There is no doubt Kim Petras is a powerhouse singer and songwriter. Her bubblegum pop is laced with snappy lyrics and memorable melodies that can move even those deficient of rhythm to the dance floor. Petras’ debut album, “Clarity,” has its bangers but is revolutionary for more than its songs.
The German singer is the first transgender pop artist to break through into relative mainstream success. In 2009, she made her first headlines as the youngest person in history to undergo sexual reassignment surgery. Petras’ gender is important to her, but since her teenage years she’s expressed a desire to be “better known for something else, like my music.”
Petras released multiple projects before “Clarity,” such as a slew of sugary sweet singles, like her breakout hits “I Don’t Want It at All” and “Heart to Break.” The icon in the making even released a Halloween album titled “Turn Off the Light Vol. 1,” featuring the creepy club favorite “Close Your Eyes.” Petras claims that a spooky sequel, “Turn Off the Light Vol. 2,” will be released later this year.
With underrated hits on her resume and a lifetime of studying pop music, it was time for Petras to debut a full-length studio album. Released track by track, “Clarity” premiered in full in late June of this year to critical success. This new-found pop glory is welcomed by the trans community, and the acclaim of critics is the cherry on top.
The aesthetic of Petras’ first album is a blurry throwback to ‘80s and ‘90s love songs. Sharp cuts against green screens with dramatic effects create a slow motion world of wonder that absorbs listeners. The looping lyric videos for the songs off “Clarity” match perfectly with the vibes of the catchy songs.
“Icy” is easily the highlight of “Clarity.” On the track, Petras demonstrates the vocal chops to duke it out with today’s most talented singers, but also proves her solid writing skills. The line “So numb I don’t feel it inside me / so dumb I believed you really liked me” toes the line of generic — as pop does — but fits perfectly with the cold-hearted message of the song. The ‘80s-inspired breakup bop harks back to a neon time but remains fresh and in-style.
Most songs off “Clarity” are a mix of trap, pop and R&B, but some tracks, like “Sweet Spot” and “Personal Hell,” sound straight off Britney’s 2011 hit album, “Femme Fatale.” There’s a reason for that.
Petras’ main producer on “Clarity” — and the executive producer of “Femme Fatale” — are the same person. Now going by the pseudonym “Made in China,” this renowned music producer’s real name is Lukasz Gottwald, more famously known as Dr. Luke. Yes, that Dr. Luke. The so-called doctor of music has produced for almost every pop star of the 21st century, and was accused of multiple heinous acts by his previous protégé, Kesha.
The highly publicized case was a hot topic in 2014 and was part of the driving force for Kesha to write her critically-acclaimed album “Rainbow.” Multiple artists, many of whom have worked with Gottwald themselves, publicly supported Kesha during this time. One artist who has rarely spoken about the issue is Petras.
In an interview with NME, Petras stated, “I wouldn’t work with somebody I believe to be an abuser of women.” A few months later she released a statement saying, “While I’ve been open and honest about my positive experience with Dr. Luke, that does not negate or dismiss the experience of others.” In a classic game of not naming names, Petras can get away with her entire discography (save her unknown 2011 EP) produced by Gottwald.
Can we fully blame Petras, though? In a world where it’s statistically harder to succeed as a woman, and even harder to do so as a trans woman, chances to get a foot in the door are nearly impossible. Gottwald has had song after song proven to be knockout sensations. A hitmaker wanting to work with a trans artist is unheard of even today.
So what does their collaboration mean for fans of both Petras and Kesha, or people who want to support trans artists but not an alleged abuser? There is no right or wrong answer because this situation is tricky. On one hand, fans could listen to Petras’ music for Petras but still dislike Gottwald even if he cuts a check from all her work. On the other hand, you could stop supporting Petras, but then mainstream audiences and producers will take it as a sign of there being no interest in trans artists.
Supporting Petras and simultaneously abolishing Gottwald from your liked songs on Spotify is literally impossible. The moral decision comes down to each individual fan whether to support Petras or not. For some, supporting queer artists is incredibly important even if there are shady people behind the scenes.
This brings us to another controversy of Petras’. Her Halloween album is an impeccable piece of pop, so much so it nabbed her a nomination for this year’s GLAAD award for outstanding music artist. This announcement comes at the same time the GLAAD awards pulled the nomination for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” following accusations of sexual assault against its director, Bryan Singer.
Some music journalists are questioning why “Turn Off the Light Vol. 1” is still nominated if “Bohemian Rhapsody” isn’t. Petras’ talent is unquestionable, and she deserves the GLAAD nomination as much as the other artists nominated do, but the problem is her character was never the one being questioned. The album, produced by Gottwald, somehow gets a pass when the Queen biopic doesn’t.
Some speculate the cause is “Bohemian Rhapsody” contains more issues than its problematic director. Such claims that could be a factor include critics’ negative opinion of the film. Another contributing cause could be the problematic tone the movie used to portray Freddy Mercury’s queer experiences, which might not have fared well with GLAAD’s supporters.
In the end, it’s entirely up to fans whether they wish to keep streaming Petras’ music or put their support on hiatus until she works with new producers. Her confident voice and catchy lyrics can’t hide her collaborator’s past for long, so here’s to hoping the future has better plans for Petras’ talent.