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Kim Petras is a human pop hook. Everything about the German singer gets your attention: Her diamond-studded choker and her giant hoop earrings give the sense of a Harmony Korine character brought to life. She speaks fluent Britney Spears with a Jewel accent, though her pop dialect can be distinctly traced to Charli XCX.
Then there is Petras’ hair bun. It’s a jaunty thing, cocked to the side of her head. When she made her way through the crowd up to the stage Thursday night at Palm Door on Sixth, you could track Petras’ progress by watching the bun. It was as if Jaws had developed an ear for a good pre-chorus and decided to hit up a South by Southwest showcase.
And man, does Petra know good pop when she hears it percolating under that bun. Like if a Real Housewife had actual musical talent, her impeccably structured songs sparkle like champagne, full of self-described “glitz and glamour.” There’s “Faded,” an ode to nocturnal debauchery that gives the lowest common denominator something fizzy to turn up to. There’s “I Don’t Want It All,” a celebration-cum-parody of Los Angeles rich girls that Petras dedicated to “all the daddies in the room.” She’s fully Marilyn Monroe in bike shorts and a puffy jacket in the song; Paris Hilton makes a cameo in the music video. More than one young dude in the crowd broke out a little light vouguing.
Petras knows how the auto-tune and backing track look. Her way of letting people know she’s a serious vocalist Thursday night: an acoustic Killers cover. “Brandon Flowers is my favorite songwriter of all time,” she said in a goofball intro to a terrific, unplugged rendition of “Human.” Even when she’s punch-dancing her way through a song like “Hillside Boys,” she goes the Mariah Carey finger wave on the big notes, just so you know what she’s doing the work.
Petras has spoken openly about her role as a visible transgender woman in the pop landscape. The youngest person on record to ever receive gender affirmation surgery, she was subjected to sensational media coverage as a teenager, according to Out magazine. She’s worked with big-name producers, including Aaron Joseph, Dr. Luke (who’s been publicly accused of sexual abuse by pop star Kesha, a matter Petras has been asked about in interviews) and the aforementioned Charli XCX (who featured Petras on her 2017 mixtape “Pop 2”). Her SXSW set was packed; the crowd already knew most of the words.
At one point in the night, Petras asked the question that might as well be her mission statement.
“Who’s ready for this underrated bop?”
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