The future of pop is here.
"People would throw their lunches on me," Germany-born Los Angeles-based pop star Kim Petras says, reflecting on her school years. "I had no friends and was totally not popular, so I would always skip school and watch Britney Spears videos, or… bunk home from school and watch Britney Spears videos all day!"
Instead, she used music to escape the harsh reality of adolescence. "Pop music and music videos were always my happy place – I'd rather be Britney in the ‘Lucky' video on a floating star in a fake studio than go to school. Even now, I go into Zen mode when I listen to music. It feels like my problems don't exist; that's what I love about music – and I feel like that's a mutual thing for many people, that it makes them feel like they're understood."
Growing up in a music-loving family, Kim's parents would listen to Miles Davis, Julie Garland, Billie Holliday and a lot of free jazz, as well as harmonising songs from Disney movies with her older sisters.
"Music was always a way to entertain ourselves," she remembers. It was around the age of 12, though, that she started getting interested in songwriters. "I saw a documentary about Carole King and got really obsessed with Cyndi Lauper, Boy George and Freddie Mercury.
"I was like, ‘Okay, I'm going to be a pop songwriter and write a tonne of hits. From the age of 12 that was my goal every day, I would be in my bedroom writing songs… they really sucked at the beginning," she admits, "but then they got better."
While writing in her bedroom in Cologne, Kim started posting covers on YouTube - but success didn't come overnight. "I started researching studios, knocking on people's doors and finding producers to work with, really taking the steps that I needed to."
A few years later, after turning 18, Kim got a record deal; but the pop star life wasn't quite what she expected. "My first thing was writing a laundry detergent single in Germany, but then once the covers got more recognised, random producers with no cuts started sending me tracks because I was always labelling myself as a songwriter – even from as far as LA."
Around a year later, Kim moved to LA, having saved up money from her waitressing job back in Germany. "It was an online thing of meeting producers really. In the beginning, I had to go back and forth; the last time they told me I wouldn't get in without a visa, I got a publishing deal… I got lucky," she remembers, sounding understandably relieved.
Expectedly though, she doesn't get much time to travel home ("the last time my mum drove from Cologne to Berlin to see me for one day"). Moving to LA was inevitable for Kim, though, because it's "where the pop songwriter world is", she suggests.
"It's amazing; I've learnt to collaborate here, I've met so many people that are now like a music family to me, and I've worked with so many of my idols…"
That's not to say her new life wasn't a challenge at first. "I was sleeping on studio couches and writing three songs every day - just trying to get noticed and get a buzz going about myself."
After Fergie of The Black Eyed Peas fame picked up on one of Kim's songs, she started getting attention from industry types; and everything quickly fell into place. "From there I was like, ‘Hey, I have my own artist project too - I have my own album', which I was totally planning!" she laughs.
Now with 23 million Spotify streams to her own name, things are moving fast for Kim – without any major label backing. "I'm with AWAL [Artists Without A Label], so I'm pretty much doing it myself – with help from my amazing manager," she considers.
Remaining an independent artist is important to Kim, mainly because she's free to drop new music however and whenever she wants to, which is great for her fans because she has hundreds of songs ready to go.
"I'm constantly in the studio writing new stuff, so I don't want to have to wait just because Taylor Swift's new album is coming out. Every other artist then gets pushed back, that's just the reality of it."
Instead, Kim can release songs in real time with her fans. Having that freedom makes making music fun, she adds. "Instead of it being a waiting game and frustrating not to be able to drop your songs and apologising to your fans about it."
Though she still talks to her manager and producers about what the next move should be, she laughingly declares: "I'm free as a bird!"
Being an independent artist hasn't stopped her face from appearing on billboards in Los Angeles, New York and London, though. "There was one huge one on Madison Square Garden, which was crazy!" she gushes.
Seeing herself in such iconic places hasn't quite sunk in. "That shit is super surreal; it's such a weird feeling because you dream about stuff like that, and then it happens. It's such a strange thing to look at when it comes true."
As if seeing herself on massive billboards wasn't crazy enough, Kim is now hailed as the "future of pop" by the genre's undisputed queen, Charli XCX. The pair teamed up for a track (the brilliant ‘Unlock It'), and it was all thanks to one chance meeting at the first LA show of PC Music affiliate and Charli collaborator SOPHIE.
"We just hung out, partied a bit after the show and then the next day she texted me asking, ‘Do you wanna jump on this song for my next mixtape?' I replied and then she texted me the song! She got my number from a stylist who we both know and was there that night too."
The next day, Kim and a friend headed to the studio and wrote the verse for ‘Unlock It'. After the dream collaboration became a reality, Kim joined Charli and her gang at the Pop 2 show in New York. "Charli's whole crew is super cool and interesting, I love her," she says; "I've been a fan for a long time, ever since the first record. And I love that she's spontaneous and quick too."
Kim isn't letting the whirlwind success get to her. "I feel excited; I have hundreds of songs - I can't wait to drop this first record. I have this album ready to go, and I love it."
And what can her growing legion of fans expect from it? "The album is a lot about the way I thought LA was going to be when I was a kid, and how it's super glamorised; then moving here and the reality of it."
While that's the concept, she mainly wants people to have fun and forget about their problems when listening to her music; "like how I felt when I ran home from school to watch Britney Spears music videos. That's what I want to achieve," she considers. There are some songs about her feelings and being heartbroken, too, but overall, "I want it to be a party and for everyone to have the best time."
A self-confessed perfectionist, Kim says it can take her up to a month to finish a song, and the inspirations are always very different. "It can come from me talking to a friend, or if I'm watching a movie and somebody says something interesting. I can be in an Uber and suddenly have a melody in my head... and sometimes I have no idea at all, and I just sing some jibberish melody into the microphone and then later add in lyrics to it."
But, for Kim, the magic of songwriting is when the big ideas come into her head. "That's what I love; sometimes I get a complete concept of something with a title in my head." Though, she admits, its rarely happens. "Some songs you have to really work on," she suggests, revealing that ‘Heart To Break' took six months to finish. "We did at least ten sessions on that song; it was a total crossword puzzle. Songwriting is such a fascinating thing," she summarises. "Every song is a new experience with a different set of challenges."
Taken from the June issue of Dork - order your copy below. Kim Petras plays The Courtyard Theatre in London on 25th May, and Birmingham Pride on 26th May.