Kim Petras is one of the most interesting pop stars on the American charts right now. Maybe it helps that she’s German, and though the references in her music are often distinctly Euro—especially on her dyad of albums from this year, the pounding Eurodance record Feed the Beast and the softer, French-inspired Problématique—she’s enraptured a large American audience simply by being resolutely herself.
Petras is often provocative, always confident, and very funny both on record and in conversation. She’s the first trans woman to have a Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit (“Unholy” with Sam Smith) and the second to win a Grammy. And she’s coming to Portland’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum on her Feed the Beast tour Friday, Oct. 27.
WW caught up with Petras shortly after the release of the Feed the Beast Symphonic Sessions, a series of videos in which the singer reinterpreted songs from her catalog with a small orchestra.
WW: How do you prepare for a tour like this?
Kim Petras: I’ve been in rehearsals for the tour for over a month now, just every day chipping away at it. It’s the most extensive tour I’ve ever done, and there’s a lot of fun details to it, but most importantly, I just run the tour a million trillion times and don’t stop until every detail is in my brain. I’m trying to do the show exactly how it’s supposed to be but without thinking, and just have it be body memory.
Do you feel like you have any time to relax, or is this how you relax?
After production rehearsals, I’ve been going to the studio and writing songs. I love writing songs, and I think that’s how I get my feelings out at the end of the day because sometimes I feel a bit like a machine just working all the time. I always think about songs or melodies or words. So I usually go to the studio to relax, or I watch horror movies or I play video games and hang out with my dogs.
Tell me about the recent Feed the Beast Symphonic Sessions.
I think if a song is well-written, you can perform it however you like. I just felt like I wanted to focus on my vocals and sing the songs as they are. I’ve always loved classical music and orchestral music and movie music and soundtracks, so I’ve always kind of wanted to do that. It’s just kind of a little gift for the fans right before the tour.
In the videos, you’re standing on a small earthen hill, surrounded by an orchestra—where did that idea come from?
I have a cool, creative kind of family around me, and we just throw things around. We were really inspired by Twin Peaks for this one. We wanted to feel like I kind of had a rough night, like I ran away from the Beast the night before and then got to my orchestral rehearsals at the last minute and then sang my songs.
It goes well with the medieval warrior/Viking aesthetic of the Feed the Beast artwork. How did that aesthetic become part of your image?
I had a lot of talks about, like, Valhalla and Viking stuff because I worked with a lot of Swedes on this album. Germany and Sweden, we have some things in common and some things not so in common, but I went to Sweden to record some of those songs, so it’s a lot of Viking lore that I learned about just because I was around Swedes, and I’m really interested in history, so I was actually really digging into a lot of Viking mythology when I was writing the album.
Sweden has one of the world’s richest histories for pop music, and your recent music has been strongly influenced by the Eurodance of the ‘90s and ‘00s. Do you find European audiences understand or react to your music in a different way?
I think they understand my references a little more, just because if you grew up in Europe, I think there’s a lot of stranger music that gets big in general—a lot more really intense EDM and Europop stuff that you’re just familiar with if you grew up in Germany. But my American audience is definitely the most passionate audience that I have, so it’s interesting.
SEE IT: Kim Petras plays Veterans Memorial Coliseum, 300 N Ramsay Way, 503-235-8771, rosequarter.com. 8 pm Friday, Oct. 27. $45 and up. All ages.