Highsnobiety

Is it possible to still have the song of the summer even though we might not have a real summer at all? That’s the challenge facing Kim Petras, whose undeniable bop “Malibu” is an infectious tune that aligns a little too well with aspirational trips to the beach and fizzy tropical drinks that leave you buzzed and a bit sugar high.

Last month, she premiered the home edition of her music video for “Malibu,” shot on Zoom (1:53) and featuring cameos from some of her famous friends, including Paris Hilton, Charlie XCX, Jonathan Van Ness, Slayyyter, and many more. But even though Zoom parties can be fun, Petras admits it doesn’t feel the same (3:22).

Regardless, she’s keeping her spirits high leading into pride month, and one of the things that’s helping her get through these tough times? Internet culture and cringey meme accounts.

The following interview has been edited and condensed.

Jian DeLeon: Hey Kim, how are you?

Kim Petras: I’m good. How are you?

JD: I’m doing well. Where are you calling from?

KP: Toluca Lake, Los Angeles.

JD: What’s the scene like there?

KP: Well, I’m just in my friend’s apartment. I’ve been here for over a month. It’s pretty chill. The weather is nice, but obviously we’re in lockdown, so we can’t really do anything.

JD: Well you’ve certainly been busy. On May 11, you released the at-home edition music video for Malibu. What was it like making a video on Zoom?

KP: I was about to film the video, and then the whole lockdown happened. I decided to make the best of it and ask all my friends to be in it and to make the most fun thing we could possibly do during this. It makes me smile, it makes me really happy to watch it. I think it gave all my friends something really fun to do, and that made me really excited. I just care about my friends a lot. I’m checking in on them a lot. I’m trying to give them as much fun stuff that they can be a part of as possible. So I know it made a lot of people really happy.

JD: You have such an amazing cast of awesome people in there. Of course, Paris Hilton, Charlie XCX, Jonathan Van Ness, Slayyyter, the list goes on. I feel like people are finding ways to hang out with their friends via Zoom and FaceTime. Is it a good enough placebo?

KP: It’s always going to not be the same, but I think Zoom parties and that stuff has made it a lot easier and being able to face time. And it definitely makes me feel like I just hung out with a friend. There’s always a strong come down after a Zoom party, you’re always like: “That was so much fun, and now it’s back to just being in an apartment.” So I’m just trying to not crash when I do that. But yes, I think the internet has made me feel a lot more connected to the world and less alone. Everybody’s going through the same thing and we all need each other to get through it.

JD: What are your favorite Zoom backgrounds?

KP: My friends all have very eclectic taste in that. I don’t know, some iconic Simple Life moments; we put music videos behind us; we put ugly pictures of ourselves behind us. I love doing pictures that I know my friends hate — I’ll put them as my backdrop and make them look at it. That’s one of my favorite things ever. We’ve been having a lot of fun just coming up with the most fucked up backdrops.

JD: I love that, finding new ways of fucking around with your friends. What are some of the other ways you’ve been using social media creatively?

KP: Some of my friends are songwriters, so I’ve been having Zoom songwriting sessions. We’ve been spending hours and hours on Zoom just making music, which is also cool that that’s possible and that’s now a thing. You can write with whoever you want to write with.

JD: “Malibu” is an early contender for song of the summer, but it doesn’t feel like we’ll have a real summer this year. What do you think it’ll feel like?

KP: The song encapsulates the feeling of [summer]. Music is such a great vehicle to take you out of your daily life and create this little bubble you can go into for three and a half minutes and feel like you’ve just gone to the beach. I love summer obviously, and I wish I could be outside with my friends, and I think that’s not happening at all. I have no idea when anybody’s going to be able to have a concert again, or when I’m ever going to be able to be on stage again.

I think it’s uplifting songs like “Malibu” that keep me positive, because I feel like if I had just dropped a bummer song, I don’t think it would help anybody. In times that are difficult, art has to be the thing that lifts people up, and that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m just trying to make people happy for a couple of minutes and forget that this summer is tough. The song is like a little taste of summer.

JD: Every song of the summer needs a drink of the summer as well. What’s your go-to summer cocktail?

KP: I always think pineapple juice and Malibu Rum is a sick combo. It’s my go-to thing that I always have. I just love pineapple-y anything. Plus pineapple juice is good for singers.

JD: I did not know that, wow.

KP: Yeah, it’s highly recommended to drink pineapple juice.

JD: It’s pride month, and I feel like gay culture and internet culture have a unique synergy, where memes and social media really helped normalize shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and transcend stereotypes like Queer Eye. And of course, so many memes!

KP: Yeah. I think it enables us to skip people who make the rules and who say stuff like: “Nobody’s going to listen to this,” or “Nobody’s going to watch this.” It’s just given LGBTQ people the chance to prove that there are audiences out there that care, that want to hear what we have to say, and what our art is. I feel like there were a lot of gatekeepers years ago before all of this happened that could’ve been like: “Nobody wants to see a transgender singer.”

Now when I think about James Charles, Nikita Dragun, and all these amazing, successful people that have such a huge audience — they’ve touched so many people and helped normalize being a member of the LGBTQ community. And I think that’s super important. My career definitely wouldn’t have happened if I wouldn’t have been able to do this myself and built my own thing. There were a lot of people who were very against it at labels and publishing companies and the old school gatekeepers. So I think social media has given us a chance to skip that and prove ourselves, and prove that if you put in enough work and you’re good and talented, you can achieve anything no matter who you are, or what your sexuality is. It’s an amazing and exciting time that we’re living in where everybody can make their dreams come true with an iPhone, so I think that’s sick.

Stay tuned for new episodes of Vibe Check every Tuesday and Thursday.

Words by Jian DeLeon
Editorial Director

Jian DeLeon is the Editorial Director at Highsnobiety. He is based in New York.