The Problem with Problématique

Design by Iris Tsouris

In the midst of a kiki, chatter overlays a groovy guitar riff.

That’s cool… Hey, do you listen to Kim Petras?
Um, isn’t she, like, problematic?
No… she’s problématique!

Cue bejeweled synths, a strong beat, and, four phrases later, the opening lines of “Problématique,” the titular song of Kim Petras’s second full-length album released in the last three months.

Problématique disrupts the otherwise-linear chronology of Petras’s discography, which she has typically released as it was written. The album was originally recorded early in the pandemic and was intended to be Petras’s first major-label album—until it was leaked in August 2022. Although Petras’s team attempted to remove the leaked music, nothing truly disappears from the Internet. For the next year, Problématique played at clubs and kikis across the world, illegally streamed by the same rule-defying partiers who define the album’s aesthetic.

With only a single day prior announcement, Petras finally officially released the album on all major streaming platforms on September 18, 2023. There is certainly some practical and financial incentive for this: the (re)releasing of music from an earlier era has proven lucrative, as shown by Taylor Swift’s re-recording of her earliest albums. But these ‘throwbacks’ only work when an artist uses the additional time to add something insightful and current to their music. While Swift used re-recording as a chance to imbue her old music with new meaning, Petras has let her tracks grow stale; in the Pop genre, styles change quickly, and Petras’ album has not aged with grace. Next to other queer dance-pop tracks released this month like COBRAH’s “FEMININE ENERGY” or Slayyyter’s “Erotic Electronic,” the album feels dated, flat, and, well, bad. Problématique is not problematic in any sort of subversive sense; it just has problems.

A People article covering the release of the album describes Problématique as a “commit[ment] to cohesion.” There certainly is some level of aesthetic coherence in the album: song titles like
“Je T’Adore,” lyrics boasting of “Champs-Élysées, so high, G Five till Saint-Tropez,” and album art featuring Petras nude but for a beret and evening gloves evoke a sort of kitschy sanctification of all things French. This gaudy francophilia is a predictable trope of divalicious records (see Gaga’s exaggerated French bridge in ‘Bad Romance’ or the iconic “Are you happy to be in Paris?” in Beyoncé’s “Partition”), and Petras brings it nowhere new. The album feels stagnant throughout its under-30-minute runtime, failing to reimagine a trope that has been beaten to death.

 The title track “Problémtique” is the album’s best single; “All She Wants,” featuring Paris Hilton (a track that amounts to a looping drum beat under a pitch-corrected enumeration of expensive, but tasteless, brands) is its worst. In the middle of the album sit two middle-of-the-pack songs: “Something About U” could be a forgettable deep cut on Grimes’ Miss Anthropocene (released in the months before Petras recorded this album), and “Treat Me Like A Ho” sounds like a tragic Fergie impression. “Confession” holds up the second half of the album because it is at least danceable: Petras jumps straight into the chorus instead of forcing the listener to wade through the hackneyed verses that open other songs (take “Born Again,” for example: I, I feel like you’re the type / To come into my life and make me go ‘Ah’). 

Overall, the album feels like a disappointment after the triumph of Petras’s Feed The Beast, released this June. Switching that album on after listening to Problématique, I remember what Petras’s music is at its best: cheeky lyrics (Look at these margarit-ta-tas!); syncopated, complex beats; high-energy, kinky, EDM bliss. 

Despite what she claims in the chorus of “uhoh,” everything Kim Petras drops is not a banger. Where Feed The Beast and its predecessor Slut Pop slayed, Problématique flopped. This sonically uninteresting, loud-but-not-energetic snoozefest is full of skips. Perhaps it was better left unreleased. 

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