. “It was a little bit of a rebellion,” she said.

Her aspirations went beyond performing. More than a pop star, she pined to be part of the hit-making process as a writer and producer. While her classmates were studying trigonometry, she knocked on doors of local recording studios and created demos.

Although she now says those demos “sucked,” they were enough to land her a “wack publishing deal,” she said, with Universal Germany while she was still in her teens. (The highlight was writing a jingle for a detergent brand.)

All the while, she longed to be in Los Angeles, the epicenter of gloss.

“A Disney Princess”

Five years ago, a YouTube video she uploaded featuring her karaoke take on “Don’t Wake Me Up” by Chris Brown earned the attention of an obscure Los Angeles producer named Chris Abraham, who encouraged her to come over.

Ms. Petras got three-month tourist visas and slept on studio couches, writing songs and networking tirelessly. Finally, in 2014, a new songwriting partner she had begun working with introduced her to the Stereotypes, the songwriting and producing team who won this year’s Grammys for song and record of the year for “That’s What I Like” by Bruno Mars.

They gave Ms. Petras use of their studio at no charge and connected her to recording artists including JoJo and Fergie. While the song Ms. Petras wrote for Fergie wasn’t released, it created enough buzz to land her a publishing deal with BMG.

The publishing company connected her to the producer Dr. Luke, who had been keeping a low profile in the wake of the 2014 allegations by Kesha that he had sexually abused her and kept her in contractual servitude. Ms. Petras and Dr. Luke began working on tracks, including “I Don’t Want It at All.” (While she has been criticized for working with him, she said that her experience “has been amazing. He’s been nothing but supportive.”)

Dr. Luke introduced Ms. Petras to Mr. Rudolph, who fell in love with her immediately. “I’m in the star business,” Mr. Rudolph said, “and she’s a star.” He considered her transgender identity to be “a strong footnote, but a footnote” he said. “I wouldn’t have gotten involved if I didn’t think she was the real deal.”

Likewise, many of her fans are drawn to her music first, before they know her personal story. They like the “fact that I’m unapologetically pop,” she said. “It’s very different from what’s in the mainstream now, which is more rhythmic. Also, they love that I’m serving looks in my music videos.”

Celebrities have also been supportive. Charli XCX asked her to perform on a song, “Unlock It,” which also features the rapper Jay Park. And Paris Hilton leapt at the chance to play herself as a pivotal character in the video for “I Don’t Want It at All.”

“As soon as I walked on the set I thought, ‘Oh my God, we look like sisters,’” Ms. Hilton said. “I always thought of myself almost like a cartoon character, like a Barbie doll. She’s iconic like that.”

In the scenario for Ms. Petras’s forthcoming video for “Heart to Break,” she took a cue from some fans. “On the internet, there was talk about me as a trans Disney princess,” she said. “So we thought, ‘What would that look like?’”

Should the video blow up, Ms. Petras would break fresh queer-pop ground. “I don’t care about being the first transgender teen idol at all,” she said, before taking a final spin on a seat swirled with candy cane colors. “I just want to be known as a great musician.”

Two seconds later, she reconsidered: “On the other hand, that would be totally sick.”


Transgender pop star


Transgender pop star

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Written by American News

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