Today, Kim Petras is a chart-topping pop star and recent signee to a major record label. But the road to get there was far from easy, especially for an openly trans independent artist hoping to break into the mainstream.
Petras recently sat down with Buzzfeed News to discuss the trajectory of her career. She was raised in Germany, idolizing the Spice Girls and reveling in the queer music scene from an early age. “I grew up going to gay clubs way too young,” she says. “I loved gay club music. I felt very at home with my gay friends and felt understood.”
Super fun seeing people talk about how Kim Petras should “know better” than to work with Dr. Luke as if there isn’t, historically, a reason why many trans folk and transfems in particular have no choice but to work with dangerous/bad collaborators/environments pic.twitter.com/grPbQgxlfQ
— ❄️Santa’s Little Elle-per❄️ (Elle Grenier) (@elle_oftheball) December 7, 2021
She pursued stardom almost as soon as she could get her hands on a microphone, putting tracks up on relics like Napster in her early teens. She recalls, “Back then I wanted to get discovered more than anything. But I never did. And then I learned like, Shit, I gotta do it myself.”
But she found that European media tended to treat her more like sideshow entertainment than a talented up-and-comer. “I’m seen as a joke,” she explains, “and nobody wants to talk about my music, people don’t want to work with me. I’m just, like, ‘the tr*nny on TV’ to people.”
just got blocked for defending kim petras artists like dua lipa have worked with dr. luke too recently, lets not pick and choose to attack the trans woman and the trans woman only
— HeNrY iS kIcKiNg (@MUTANTMIMA) November 30, 2021
In a tale as old as time, she decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams. Her initial attempts to break into the industry were met with opposition, largely due to her being queer. “In the beginning when I did the rounds to major labels and played them the music, people didn’t really get it,” she says. “People were kind of like, ‘Ah, I don’t know who the fanbase is for this.’ It was kind of like almost a little bit like, ‘You’re going to be a gay artist, and that’s niche and we don’t know.’ So I got shitty deals offered to me.”
The breaks came from fellow artists and producers, notably The Stereotypes who gave her use of their studio to record. With no help from the mainstream music industry, Petras pursued an independent career, getting a boost from some celebrities. Paris Hilton made a cameo in the music video for her viral debut single “I Don’t Want It at All” and another track “Unlock It” showed up on Charli XCX’s Pop 2 playlist. Eventually, Petras released her albums Clarity and Turn Off the Light under her own imprint, BunHead Records.
But even after she began recording, it was an uphill battle to get her songs picked up. She explains, “All the radio stations were weirded out. And it was like a lot of them had probably never met a trans person.”
Her single “Heart to Break” showed up on a RuPaul’s Drag Race lip sync battle, and this helped push it into Top 40 charts. She also collaborated with SOPHIE on the single “1, 2, 3 Dayz Up” and joined her for the Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides tour. While being openly queer made for no shortage of obstacles in the straight media landscape, the community of fellow queer artists have clearly had her back.
When asked whether she felt pressured to censor herself for the sake of her career, Petras responds, “I wouldn’t enjoy what I’m doing. I want to love my life, I want to feel free as an artist, I want to express myself.”