Kim Petras: From Childhood To Grammy Win

Kim Petras went from living in rural Germany to becoming the first openly transgender artist to take home the Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. The road to glory was long overdue for the singer, who overcame many personal and professional challenges. The "Unholy" singer began songwriting at just 13 years old, a time when she was struggling with her own gender identity. In 2009, she reportedly became the world's youngest transgender woman after undergoing gender-affirming surgery at the age of 16.

Petras, who took the big leap and moved to Los Angeles at 19 to pursue her dream, grew up idolizing pop music legends. She credits Britney Spears, Destiny's Child, and Madonna as some of her inspirations that got her through the tough years of adolescence. "I was so obsessed as a kid and just such a big fan. I felt like I could escape to that world whenever I didn't want to think about my problems or was just hating my life. It helped me tremendously as a kid to have that dream and have something to really look forward to," she told People. A small-town girl, Petra has her own work ethic and determination to credit for her immense success, and she's not stopping anytime soon. We're taking a look at the transformation of Kim Petras: from her childhood to her Grammy win.

Kim Petras grew up in Germany

Kim Petras looks right at home under the stage lights in Hollywood, but the artist is a long way away from her European roots. The "Coconuts" singer is originally from the German town of Hennef. "It was farm vibes," Petras said in The Guardian, "all cows and horses. The nearest [neighbors] were at least 10 minutes away." Creativity seems to run in the family: Per BuzzFeed News, Petras' mother worked as a dance teacher and her father an architect. 

Pop music has always been important to Petras. "I grew up in the countryside in Germany — literally cows, no neighbors, nothing," she told People. "I felt like pop stars were my friends — or I wanted them to be my friends."

Her road wasn't easy, from discovering her true identity at a young age to later climbing the ladder of the music industry. When she won her first Grammy in 2023, she took a moment in her acceptance speech to note how her childhood shaped her. "I grew up next to a highway in nowhere, Germany, and my mother believed me that I was a girl, and I wouldn't be here without her and her support," she said.

She was bullied growing up

Kim Petras may come across as a confident and liberated woman in her songs, but her childhood was a different story. The "I Don't Want It All" singer told Glamour UK that going to school growing up was a nightmare. "I remember just like hating school and not having any friends and being bullied pretty badly," the singer said. She went on to reveal she would run home from school and turn on Gwen Stefani, picturing a world in which she didn't have to worry about the more difficult sides of adolescence. 

"Being transgender and going to school is tough," Petras told Glamour UK. "People will not like you or people will like you. That's just a reality of life and it's fine. A lot of people bully people because they're jealous or because they have their personal issue that they project [onto] you." But it wasn't just school-aged bullies that Petras battled growing up. On the journey to find her own sound, she often questioned her own music and whether or not she had what it takes to make it in the industry. The singer said in Dork, "I didn't think I was good enough. I didn't think I was pretty enough. I didn't think my songs were good enough, all of those things." But her inner voice was proven wrong, and the artist's debut album "Charity" landed her a Top 50 spot on Billboards' Best Albums of 2019.

She underwent gender-affirming surgery as a teen

In addition to being a record-breaking artist, Kim Petras has made LGBTQ+ history. At just 16 years old, the "Future Starts Now" artist reportedly became the world's youngest transgender woman, after beginning her transition with hormone replacement therapy at 12 years old. "She always knew what she wanted," said Dr. Bernd Meyenburg, who helped oversee the artist's surgery, per The Telegraph. Petras told the newspaper Die Zeit (via Hindustan Times), "I have always felt like a girl. I hated my body when I was five. I couldn't identify with gender, wanted it gone." 

While Petras is a proud trans woman, there were concerns early on in her career with regards to how she would be received by audiences and record labels. "I was told that I'd always be a niche act because I'm transgender. So, having people just listen to my music a lot, and not even knowing I'm transgender, was amazing," she told People. 

For years, Petras released music through her own independent imprint, BunHead Records. "Labels were unsure about working with me because I'm transgender, so signing to a label wasn't a great option for me, everyone kind of had a problem with me being transgender, or wanted to make it a big deal," she told Dork in 2019. Things would soon change: In 2021, she inked a deal with Republic Records and dropped "Future Starts Now."

She spent years writing hundreds of songs

Before Kim Petras was known as a successful pop star, she spent years writing hundreds of songs for other artists. The "Unholy" singer prepared herself for the harsh world of Hollywood, knowing that nothing would be easy. "I knew that nobody was going to write me songs, that I'd have to become a really good songwriter. I really spent my time studying how other people broke into the industry. Ever since I was 13, I was just making songs in my room, producing songs, and making demos and sending them out to people," she said in People.

Though she was far from the Los Angeles music scene's inner workings, Petras began climbing the ladder using her online connections. In her small hometown, Petras wrote hundreds of songs in the hopes of making a break. "I feel like I'm completely self-taught. Nobody walked me through this. I just worked really hard on becoming good. I'm really proud of that part," the singer told People. As of this writing, she has 65 writing credits on Spotify. In addition to many of her own songs, her work includes writing tracks for Juice WRLD, Charlie XCX, and Quinn XCII. 

Kim Petras moved to L.A. with $500 to her name

Kim Petras moved to Los Angeles with $500, determination, and a lot of talent. As a teenager, she grew up writing songs in her childhood bedroom dreaming of being a pop star. As she told HuffPost, her connections with LA-based producers she met on YouTube helped her get her feet off the ground when she made the move. 

"When I turned 19, I got to LA and stayed with two friends the first few weeks I was there and then I had a friend with a studio and a couch and I spent about a year on that couch," Petras recalled. "But it was cool because to me, just being in LA was very, very valuable. Every day I told myself, 'OK, you'd better write as many songs as you can and you'd better meet as many people as you can.'" 

