Kim Petras Goes Dark For Halloween With 'Turn Off The Light, Vol. 1'

Oct 31, 2018
Originally published on October 31, 2018 6:22 pm

Kim Petras has built a reputation for Barbie doll imagery and bubble-gum pop sounds. So fans started to wonder what was going on when, about a month ago, the pop singer started posting strange images on on social media — creepy, dark self-portraits with dripping blood and blank eyes.

When the clock struck midnight on October 1, it all became clear. Petras dropped a surprise Halloween-themed mixtape called Turn Off the Light, Vol.1, featuring spooky sounds, macabre themes and a scene-stealing guest appearance from horror hostess Elvira.

A longtime fan of horror movies and Halloween, Petras says she been itching to make a darker kind of pop record for years. "I think they can stand on their own," Petras says of the songs on Turn Off the Light. "That's important to me, as a fan of pop: I wanted them to be songs that you can listen to all year, but that fit into a Halloween-related context." Hear more from her conversation with NPR's Ari Shapiro at the audio link.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The pop singer Kim Petras had a hit earlier this year with a sunny, danceable number called "Heart To Break."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEART TO BREAK")

KIM PETRAS: (Singing) Even if it means that I'll never put myself back together, gonna give you my heart to break.

SHAPIRO: She's built a reputation for Barbie doll imagery and bubble gum sounds. So fans started to wonder what was going on about a month ago when Kim Petras started posting different kinds of images on social media - creepy, dark self-portraits with dripping blood and blank eyes. When the clock struck midnight on October 1, it all became clear. Kim Petras dropped a surprise Halloween-themed album called "Turn Off The Light."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TURN OFF THE LIGHT")

PETRAS: (Singing) If you're looking for a fright and you wanna do it right, come on, turn off the light, come on, turn off the light.

SHAPIRO: And Kim Petras joins us now. Happy Halloween.

PETRAS: Happy Halloween. What's up?

SHAPIRO: I am imagining you in the heat of summer when everyone is at the beach in the studio recording songs about nightmares and death.

PETRAS: Yeah (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Why did you make a Halloween album?

PETRAS: I love Halloween, and I love spooky stuff. I love horror movies. I love everything creepy, and I've always kind of wanted to do this, just do really dark pop. I remember - I think it was, like, June or something we wrote the first song off of this record, which is "Close Your Eyes."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLOSE YOUR EYES")

PETRAS: (Singing) Time, time, time, time to close our eyes, close your eyes.

It just had this spooky sound to it, and I was just like, OK, this has to be, like, a whole project. I don't just want to have one song with this vibe.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLOSE YOUR EYES")

PETRAS: (Singing) Say goodnight. I feel it coming on. You got nowhere to run. There's no way you'll make it out alive.

There's a bunch of Christmas albums, but there's not really Halloween albums, so we just, like, had this idea and, like, went in on it. But I think they can stand on their own, all the songs. Like, I think that's really important to me as, like, a fan of pop. I didn't want them to be, you know, the "Monster Mash." I wanted them to be, like, songs that you can listen to all year.

SHAPIRO: You did include one very specific reference to Halloween history which is...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TURN OFF THE LIGHT")

CASSANDRA PETERSON: (As Elvira) Only in the darkness will you find your true self.

SHAPIRO: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, makes a guest appearance.

PETRAS: I know. I'm so hyped about that still. I can't believe it happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TURN OFF THE LIGHT")

PETERSON: (As Elvira) Embrace your fear. Don't dare to run. Only then will you be what you're meant to become.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Vocalizing).

SHAPIRO: One of the tracks here is called "TRANSylvania" with trans in all caps...

PETRAS: (Laughter) Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...Which is a nod to the fact that you're a trans woman. You became famous about 10 years ago for being one of the youngest people to transition. You started taking hormones around age 12 and had surgery at 16. And I wonder about the connection to Halloween because trans people have throughout history been treated as monsters and in some places still are. Do you think there's a certain strength in kind of reclaiming the monster imagery for yourself in an album like this?

PETRAS: Yeah, totally. I don't know. I don't think being transgender is freaky at all. But at the same time, it's definitely - for many people, it's this, like, crazy, terrifying thing when people are transgender and they get really, like, scared and attacked on the issue. And so, I mean, I want to normalize being transgender, to be honest. It's like my goal in life to just be like, it's not that crazy thing that everybody thinks it is, and we're just people.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THE NEXT LIFE")

PETRAS: (Singing in German).

SHAPIRO: Another part of your identity is that you were born in Germany. And on this album, you get to (laughter) record a track in German.

PETRAS: Yeah, totally. I mean, I've always, like, wanted to do it. I just was waiting for the right moment. The language can sound really harsh and so in like prettier, bubble gum pop songs, it can sound really like (snorting). And so in this one, it was just perfect because it kind of sounds really spooky.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THE NEXT LIFE")

PETRAS: (Singing in German).

SHAPIRO: I'm a little bit relieved to hear you describe your music as bubble gum because when I said that in the introduction, I wasn't sure whether it would sound pejorative.

PETRAS: No, it's amazing. I don't know - a lot of people think it's a really negative thing to do bubble gum pop, but I love it. I, like, want to own it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THE NEXT LIFE")

PETRAS: (Singing) First time in my life I'm not afraid.

SHAPIRO: The title of this album is "Turn Off The Light, Vol 1." Does that mean there's more to come?

PETRAS: Yeah, for sure. And the plan is to drop part two next year.

SHAPIRO: You're going to, like, double the amount of 21st-century Halloween pop music singlehandedly.

PETRAS: (Laughter) Yeah, that's the plan, man (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Well, Kim Petras, it's been great talking with you. Thanks so much for taking the time and happy Halloween.

PETRAS: Happy freaking Halloween - wooha (ph).

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Kim Petras' new album is called "Turn Off The Light, Vol 1." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.