Kim Petras loves video games because, just like the pop music that has made her famous, games offer brief escape from the harder edges of reality. So when we ask her to pick the location for a first date—on the eve of Valentine’s Day no less!—she naturally suggests an arcade.
We meet for the first time just as the sun is setting on a mild February afternoon at Las Vegas Arcade in Soho, London, and I’m quick to compliment Petras’s red tracksuit bottoms, which have an in-built stiletto heel – emblematic of a star who has sung about fashion labels, trashy parties, boys, sex and tits ever since her debut single, “I Don’t Want It At All,” back in 2017.
Now, though, with a new album due out this summer, Petras’s stardom has gone up a level. Just days ahead of our date, she performed at the Brits, and she made headlines at the Grammys a week before that. Her (literally) fiery performance of “Unholy” with Sam Smith at the Grammys was dubbed “Satanic” by conservatives; but it was also the night she made history as the first out trans woman to win a Grammy.
For many years, Kim, now 30, seemed somewhat unsure of how central she wanted her trans experience to be in her public image as an artist. As her fame has grown, though, so has her public embrace of her own relationship to queerness—an important thing, no doubt, to the legion of young trans fans who will see in her mainstream success the possibility of being celebrated for their actual talents and interests, rather than defined by their gender identity. Yet on the day of our date, the media and social media in the UK is saturated with the horrifying news of the murder of Brianna Ghey, a trans girl who was just 16. In a community still marked by trauma, Petras seems to have accepted her role as a beacon of hope.
In our conversation, she’s great fun. We spend our afternoon playing Mario Kart and air hockey (I beat her at both – sorry girl) and talk about everything from the lowkey sluttiness of my knee-high socks to Petras’s reputation for directly responding to criticisms on social media: “Sometimes I drink and try to have a conversation with fans,” she says. “There isn’t a single person who hasn’t fucked up online.” When we leave, she asks for a selfie, and we say we’ll stay in touch. I hope she doesn’t ghost.
VICE: Kim, this is my first date with another trans girl!
KIM PETRAS: Oh my goodness! The dolls are dating.
It’s T4T, baby! You’re a Virgo, I’m an Aries, and in my experience, the Aries-Virgo chemistry is usually good. I have to admit that in dating I’m sometimes the person who brings the drama – do you bring drama or are you chill?
I like to think I'm chill, for sure. I usually just want to get to know someone and hang out and, like, ease into it.
So when you're hanging out with someone, and you’re getting to know them and you like them, when do you think is the best time to let them know you have a song called “Throat Goat”?
Oh, they already know that. That’s the thing – it’s made dating a lot worse, honestly.
Does fame make dating harder?
Yes and no, I think more people want to go on a date with you – so that’s good. But then sometimes I think it makes it difficult for people to not already have an idea in their head about you, about who you are, and to just come in and get to know you, you know?
We’re in the middle of London, and you’ve just performed at the Brits. Are you into the UK and British people?
I love the UK. I spend more time here than ever recently because of “Unholy”, so I've been here long enough to make a bunch of friends. I go to pubs, and I really am considering getting a place here. Despite popular belief, the food is actually really, really good once you find your spots.
I’ve heard that you – like many a trans girl before you – found a spiritual home in the gay clubs. Have you ever been to a provincial gay club in England? That’s where I found myself as a kid – flashing neon lights, dry ice machine and the gentle fragrance of vodka Red Bull and sick.
I’ve experienced the German version of those because where I grew up was pretty provincial – a tiny town. But I haven’t been to a gay club out of London yet. Maybe you could take me?
“A perfect going-out look is something that you can actually move in.” —Kim Petras
Alright, babe, that’s our second date. Kim Petras and Shon Faye pulling up to Revenge in Brighton: Let’s get it. What’s your ideal vibe on a night out?
The most important thing for me is the people – I need my friends, my favourite people. That’s my main reason for going out these days – to celebrate together. I think it definitely starts with drinks and getting ready together. Honestly, I love smoking weed before and, yeah, I just blast music. We just pregame to, like, whatever we think the hottest tracks are. Sometimes I have some DJ friends come over and they DJ while we get ready. Also, the outfit’s really important.
I definitely think a perfect going-out look is something that you can actually move in. Sometimes it's difficult because you want to be fashion as well.
The good thing about a gay club, of course, is the option to go sluttier as a girl because you’re not as likely to get hassled. So I always aim for slutty in those venues.
Totally! Me too. Slutty is my go-to honestly. Everyone loves a slutty look.
Your music is pure pop escapism. At a time when female artists are generally encouraged to be confessional, you seem to just adopt and cycle through quite obviously stylised personas quite shamelessly – whether that is the slut persona on Slut Pop, the spoiled princess of “I Don’t Want It All” or the underworld queen of “There Will Be Blood”. Why has that been your approach?
I think for me, like, childhood was just rough. I grew up with not much money, not much access to stuff, outside a major city – I just wanted access to a more fun life. That wasn't just struggle, you know. I had a lot of struggle early on in life with finding myself and just dark thoughts and dark things. People saying shitty things about me, not being accepted in school and thinking I would never be accepted by society. And so once I got myself out and moved to a different country, I was just like, “I want to have fun in this music and share that with people.” I want to spread joy in music because for me it was a way out of – at the time – a pretty depressed, dark mind.
What’s the greatest pop song of all time, in your opinion?
“Like A Virgin”, Madonna.
Real. You met her, right?
It was amazing. Madonna and her music really changed my life and made me feel like some got it. She was a trailblazer. She’s mother.
You’re going to have baby dolls in our community saying that about you – “she’s mother” – I mean you just became the first out trans woman to win a Grammy. How do you feel about the possible burden of responsibility you now carry as a trans woman in the public eye?
I love it. I feel like I'm at this point in my life where I can take it. That wasn't always the way it was. Despite being crazy on social media, I was actually quite shy and nervous and didn't really know how to be a trans pop star. There wasn't really a blueprint for that, so I just wanted to make music, and I just found my fans and they showed me over the last few years how to take this responsibility and feel proud of it. I feel honoured that I get to highlight trans artists before me, I love all the trailblazers in the trans community. I will forever shout them out and forever be inspired by them, but also there's now other trans musicians and actors that are coming through and doing their shit and I feel like I'm not like alone anymore – the pressure is off me a bit.
“I feel honoured that I get to highlight trans artists before me”. —Kim Petras
There’s been quite a lot of backlash towards you and Sam Smith by right-wing media. What are your thoughts about that?
My thoughts are that any kind of backlash that I face is, you know, a whole lot better than a trans kid getting murdered in a park, like just happened here, or trans women getting murdered in America with no consequences. I think none of that [backlash in media] is comparable to the real world, where people are actually getting fucking beat up and bullied and spit on and all that shit. That's the real world, you know? So who cares about any kind of uneducated shit that someone who has no idea how to even make a song, or be an artist and will never know, has to say about how we perform? Yes, you can have your opinion on that, you're entitled to your opinion, but I’m not gonna dress a certain way for someone. I’m not going to adjust myself. I'm a person and I want to be judged for my music, my performance skills and my looks and –
And how slay and cunty it is!
And how cunty it is!
Finally, Kim, what's next for you?
I have an album that's coming out this summer, and some singles that I'm really, really excited about. I've been working on this album for three years. It's been a transition – wow I’m really good at transitioning. It's been a transition from being an independent artist to being at a major label now. And obviously, life has changed quite a bit since then. I have a wonderful team that really wants me to make my best work. So I'm just excited about people hearing this music – I listen to my own music all the time, it’s so lame, but it’s gonna be really really fun.