.Fun and Pop, But Scary, Too, Kim Petras Revives Bubblegum

The German sensation brings an edge and a message to bouncy pop.

Although it has existed for more than fifty years, the musical genre known as Bubblegum Pop rarely makes it into the conversations about contemporary music or music history. Internationally acclaimed Bubblegum Pop icon Kim Petras is on the precipice of changing that forever.

The 27-year-old German singer-songwriter has been a sensation all over Europe since releasing her first EP, One Piece of Tape, as a teen-ager. She has since found herself writing Billboard charting songs through several independently released projects and getting Hollywood’s attention with intriguing visuals. The video to her 2017 break-out tune, “I Don’t Want It All,” featured Paris Hilton as her fairy-godmother/muse, and that same year, Paper Magazine listed her as “most likely to dominate the pop charts,” making Petras the heir-apparent to the hot-pink throne.

“‘I Don’t Want It All’ was about trying to be what I wanted to be like, but wasn’t,” said Petras, who will be bringing her Clarity Tour to The Fox Theater on Saturday, Oct. 26. “As I matured as an artist, I wanted to begin to show different sides of myself. I wanted to include my emotions very early on because I’m really proud of all my sides.”

From the start, Petras has brought a surprising emotional freight and complexity to her songs. What made “I Don’t Want It All” unique in the world of Bubblegum Pop was its sinister edge, something that is not typically expected in the music. The song is about shaking out dollars and maxing out credit cards of would-be suitors as the chorus goes “If I can’t get it (NOW)/I don’t want it/I don’t want it/I don’t want it/I don’t want it all,” making it more about extortion than limerence. Her follow-up song, 2019’s “All I Do Is Cry,” drips with a heart-sick pathos mixed with a high-tempo “trap”-inspired beat. “All I do is cry about you/I don’t wanna die without you/Thought that you were the exception/Took a fatal blow to my heart/I just want for you to need me/You’re just gonna keep me bleeding,” she sings, over this very catchy, dance-floor-ready track.

In her 2018 release, Turn Off The Light Vol. 1, Petras broke further ground in the world of Bubblegum Pop by joining the ranks of The Cramps, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, and Siouxsie & The Banshees in creating perhaps the first Halloween-themed EP in the genre. “That album came from us asking the question, ‘With all these Christmas albums out here right now, why aren’t there any Halloween albums?’ She said. “We couldn’t think of any recent ones, so we made one. We wanted to make it fun and make it pop, but scary!” The results were danceable pop tunes infused with music reminiscent of horror-movie soundtracks like Halloween and The Exorcist.

In June, Petras dropped, Clarity, her first full album, and announced the release of Turn Off The Light Vol. 2 on October 31 with her new video to “Icy,” the album’s lead single.

“‘Icy’ is about me becoming fully mature, “she said. “In ‘All I Want To Do Is Cry,’ I’m talking about being hurt and not knowing where to turn, and in this song I’m saying, ‘I used to cry over you, baby/I’ve wasted all this time/Now I’m on a higher level/I ain’t ever gonna settle/Plenty offers on the table/Baby, I don’t even hate ya/Really, you did me a favor,’ which is about understanding your worth, standing up for yourself, and relying on your inner-strength to get you through. I think that’s an important thing to share with my listeners.”

Petras has spent most of her young life in the spotlight. Having suffered gender dysphoria since the age of two, she is one of the youngest people to undergo female hormone treatments when she was 12-years old. This brought her international attention well before she started taking the world of Bubblegum Pop to unprecedented places. One would think that the isolation of fame and touring would have negative impacts on her and her work. Instead, Petras has created a better world for herself through her music.

“I love being on the road,” she said. “When I’m touring, I have time to write songs, and when I’m in the studio, I have the time to prepare for the tour. The processes feed into each other. I travel with my friends. My producer is one of my best friends. The singers and songwriters I work with are my friends. I love my job. I love my work. It’s my favorite thing to do and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.”

Petras has already made world history and has expanded the boundaries of Bubblegum Pop by making it, content-wise, just as provocative and challenging as punk and rock music. All the while, she has been an icon to trans and non-binary young people by giving voice and representation in world that sometimes seems hell-bent on rendering them invisible.

“I’m honored to inspire people,” Petras said. “I’m not expecting people to do what I’m doing; I just want to inspire people to be their best selves.”

D. Scot Miller
Managing Editor of The East Bay Express, Former Associate Editor of Oakland Magazine and Alameda Magazine, Columnist-In-Residence at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)'s Open Space, Advisory Board Member of Nocturnes Journal of Literary Arts, and regular contributor to several newspapers, websites and magazines. Miller is the founder of The Afrosurreal Arts Movement through his publication of The Afrosurreal Manifesto in The San Francisco Bay Guardian, May 20, 2009.


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