By: Bailey Johnk
On November 27th, 2019, Kim Petras performed at the Riviera Theatre in Chicago. This was the eighteenth stop on her second solo tour in just one year, titled The Clarity Tour. Clarity is also the name of her first full length album released on June 28th, 2019.
A Germany native, Petras was born male but began insisting at just age two that she was a female. When she underwent gender-confirmation surgery at only age 16, she was deemed by many publications to be the “youngest transgender person in the world”. But more important to her story is her music. In an interview with the Huffington Post, she said “I just hate the idea of using my identity as a tool. It made me the person I am and that’s a big part of me, but I think music is about your feelings and your fantasies and it goes deeper than your gender or your sexuality”. At just age 13, she began to write her own songs. All through her teenage years, she posted covers on YouTube, obsessed with pop queens like Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Gwen Stefani, and Britney Spears. Her musical hobby turned into a career pursuit as she started spending hours in her room researching song writing, producing her own music, and sending out her demos. She was working as a waitress, saving up money for a ticket to LA, and once she made it there, she began singing at open mics and making connections in the industry. Once she got her first publishing deal and got a working visa, all bets were off. In 2017, she independently released her single “I Don’t Want It At All” and she began charting on all the streaming services, becoming a quick internet hit.
Since then, she’s released a barrage of singles she unofficially titled Era 1 and two full length albums, Clarity and a Halloween themed album titled Turn Off The Light. While all of these projects are unmistakably stamped by Kim’s classic style, they all showcase different sounds and sides of her. Era 1 is pure bubblegum pop with a sass. You can’t help but dance and have fun listening to these tracks. Clarity is more refined pop with a hip hop influence, and her lyrics take a raunchy turn. She owns her sexuality and proves she is a powerhouse, not to be messed with (I see this as her Thank U Next by Ariana Grande moment). Turn Off The Light is a complete 180, with its spooky sadistic lyrics, dirty beats, and hype instrumental tracks. This album is the good girl gone bad, the man eater, the psycho killer queen. You could easily title Clarity and Turn Off The Light as Era 2 and Era 3 because of their wildly different stories and musical explorations. Petras has proven herself to be a very multi-faceted artist. This never ending creative production ensures her career will be a long one. Just as Kim sings on her song “Massacre”, “I’ll never end, I’ll never die”.
After the opening act, a local DJ who played crazy, sick remixes of the latest top 40, rap, and the pop queens, the crowd at the Riviera Theatre was primed and ready for Kim Petras. And by primed, I mean drunk and sweaty, their limbs aching for dancing until they dropped. When she walked out in a cloud of smoke, at the top of a staircase, dressed in a short black dress with a feminine, puffy skirt, the crowd went insane with screams. While I’m used to complaining about general admission shows, being shoved between strangers, my body pressed against others, hot and uncomfortable, her fans produced a contagious energy. We felt like one collective soul, prepared to party and sing along until the lights went down.
Kim’s stage presence seemed to be too big for the size of the Riviera stage. She was dominating, confident, and altogether aloof. Too cool for school. She held a crowd of 2000 or so fans in the palm of her hand. If this control and utter star power wasn’t apparent to some in attendance, it was made obvious as Petras had the crowd chant back her classic “woo-ah” slogan over and over again. It was cultish, but if you could resist joining in, you were simply no fun. Her outfits changed consistently, from a black and white striped bathing suit to a black body suit with gothic chunky boots, a red glitter body suit, and a soft sparkly champagne mini dress.
She opened the show with upbeat songs with attitude all from Era 1 and Clarity, like “Meet the Parents”, “Got My Number”, and “Hillside Boys”. As the show transitioned into her spooky songs, her lights that backed the stage shone white crosses. As the instrumental music turn a took for the scary, the crosses began to turn upside down, melting red and ominous. When she appeared, standing on a mini revolving stage, whipping a long braid around as she did floor choreography, the fans lost their minds. She was unapologetic and over the top. I, along with everyone else, ate it up. It felt as though I was witnessing a music video firsthand. She wasn’t just singing; she was performing.
Along with some instrumental tracks she used as transitions, she sang songs from Turn Off The Light, such as “There Will Be Blood”, “Massacre” and “Death By Sex”, ending the set with “Everybody Dies”, a ballad. Many music aficionados love to discredit the artistry of singers in the pop genre, saying they depend too much on autotune, high production, choreography and visuals. They can get away with lackluster music because of the extravagant way it’s presented. When Kim Petras was belting her heart out to “Everybody Dies”, hitting each note with precision and passion, she proved the doubters wrong. Petras choosing an unserious medium in which to exhibit her talent does not mean she doesn’t have any talent at all. Throughout the whole show, she was incorporating new ad libs, creating runs and high notes all on her own. Yes, I knew very well she could sing, but her live vocals on that song in particular blew me away.
Right after “Everybody Dies”, she then tackled the misconception of high production by stripping herself down to just a guitar and vocals to cover “Human” by The Killers. I wasn’t expecting her to sing a ballad or even bring a real instrument on that stage at all. It didn’t seem to be her brand. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit shocked. But I learned after that night that Petras’ brand is whatever she wants it to be. She has enough power to pick and choose and the fans will follow; even though “Human” wasn’t even her own song, the fans sang and cheered in excitement just as much as they did for her originals. After this cover she slipped right back into her pop classics from Clarity and Era 1. Her setlist was well balanced and catered to fans from all roads of life, whether they joined her team 2 years ago or 2 days ago. When she finally ended the show with the song, “Sweet Spot”, she got the whole venue jumping along to the beat and I swear you could feel the floor shaking underneath the moving weight. We were a force to be reckoned with. She was a force to be reckoned with. While Kim Petras had experience before The Clarity Tour being an opening act for bigger artists, I still wasn’t expecting the confidence and presence she held at The Riviera. She had just begun touring solo this year. Most artists start small and build their onstage identity over time. If you didn’t know any better on November 27th, you’d think Petras had been doing this years. If this show was her starting point, I am extremely looking forward to her future tours.
When life, society, and politics seem to get all too turbulent and negative to handle, we, as a culture, often turn to music. And when we do this, most seek out positive sounds, things that shake away the fear and sadness and instead make them shake their body, make them want to smile or sing. If you’re looking for a break from your reality and an excuse to break a sweat, possibly lose your voice from screaming, catch Kim Petras live. In all honesty, it was a show I’ll never forget, a little blip of magnetic energy I wish I could radiate every single day. If you’re interested in attending one of her future shows in the US, she only has three of them left so move fast! You can use this link to grab tickets: https://kimpetras.com/
December 4th, 2019: Denver, CO
December 5th, 2019: Salt Lake City, UT
December 8th, 2019: San Diego, CA
Photos © 2019 by: Roman Sobus
Photos © 2019 by: Roman Sobus