Kim Petras is making her pop dreams come true — on her own terms.
Born and raised in Cologne, Germany, the singer-songwriter has been pursuing pop stardom since she was a teen. An unabashed fan of the divas, from Madonna to Minogue, Petras started writing songs in her bedroom at age 13. She moved to Los Angeles to chase a career in music at 19. And in the years since, Petras has slowly built a committed, cult following thanks to pure pop bops like "I Don't Want It At All" and "Heart to Break."
Pop music has always been important to Petras, long before it became her profession.
“It means everything to me. When I was a kid, I used to not really have friends in school. I hated going to school — I got bullied pretty bad,” says Petras, who underwent gender-confirmation surgery at 16. “I used to run home from school and watch Gwen Stefani music videos, and I felt like I could escape my problems with that.”
Now, the nascent star is providing her own growing fanbase with a similar respite from reality.
This summer, she released her first LP Clarity, which evokes the ’90s and 2000s pop of her childhood idols on standouts like "Icy," "Personal Hell"and "Sweet Spot." And she’s about to hit the road for The Clarity Tour, on which she’ll perform tracks from her debut album and the sexy Turn the Light Off, a 19-song, Halloween-themed dance project she released on Tuesday.
“For me this is definitely just the start,” says Petras, 27.
PEOPLE caught up with the performer about her long rise to stardom, how pop music changed her life and why she refuses to be defined by her gender identity.