With 30 minutes until soundcheck, Petras talked to Billboard about her spooky new project, her quest to win over radio with “Heart to Break” (it’s been bopping around right outside the Mainstream Top 40 radio chart all month) and what it’s like to inspire young transgender fans: “I'm so happy that little girls that are just like me have a pop star in like a crystal castle singing about heartbreak. That's such a beautiful thought to me.”
Billboard: Where did you come up with this idea to release a Halloween-themed mixtape?
Kim Petras: It all happened after we wrote “Close Your Eyes.” Sarah Hudson, Jesse Saint John and my friend, Aaron Joseph, we write all the stuff together, and we just came up with that song and it just felt so good that I wanted to make a whole project in this sonic world. There's a lot of people who put out Christmas albums and Christmas songs and we were like, “why are there no Halloween albums?” So we just wanted to make a dark-pop project and it just organically happened.
Mariah Carey has Christmas on lockdown, but this could solidify you as the Queen of Halloween.
Yeah, I hope so. I'm so happy Elvira jumped in. She's the legit Queen of Halloween. That kind of lifted this whole record, to have a Halloween legend on it. But I love Halloween, it's my favorite holiday.
Sonically and lyrically, it reminds me of some of Lady Gaga's darker stuff, like "Bloody Mary" and "Monster." Was she on your mood board?
Always. Of course, I listened to the Fame Monster. There's a lot of Kavinsky on there and the Drive soundtrack. I'm inspired by horror movie themes, the Jeepers Creepers theme, It Follows, you know. Rihanna's “Disturbia,” obviously.
It was very, very freeing — the dark side. It was very much the perspective of being taken over by a demon and accepting that you're like evil and you kill guys, you know? [laughs]
It felt really cool to break free a little bit, because people definitely categorize me. Of course, all I've put out so far is very bubblegum, very happy, very shiny, very girly. This is still very, very pop and shiny but, I'm wanna experiment with all kinds of pop. I have a million different sides to me. It just felt really great to show a different side. I think a lot of people will be pleasantly surprised.
Speaking on your different sides, some of your songs paint you as a party girl. Is that something that you identify with, or is that a persona created for your music?
It's based on both of those things. I spend most of my time in the studio, but when I party, I party hard. I love partying.
When I was writing "I Don't Want it At All," I was sleeping on a futon. I write about how I want my life to be — the ideal, fun version of myself, because a lot of times I write to get myself out of sadness or sad thoughts.
I always wanted people to forget about reality and come into my little pop universe. That's my goal. I think reality can be so depressing sometimes, and all the bad in the world, and all the shit that's going on can be really sad. Music always got me out of funks, and pushed me to keep going and keep moving.
So it's a little bit of pop escapism. “Heart to Break" is catching on with radio.
Yes! Oh my god, finally.
Have you heard it while you were out, unexpectedly?
I heard it in a Sephora, which was sick. My favorite place; it seemed like surreal. I’ve also heard it in clubs a bunch, and on the radio. It’s a weird, amazing feeling. I've been on a radio promo tour for almost six months now, so it's taking longer than ever to get a song on the radio. It's a whole different game -- I had no idea. It's been a hustle, but it's so worth it.
You tweeted that a 7-year-old trans girl told you that you inspire her. Does that happen often?
It usually happens on the Internet. People on the Internet write that I inspired them to come out as transgender. That's happened to me since I was 12 years old, after that first documentary. It’s still touching and amazing. I just wanna keep fighting for trans rights and I care so much. And meeting beautiful little trans girls, they inspire me to be who I am.
She's freakin' seven and she reminded me so much of myself. I was always, like, “I’m a girl, bitch,” my whole life [laughs]. I'm so happy that little girls that are just like me have a pop star in like a crystal castle singing about heartbreak. That's such a beautiful thought to me.
For sure! And in that same tweet, you mentioned that people don't want to give you credit for fighting for trans rights, but obviously, you've been doing this since you were an adolescent. Why do you think people aren’t giving you credit?
I spent my entire childhood and my teen years only fighting for trans rights and putting my artist career behind that, and not advertising that. Even though I was always writing music, I was fighting for the cause. Then, I was just like, “Okay, now I want to be an artist and be taken seriously.” I don't want people to just see me as transgender.
That's the thing with being transgender: people just see that and nothing else. So, yeah, when I put out new music, I wasn't advertising myself as, “I’m the trans artist.” I think a lot of people take that as not supporting the trans community. But it's like the opposite. To me, it's like, if I can be taken seriously for my music and me being trans is a sidenote, then that's such a step closer towards equality. I just want trans women [to be celebrated] for what they do and being amazing people. I don't want them to just be known as, “Oh, you got a sex change.”
Right. And your music speaks for itself. I mean, obviously, I think that.
Thank you so much! But, I've worked so hard on it, and I'm so proud of my music and then a lot of times, it's just like, “do you miss being a dude?” and it's like well, “Fuck off!” I worked too hard to answer that stupid-ass question. [laughs]
Some people take that as not supporting the trans community, which is crazy to me. I'm openly trans and I love being trans and I love the trans community. I just want to normalize being trans. I want people to stop making it this crazy label.
Totally. I know you have to get to soundcheck, so one last question: you're on the road with Troye Sivan. Have you gotten to spend any time with him?
We've hung out a bunch backstage, we've had a couple drinks together, we go out to dinners. I love him. He's so cute and adorable.
People are coming out and singing every single song with him and it's a party every night. It's been so dreamy.
Check out Turn Off the Light, Vol. 1 below.