Kim Petras and Nicki Minaj’s ‘Alone’ Bodes Poorly for Queer Pop newsusface

If you’d told me a few years ago that rising queer pop star Kim Petras would collaborate with rap legend Nicki Minaj, I would have the same answer, with two different layers of implications: “Of course.”

“Of course,” because prior to the pandemic, Petras began releasing a slew of trap-pop hits that formed her first full-length project, 2019’s Clarity. The sound that Minaj was peddling around the same time would’ve fit seamlessly on one of Clarity’s many singles—plus, Minaj will apparently work with just about anyone if the check clears.

The second “Of course”—intended to be said with a resolute sigh and a dejected bowing of the head—would stem from the fact that over the past five years, both Petras and Minaj have proven themselves willing to cozy up to alleged abusers at almost every turn. This pattern of behavior by both parties has majorly dampened the excitement over their new single, “Alone,” released today.

“Alone” marks a major leap into the mainstream for Petras as an openly trans pop star who was already riding high off her Grammy-winning No. 1 hit with Sam Smith, “Unholy.” This momentum is what Petras’ fans (including myself) have hoped for since her scrappy pop beginnings. It’s a significant leap into the spotlight for a proud, outspoken trans artist, especially in a socially unstable time when we’ve seen major pushback against queer rights. Yet the release of “Alone” has left me and countless others with an ick we can’t seem to shake.

Since her debut single in 2017, nearly all of Petras’ music has featured a production credit from Dr. Luke, whose real name is Lukasz Gottwald. In case you’ve been off the grid for the better part of a decade, Dr. Luke is the former pop hitmaker who vanished into the industry’s shadows after Kesha accused him of sexual and emotional abuse in 2014. Even so, he’s remained booked and busy, operating under the producer pseudonym “Tyson Trax” with Doja Cat, or “Made in China” with Petras.

Minaj, meanwhile, has happily skipped from one alleged abuser to the next. In 2015, she bailed her brother out of jail after he was charged with raping a minor. Then, she collaborated with convicted sex criminal Tekashi 6ix9ine in 2018. And as recently as 2021, she’s been caught up in a crusade to silence the survivor of her husband Kenneth Petty’s sexual assault, which led to Petty being convicted for first-degree attempted rape in 1995.

Last August, Minaj released her abysmal single “Super Freaky Girl,” which was also co-produced by Dr. Luke. Unlike most artists who have worked with the producer since his and Kesha’s court battle began in 2016, Minaj had few former ties to Luke. She was not being held to a deal with his publishing company Prescription Songs, like Doja Cat, and had no reason to platform Dr. Luke, other than the delight she seems to take from being a willful contrarian.

Minaj was the perfect collaborator for Petras to tap for her latest single, given the two artists’ shared proclivity for releasing songs with Dr. Luke’s fingerprints all over them. Some fans optimistically believed that Petras had ended her musical relationship with the producer when her last two singles, “Brrr” and “If Jesus Was a Rockstar,” didn’t feature his credits. But “Alone” is a dismal return to form, being pushed as Petras’ big solo moment, with Dr. Luke back at the helm.

Perhaps that’s why Petras seems to have taken on a combative stance when facing questions about her working relationship with Dr. Luke. In November 2022, she responded to a Twitter user who brought up her association with the producer, saying, “5,000,000 work with him, why y’all only coming at me? I have nothing to say or be ashamed of at all. Go away.” Her tweet was quickly deleted after fans expressed their disappointment, but it certainly didn’t help Petras’ cause.

With Dr. Luke back behind the boards for “Alone,” Petras is once again coming under fire. “Please tell me Dr. Luke producing ‘Alone isn’t true…I’m not giving that man my money,” one person tweeted. Others have been quick to call Petras’ collaboration with him “desperate,” and the song “a joke.”

If “Alone” was a staggering feat of pop genius or an evolution in Petras’ sound, it might be easier to excuse her giddiness over aligning herself with two of the industry’s most loathsome figures. But the song, which samples Alice Deejay’s ’90s dance hit “Better Off Alone,” is an insipid and uninspired regurgitation of a track. “Alone” bungles its use of an iconic, irresistible beat, dropping it entirely for Petras and Minaj’s verses, which feature a stale trap take that would’ve already felt outdated had the song appeared on Clarity four years ago. Listening to “Alone” feels briefly like a joyride, until you take a wrong turn down a street filled with broken glass, leaving your tires popped and you stranded on the curb. In no time at all, far more interesting fan-made remixes have started popping up online, making the original track sound all the more dusty. Put simply, “Alone” feels entirely phoned-in by both of its featured artists; a poor attempt at TikTok virality to move it to the top of the charts.

Listening to ‘Alone’ feels briefly like a joyride, until you take a wrong turn down a street filled with broken glass, leaving your tires popped and you stranded on the curb.

Most unfortunate of all is what the song represents for Petras at a pivotal point in her career. In October 2022, she became the first openly trans woman to score a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, and became the first openly trans artist to win a major-category Grammy in February. Regardless of both of these achievements stemming from a song as awful as “Unholy,” they are worth championing.

Seeing Petras go from an independent artist to a mainstream force to be reckoned with, all while living openly and unapologetically, is undeniably important—especially given that queer rights are under attack from parties just as vocal. States are aiming to strip trans people of their legal recognition, while others want to ban gender-affirming healthcare entirely. Fox News pundits are even positing that America is under attack by “trans terrorism.”

All of this only makes the question of whether or not to support Petras’ collaborations with purportedly awful people even more difficult. She is the first trans pop artist to have reached this moment. She’s clawed, scraped, and battled endless scrutiny and transphobia on her way up. But her artistic integrity has been compromised by her repeated work with problematic industry figures—not to mention her happiness at positioning the controversy as something to be proud of, as evidenced by her now-scrapped debut album title Problematique.

For a queer person like myself, this has remained a moral quandary, and one that doesn’t have a clear answer. It’s like the phrase “There is no ethical consumption under capitalism”—except in this case, there is no ethical consumption as a Kim Petras fan.

To open doors for herself, and other trans people in pop, Petras has had to shape her artistic ethos according to the music industry’s innate corruption. As gratifying as it might be to see her career achieve new heights, it also makes me sick to my stomach. “Alone” is a concise illustration of everything wrong with the industry and how its gatekeepers refuse success—particularly to queer people—without a piece of your soul in exchange. Artistic achievement might demand compromise. But that certainly doesn’t mean we have to fall in line by listening, even if it means letting someone we wish we could support go at it alone.

Leave a comment