Kim Petras is silhouetted in a shiny, skin-tight bodysuit, writhing in smoke and tossing her long, blonde braid up and around her body while the hook of “Close Your Eyes” away on behind her. The rainbow light show won’t stop spinning, the crowd won’t stop roaring, and my beer has me more than a little buzzed. It’s about halfway through Kim’s day-before-Halloween set at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, her second time performing on — or near — the holiday in as many years. To my left, one half of a precarious, furiously grinding couple falls to the ground, and instead of stopping, they continue grinding, him on top, her thrusting her hips up from the floor in time to the beat.
There are no mistakes when you’re dancing at a Kim Petras concert, no wrong moves, no dumb gestures. Over the course of the last two years, Kim has created a safe space for her audience, the majority of whom happen to be queer, all while rising in the ranks as one of the most promising pop stars of the last decade. What’s safer for those who have been told they don’t fit into societal expectations than the freedom of wearing a “costume” as cover for self-expression? This is why a huge part of her success is due to an unexpectedly brilliant alignment with Halloween; in two years, she’s claimed the ghoulish, strangely freeing night for pop music by releasing back-to-back seasonally-themed mixtapes that are full of more bangers than plenty of other pop star’s official releases.
The first time I saw Kim perform, it was on the day before Halloween 2018 when she opened up for Troye Sivan at the Greek Theatre. Most of the audience was unfamiliar with her work — she’d just dropped a brand new EP called Turn Off The Light Vol. 1 that played into the spooky, seasonal trope — and while she and her DJ brought their best game, performing on the front half of a stage in front of a black curtain is a tough sell. Even tougher when the songs are brand new and the audience is unfamiliar — but that wouldn’t be the case for long.
Performing her first proper headlining show at the Troubadour a few months later, Kim sold out the historic, but small, venue almost immediately, and brought the house down for a packed crowd who now knew every word to her songs. A performance at The Fonda during Pride came next, with even bigger stages and more production in tow. Then, Kim dropped her first official project, Clarity, this past summer, proving that while her Halloween tape might’ve been beloved, she fared just as well making more traditional, straightforward pop.
And even after the glowing reception Clarity received, Kim followed it up right up with even more Halloween bops, turning the promise of an Turn Off The Light Vol. 2 EP into a full-length new album Turn Off The Light. That brings us up to date for her Halloween-themed show earlier this week, where the harried Shrine Auditorium security attempted to confiscate all the makeup that concert-goers were bringing into the venue due to a recent outbreak of sex in the bathroom. My fight with a security guard to keep $100 of gorgeous, non-sex-related beauty products aside, the crowd was fairly well-behaved for a show that ostensibly fell on a holiday and the costumed crew was in a holiday spirit, having as much fun as the crowd.
This was partially because Petras has developed into such a riveting performer that it was almost impossible to look away from her — and a lot of the new Halloween songs were the real stunners when performed live. Between the trap-infused hypnotism of “Death By Sex,” her dramatic preening on “Close Your Eyes,” and at one point re-entering the stage in a f*cking full-size hot pink coffin, Petras has more than come into her own as the kind of star who can keep an audience of hundreds rapt for her almost two-hour performance.
Perhaps the only time during the night when anyone’s attention began to wonder was when she gave us an impromptu “acoustic moment,” covering The Killers’ 2008 hit “Human” — you know the one, “Are we human? / Or are we dancer?” — keeping the song at the ballad level. That moment, and her own take on a ballad, “Everybody Dies,” were the most low-energy moments of an otherwise flawless set, proving that Kim is at her best when she keeps things at a faster tempo. What those slower songs did succeed in doing, though, was showcasing her impeccable singing voice, which seems to be getting stronger with time, too.