Album Review: Kim Petras – Feed The Beast

[Amigo/Republic; 2023]

Is a pop star allowed to be tired of waiting? Though Feed The Beast is being marketed as Kim Petras’ debut album, it’s not her first full-length project. She’s been making a major label effort toward pop stardom for the better part of five years now, and what has she got to show for it? A #1 hit, sure, but one that belongs to someone else first, which you’ll be hard-pressed to forget given how it’s only on this album in the end as a bonus track. Even if Kim Petras could claim full ownership of “Unholy”, she hasn’t had any hits since, and one can only exhaust their industry supporters for so long. The Kim Petras we meet in this project has a tough choice: another all-out attempt at being Madonna which would fail with dignity, or a Bebe Rexha-tier radio-friendly compromise that trades respect for rewards.

Upon hitting play, one might have hope. Feed The Beast opens with a title track that’s not without punch. Kim Petras’ performance blends her very recognizable vocal inflections with a bouncy instrumental to create a no-loose-ends very well-executed end product. Sadly, whatever quality it has only primes the listen for the tragedy that is the lead single “Alone”. Though part of a by now pretty all-encompassing trend in pop music, “Alone” finds its truest parallel in Petras’ former collaborator Charli XCX and her single “Beg For You”. While there’s nothing unique about an obvious sample and a feature at this point, the two songs present opposite ends of what that can achieve. Alongside a respectable feature choice in Rina Sawayama, XCX plays it seriously for the whole song, with the two singers showing a level of conviction that makes it hard to dismiss a song that is way too simple for both of them. In “Alone” however, Petras’ soft, giddy performance leaves you thinking she doesn’t realize she’s too good to be trend-chasing this much, and a perfectly by-the-books Nicki Minaj feature shows a despair for a hit that detracts from a musical experience that already has very little to offer. One doesn’t hate it so much as pity it.

From here onwards the album hardly underdelivers that amusingly. “King of Hearts” is truly committed to its Eurodance glamour, but unfortunately like most of the best Eurodance out there, it drowns out the personality of its performer. “Thousand Pieces” doesn’t commit to being minimal or to being impactful, with a resulting compromise that you wouldn’t be able to tell isn’t playing the next time you go to H&M. “uhoh” is one of the more pleasant moments, with Petras infusing her own version of fun and confidence into a production which will surely make for great filler on a future festival set. “Revelation” takes on 80s-flavored pop in a fun way and keeps the energy going. In “BAIT”, Petras and BANKS trade overperformed lines in a song that has so little to it you might forget who is who. Truly, this album seems convinced “Kim Petras’ mainstream sellout moment” is not a marketable concept, approaching the idea with non-committal hollowness instead.

Hearing the music ignore Kim Petras is sad, but when it remembers she is there it becomes insulting. “Sex Talk” is about as transgressively raunchy as a half-decent Ariana Grande deep cut. “Hit It From The Back” slows the music down further, tossing its title around with the tee-hee coyness of late aughts Katy Perry. The woman that not long ago almost redefined ‘over the top’ with Slut Pop is here reduced to the level of R-rated seduction of a TikTok with two million likes. “Claws” and “Minute” are earnest attempts at the type of energetic throwback pop that has delivered the biggest hits of the past few years. Hitting closer to “STAY” than to “Blinding Lights”, they will serve the local radio station better than they would serve your playlist. It all truly makes it seem like Kim Petras gave up the ‘star’ so she could have the ‘pop’, leaving anyone who had followed her before wondering why.

The ‘why’ is very much present, however. “Coconuts” presents a vision of mainstream that retains the essence of Kim Petras at every beat. It does not openly acknowledge the transgressive nature of a trans woman loving her feminine figure. Still, it allows that subtext to elevate pure, saccharine pop joy delivered with such sincerity it made Petras a shoo-in for the Barbie soundtrack. So why don’t other songs here sound like this? Probably because this song came out in December 2021 after a long campaign to build TikTok hype and still bit the dirt on the charts. Petras has done glittery doll pop music for a long time without winning the acclaim of Jessie Ware or the respect of Carly Rae Jepsen, so why not commit to compromise and do the least? Why not play by the rules? Why not feed the beast?

Following her unappreciated gem is “Castle In The Sky”, a last attempt to make what other songs on this album failed at that hits so intensely you’ll already respect it before you come around to liking it. It’s Petras being truly hungry, and makes one look at the lesser tracks with a feeling of ‘if only’. It is the album’s true end, with only two preexisting, ill-fitting singles left to go.

“Brr” is the album’s only real nod to Petras’ place in hyperpop, and while competent it mostly shows just how big the hole Sophie left behind is. Finally, at the end of it all, is the inexplicable phenomenon that has now fueled two mediocre albums. If one had been told what “Unholy” is before the song was released, it would have sounded much more like Kim Petras than Sam Smith. Yet in listening to the song itself, she shows nothing of her experience in the field of raunchy pop music, while Smith’s theatrical flair almost denies the song that title. Transgressive on paper, the song is lyrically a very heteronormative cop-out, while its instrumental sounds grandiose when in fact it just achieves catchiness and then does nothing more. It is the perfect microcosm of all Smith and Petras have done since. The idea of transgression, while the substance stays by the books.

So what to make of Kim Petras? Is she someone worth paying attention to? One would hope, but Feed The Beast delivers more questions than answers. As of yet none of this has paid off, but what if it does? Will Petras chase her newfound mainstream appeal forever or show her true colors unabashedly? If it doesn’t pay off, what then? Will she keep trying to please the largest demographic possible or find a new muse and blow us all away? Time will tell. For now, existing Kim Petras fans will have a few new items for their playlists, but if those who are new here choose not to explore any further, no one can judge. Kim Petras has been a cocoon of potential for a long time now, and with Feed The Beast she has neither progressed past that nor become a lost cause. Truly, she could do anything after this. Let’s just hope she doesn’t do exactly this again.