Petras moved to the United States on a tourist visa, and making it in the music world meant securing a work visa. Her songwriting skills paid off however, and a single she wrote that Fergie later recorded. While the song was never released, things worked out for Petras. "Still, it helped me get signed on a publishing deal in 2014 with BMG," she told The Guardian. "It allowed me to get my visa and be in the US legally."

She doesn't want her career to be defined by her gender identity

Kim Petras has without a doubt broken major boundaries as an openly trans woman in the mainstream pop music world, but she doesn't want her identity to be the only thing that resonates with fans. As she told People, she wants her music to connect with all people regardless of gender identity. "I just want to be taken seriously as an artist — not as a transgender artist," she said.

Petras wants the world to see and respect her work at face value. "I don't want my career to be about my gender identity. I've written too many songs and worked too hard for that," she shared with People. "I work really hard on my music. It has nothing to do with me being transgender." She shared a similar sentiment in a 2018 interview with HuffPost. "I just hate the idea of using my identity as a tool," she said. "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."

As important as it is to her that her gender identity doesn't define her career, she of course will continue to use her platform for good. "I feel proud to be a trans girl, she told Interview in 2019, "on my way to becoming a legit pop star."

The spooky artistic vision of Kim Petras

Kim Petras is into spooky stuff. "October is my favorite month of the year. I love Halloween and dressing up," Petras told Page Six Style. Her 2020 album "Turn Off The Light" was inspired by her love of all things horror, with songs titled "Bloody Valentine" and "Purgatory." She told Page Six Style, "Movie villains are always my favorite characters in films. I love monsters, even from the old school like Frankenstein and Freddy [Krueger]."

Whether it's empowering individuals to be liberated and explore their sexuality, or taking on a completely new persona, the pop star's options are limitless. "I get to make a larger-than-life character and really play it out. It's really dramatic and theatrical, which I love being," Petras told People of her album "Turn Off The Light."

As for what's next for the artist, fans can expect a completely different sound for her next album. The pop star told iHeartRadio she's inspired by the darker side of Hollywood that chews and spits out wannabe stars. She also wants to pay homage to her home country as well. "It's an interesting mix of things," she said. "It's also kind of Berlin. There's definitely the Berlin kind of the Berghain moments that go a little harder sonically and some more techno in this round too but it's all over the place. It's really kind of the essence of me."

Kim Petras loves a good collab

Kim Petras knows a thing or two about making connections in the music industry. Though she's best known for her vocals on the chart-topping hit "Unholy" with Sam Smith, she has a long list of collaborations with famous artists. One such stars who happens to be a big fan of the singer is Meghan Trainor, who featured Petras on the remix of her track "Made You Look." "I'm just a super fan, and I think what she's doing is just incredible," Trainor told Cosmopolitan. "And finally the world is seeing that as well! I was dying when they gave me a list of people who I would want to feature on it. And I was like, Kim! I want Kim. Luckily, she said yes."

The "Turn Off The Light" artist has also been featured on multiple tracks with Charli XCX, including "Click" and "Unlock It." Petras was also featured on the track "Broken Glass" with Norwegian DJ Kygo.  In 2020, Petras told NME she hopes to team up with living legend Robyn, and shared that she seemed to hit it off with Taylor Swift. "Taylor Swift said hi to me," Petras told the outlet. "She was like, 'I'm a fan', so I'm shook right now. I can't believe it. It was the first time I've met her. I was just like, 'You're an icon.'" Petras is also a huge fan of Madonna, and she made sure to pay tribute to the Material Girl her Grammy acceptance speech.

Her rise to the top alongside Sam Smith

Kim Petras cemented her status as an artist to be reckoned with the minute she landed a feature on the smash hit "Unholy" alongside Sam Smith. As noted in Variety, the two stars had never met before working on the song, but they messaged for years, getting each others' opinions on different tracks. Smith had sent Petras a number of potential songs, but she was ultimately drawn to "Unholy." So, they headed to the studio and everything clicked into place. Petras told Variety it didn't take her long to write her verse. "I went in and wrote that whole thing pretty quickly," she recalled. "We sat on the floor, drinking whiskey and smoking weed, and filled in the blanks," she added, "Sam was like, 'I want Kim to do whatever she wants to do. I want her to be authentic.'"

Clearly, this duo was a match made in pop music heaven. Not only was this Petras' first Billboard Hot 100 hit, but it was a first No. 1 for both Petras and Smith. Oh, and of course, they won the Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance in 2023.

When "Unholy" hit No. 1 On the Billboard Hot 100, Petras and Smith celebrated the big moment together. As Petras told People, "It was a super magical night, and we cried."

Kim Petras made history at the 2023 Grammys

Kim Petras has a thing for making history. The pop star shattered boundaries by becoming the first openly transgender woman to win a Grammy award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. Fellow winner Sam Smith had Petras accept the award on their behalf, allowing Petras to shine in her historic moment.  "I just want to thank all the incredible transgender legends before me who've kicked these doors open for me so I could be here tonight — Sophie, especially," Petras said in her speech. The pop star was referring to the Scottish-born musician and transgender icon who tragically passed away when she accidentally fell from an apartment building in Greece. 

Petras went on to celebrate her success in a post-Grammy presser. "All these years are going through my head of people saying I'd be a niche artist because I'm transgender, and my music would only ever play in gay clubs — and what's wrong with that, because I love gay clubs — but now I got a Grammy for making gay club music with my friend," she said, per the Los Angeles Times. "It's the best feeling in the world." The "Coconuts" singer wasn't the only one with cause to celebrate that night. Smith also made history, as they became the first-ever nonbinary artist to take home the award. They are no stranger to the Grammys however, and this win marks their place as a five-time Grammy award-winning artist, having been nominated seven times in their career.