Pop music in 2018 is an entirely different creature than the iconic pop of, say, 1998. Twenty years ago, pop was colored a bright Bubble Yum pink: sassy artists like Britney Spears and the Spice Girls ruled the airwaves with bouncy, sugary hooks, while R&B-pop breakouts like Destiny’s Child and Aaliyah were laying the foundations for a new glossy, rhinestone-sparkly Top 40 aesthetic. These days, pop is moodier, more dark and angsty than the days of “…Baby One More Time”—a reflection, perhaps, of our troubling times. Enter Kim Petras, who is turning back the clock on irreverent pop and bringing bubblegum back.
Petras officially broke out in 2017 with her undeniably catchy consumerist pop anthem “I Don’t Want It At All,” the video for which starred reigning 2000s tabloid princess Paris Hilton. The unabashedly frothy “sugar baby” song aligned the 25-year-old German singer-songwriter with the likes of pop peers Carly Rae Jepsen and Charli XCX, the latter of whom she collaborated with on “Unlock It,” off Charli’s glistening Pop 2 mixtape.
On Valentine’s Day, the rising pop star dropped her latest single, “Heart to Break,” a bubbly, ‘80s-hued bop featuring an infectious, insta-sing-along hook. “‘Heart to Break’ took six months to write. I worked at the chorus for a while and we made probably ten different versions or something,” Petras shares.
“We really tortured ourselves getting it to the perfect point. The concept of it is really just, ‘I don’t care, it’s a fad for me!’ That’s the story of my dating life. I jump into unhealthy relationships like, ‘Yay!’” she adds, laughing.
To celebrate another pop homerun, I caught up with Petras to talk about how she nurses a broken heart, working with Paris Hilton and all things pop, from Gwen Stefani to Robyn.
Suit by Dior (Vintage), T-Shirt by Woodhouse.
Fans were really excited when “Heart to Break” dropped on Valentine’s Day.
I was really excited about everyone’s reaction to it. It just got on the iTunes Pop Chart, which is huge, and Spotify put it on their New Releases playlist which was exciting.
Are you planning a music video for it?
Yeah! I actually have treatments for it with my friend Nicholas Harwood. He’s amazing and we did the “Faded” video together. We’re going to film in Los Angeles.
What do you do to get over a broken heart?
I write songs. That’s always been what I do when I’m [feeling] down in general, or have to get over something or pick myself back up. It’s easier for me to write I’m sad. But also it’s important to just keep yourself busy—write songs, read or watch movies, distract yourself as much as possible, I guess.
Also, I try not to become super anti-social because whenever I do that, like where I won’t hang out with my friends, that’s when I get really sad. I try to go out even when I really don’t feel like it.
Don’t just sit around. Try to just brush your hair and shower! Don’t be like, a total bedhead who won’t see anybody, because that happens to me. I won’t want to see anybody and won’t shower or even want to look in the mirror… You’ve got to wake up and try your best to pick yourself up.
Earrings by Louis Vuitton.
Body Suit by Norma Kamali, Pants XB OFCL by Brandon Sun, Shoes by Manolo Blahnik.
Your visuals are always so strong and I love how unabashedly pop they are, because I’m a big pop fan. I love the color of pop music, how bright and shiny it is.
I love pop music. I grew up watching Britney videos and Spice Girls videos and Gwen Stefani videos and Madonna videos … I definitely like want to make visuals that are close to those, you know?
I read somewhere that you really liked Gwen Stefani’s first album.
You mean Love. Angel. Music. Baby.?
Yeah! It’s my favorite album.
Me too! I love that record and I thought it was super groundbreaking. I think if any of those songs came out today, they’d still be huge hits. It’s so good. I mean, I love her No Doubt phase too, but Love. Angel. Music. Baby. is like, a brilliant pop album.
What’s your favorite era of pop music? The ‘80s, ‘90s or 2000s?
Probably the ‘80s. I love the big, ‘80s dramatic pop songs … I think they paved the way for pop now, but I’m kind of obsessed with all the good pop songs from all the eras. There was amazing pop stuff happening in the ‘90s, and incredible stuff in the 2000s. I’m a big fan of all of the eras but if I had to pick, it’d be ‘80s music.
It’s a hard question for a pop fan because there’s just so much good stuff happening in every era, and each one helped birth new sounds and visuals for the next. But I agree, there’s something about the big hair and Madonna and Cyndi Lauper…
And I really think those sounds are holding up!
Who are some of the most underappreciated pop stars in your opinion?
I don’t think Marina and the Diamonds gets as much credit as she deserves. She’s a super incredible songwriter and does her own thing. With her, I always felt like she deserves more. Also, Robyn is incredible.
Growing up in Germany, did you have a specific vision or fantasy about Hollywood?
That’s actually a big part of my sound: just my imagination of what America and L.A. and Hollywood and the music industry here would be like. I remember over-glamorizing everything and then when I came here I was like, “What? It’s just a normal place?” Escapism is such a big thing in my music.
I can totally see that in the music video for “I Don’t Want It At All,” that Beverly Hills kind of fantasy. You worked with Paris Hilton in that video. As a teen, did you grow up watching shows like The Simple Life?
All the time! I loved Paris. I had pictures of her everywhere and was just a total fan of hers and the show. There’s something about her whole life—it’s just so fun and funny, you know, because she doesn’t take herself seriously. She’s a really cool person, actually, even though she’s like, mad rich. A lot of girls dreamt to be as rich as Paris Hilton where it’s like, “Oh my God, I just wish I could have everything I want right now!” And then just go and get it. [Laughs] I wanted to play a spoiled L.A. girl and she heard the song and loved it. She was the coolest and loveliest person.
The number one thing about myself, however, is that I always want something to be fun. I want people to forget about their problems and feel completely excited.
I think Charli XCX is another artist who makes pop that is really emotional but also escapist. I was so excited that you two collaborated.
She’s amazing. I love all her stuff, but the collaboration happened so randomly. We’ve never actually written in the studio together. She just texted me the track like, “Do you want to jump on it?” I’m a huge fan of hers.
What are you working on right now? Can we expect an album this year?
For sure. The cool thing about something like Spotify is that I can release songs pretty much whenever I want to, even without needing it to be a full project or album. But there’s definitely a lot of songs that all tie together. It’s like a little of a concept record and I can’t wait to share that.
So yeah, I have an album that’s ready to go, but I’m seeing how the singles do and I’m still writing more. It’s all about timing… I’m strategizing with my manager. I have my own label, so there’s really nobody telling me what to do, which is great. I definitely hope I can drop it really, really soon.
I didn’t realize that you have your own label and I’m really happy to hear that because I really like the idea of you having creative control.
Officially, I’ve been a songwriter for other people and labels longer than I’ve been an artist, you know. Labels can be great but labels can also not be great. A lot of people have struggled to get their vision across. I’m really excited that I just get to do this exactly how I feel and exactly how I want to do it.
Body Suit by Kaimin, Pants by Champion, Shoes by Reebok.
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