German pop princess Kim Petras first got famous for something unrelated to her music: at the unusually young age of 12, she began hormone replacement therapy, at 14 she was officially registered as a girl, and by 16 she’d received gender confirmation surgery. But she’s said in an interview with the New York Times that she doesn’t care about being the first transgender teen idol. Petras, now 26 and based in Los Angeles, wants to be known as an artist.
Petras began her music career in earnest in 2017, and on October 1, she dropped her biggest release yet, the Halloween-themed mixtape Turn Off the Light, Vol. 1. It explores the darker side of her 80s-influenced sound, shifting from her trademark bubblegum pop to something moodier and more gothic. The mixtape’s spooky electronic dance tracks (“Close Your Eyes,” “Tell Me It’s a Nightmare”) are linked by largely instrumental breaks (“Omen,” “Boo! Bitch!”) with only occasional hushed vocals—and these passages carry you into the next song so smoothly that you might not even notice until you’re halfway through it. Compared with the bright pop of her earlier work, Turn Off the Light, Vol. 1 is spookier and sexier, with darker lyrics and thickly stacked synth chords that evoke the creepy organ sounds in pulpy old horror movies.
The title track even features an appearance by a bona fide 80s Halloween horror queen: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. “Only in the darkness will you find your true self,” she intones. “Howl at the moon to awaken the spell . . . Embrace your fear, don’t dare to run / Only then will you be what you’re meant to become.” On the campy, morbid “In the Next Life” Petras belts out an ominous chorus over a slow piano part: “First time in my life, I’m not afraid,” she sings. “There’s no turning back now, I can’t be saved / And in the next life they’ll remember me.” The ballad feel of the choruses gives way to a fast, dark, techno-influenced beat in the verses, with Petras’s electronically manipulated voice chanting in English and German. Germany is of course known for its thriving techno scene, especially in Berlin.
The instrumental break “TRANSylvania,” whose title alludes to Petras’s experience as a trans woman, is the first track she’s ever released that even acknowledges that aspect of her identity. It doesn’t have any lyrics, but even the title is surprising considering the effort she’s put into separating her musical identity from her gender identity.
Petras has given her fans a few twists with Turn Off the Light, Vol. 1: a distinctly different sound, a playful dose of Halloween horror, and reminders that she’s German and trans. But best of all, she gave us a dope Halloween dance party mix.
Kim Petras opens for South African singer-songwriter Troye Sivan at the Chicago Theatre on October 19.