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PRIDE 2022: KIM PETRAS’ SERIOUS POP (AND A MIDDLE FINGER)

German-born, L.A.-based artist Kim Petras released her album Slut Pop (Republic) in February. She’s said she knew she was trans from early childhood, and she has become one of the most high-profile trans artists in music as her triumphant Coachella 2022 set confirmed. We asked her about the record, the show and the context.

The boldness of Slut Pop is inspiring. What was the origin of the idea? At what point did you feel the songs begin to interconnect?
The origin of the idea was my friends and me calling songs that are sexy “slut pop.” We’d say, “We’re making slut pop today.” That became a running joke, and then we were, like, “Wait a minute—I think we have a whole batch of songs that fit together perfectly, which we could release for Valentine’s Day for all the single sluts out there.” It just kind of happened, and the rest is history.

Part of what makes the record notable is how it rejects sex-shaming and embraces the primal quality of a woman’s sexuality. In what ways did you find empowerment in these songs?
I’m a trans woman, and a lot of my fans and a lot of the trans community are aware how much homelessness there is for trans youth. A lot of trans youth turn to sex work to afford their transitions. Had I not had the support of my family, that would have probably happened to me. I wanted to empower my fans and make sex something that isn’t shameful; I wanted to turn it around and make it something to celebrate. Sex is beautiful and sexuality is beautiful. I don’t think anybody should be ashamed of it.

I also don’t like the way people talk about the sexy music women make. Britney Spears is an example. I don’t think music about sex gets taken seriously, and I want that to change. Not that you should take Slut Pop too seriously—it’s still fun, escapist music. But I feel really passionate about not shaming sex workers. The world needs sex workers. That’s just a fact.

You had quite the moment at Coachella recently.How has your approach to performance changed over the years? How does the new material fit into the landscape of your live set?
I’m from Germany, so I grew up around techno and rave music and naturally brought a dance element into Slut Pop. During lockdown, I missed performing so much that I threw myself into choreography full-on and learned to dance because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to have dancers onstage with me and give my fans a big pop show, so with my new music, I just started training and spending my time making that happen.

I’ve learned a lot and become much better as a performer; I figured out my way of performing. Coachella was an example of the growth I’ve had. I’m very proud, and I’m glad my fans appreciate it.

Do you ever worry that the world will not understand the full artistic framework of your music?
Absolutely. A lot of people write my music off as superficial, as bubblegum pop or just self-centered. But people don’t know what pop meant to me as a child; it was my lifeline and my reason to keep going. It made me want to be alive and prove I could be a singer and a songwriter. I’ve been told so many times that I would always be a niche artist, that I’m too trans or too gay or too this or too that. My music is very much a middle finger to all that. It means everything to me.

In a larger sense, the world is very scary for women at the moment—people telling other people what to do with their bodies—and it’s not okay. Slut Pop is kind of rebellious. It says, “I’ll do whatever I want with my body. I’ll express myself however I want and be sexual however I want.” I want to give everyone the power to take the word “slut” and words like it back from the people who try to use it as an insult. I want to celebrate it. By calling yourself a “slut,” you take the power away from people who want to shame you or tell you what to do with your body. That’s very important right now.

Is gender still an issue in pop music? Has your own sense of identity changed as you evolved as a person and an artist?
When I began in the music industry, I was just trying to fit in, hide my identity and pass as “normal.” I was a songwriter for other people partly because at the time even I didn’t really believe I could be an artist or a pop star.

And though I’m really proud of who I am, I don’t want to always be a “trans artist.” I just don’t want my gender to be the defining thing about me. I wish we could all just be what we have in our brains and our hearts instead of all these labels and boxes. I don’t want to be put in a box. I’m tired of it. I wish there were no labels for anybody.

I’ll probably fight forever to break out of the box that people create for me and tell me I have to fit into. It’s the same with people who tell me that I have to convince people that being transgender is a real thing. Though, now, I don’t accommodate that. If somebody doesn’t understand me or doesn’t understand being trans and doesn’t believe in it, I don’t try to convince them otherwise. I just say, “Fuck you” and move on. With people who don’t get it, you let me live, I’ll let you live and we’ll go our separate ways. But I’m not gonna try to accommodate your idea of what I should be.

IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE HITS LIST
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MEDIABASE ’22:
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Red and Gray pair nicely. (12/9a)
SONG REVENUE:
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GRAMMY NOMS:
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THE NEXT BIG PLAYER
in the catalog game is...
TRUMP CORP II
Totally less fraudulent than Trump Corp.
IS IT CHRISTMAS YET?
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