Kim Petras has had a stellar year.
Her hit song “Unholy” with Sam Smith has been the background track of every TikTok video, a favorite on radio stations and an indisputable chart-topper.
“Sam’s been a supporter from the start,” Petras told PEOPLE in November. “We just waited for the right moment and the right song to come along, and that really paid off. We knew the song was special from the moment we birthed it.”
At the 65th Grammy Awards, Petras and Smith took home the trophy for best pop duo/group performance, making her the first openly transgender woman to snag the award.
“I just want to thank the incredible transgender legends before me who kicked these doors open so I could be here,” she said in her emotional acceptance speech.
But life for the 30-year-old hitmaker wasn’t always accolades and killer red carpet looks: Petras has been writing songs and grinding to get the recognition she deserves since she landed in the United States at age 19.
Here’s everything to know about the Grammy winner and history maker.
Kim Petras is from Germany
Born and raised in Cologne, Germany, the future pop star began writing songs when she was 13 years old and relocated to Los Angeles to pursue her career in music when she was 19. With no connections or contacts in the music industry, Petras hit the open mic circuit in L.A., sending her songs and scouting for people willing to write with her.
“Moving to a different country by yourself is hard. It’s hard being an immigrant, being in the U.S. illegally in the beginning, going back and forth; just trying to be here was hard,” she told PEOPLE in 2019.
Everything worked out though, as her writing prowess eventually garnered her a publishing deal and she attained a visa to stay and work.
Stephane Cardinale – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images Kim Petras
She grew up listening to pop music
Even though Petras grew up in rural Germany, she was heavily influenced by American greats such as Madonna, Kylie Minogue and Britney Spears.
“[Pop music]means everything to me,” she told PEOPLE. “When I was a kid, I used to not really have friends in school. I hated going to school — I got bullied pretty bad. I used to run home from school and watch Gwen Stefani music videos, and I felt like I could escape my problems with that.”
And her body of work has been reflective of that. Her debut album, Clarity, featured tracks such as “Icy,” “Personal Hell” and “Sweet Spot,” which channel the ’90s and early 2000s pop music she so loves.
Petras underwent gender confirmation surgery at 16
Though the age of maturation for gender confirmation surgery in Germany is 18, Petras was able to get special permissions to undergo the procedure at 16 years old.
According to a 2007 article written by German publication Stern, Petras had the full support of both her parents as she was going through the process — which she also mentioned during her Grammy acceptance speech.
Christopher Polk/Variety via Getty Images
‘Unholy’ has made history more than once
Aside from their Grammy win at Sunday’s show, Smith and Petras have also made history in other sectors.
In October 2022, “Unholy” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, making Smith the first-ever openly non-binary solo artist and Petras the first openly transgender solo artist to reach the top of the chart since its inception in 1991.
“NUMBER ONEEEE HOT 100! I’m so grateful. Sam I can’t thank you enough for riding with me for years at this point,” Petras wrote in a celebratory Instagram post. “I’m so honored to be a part of your first number one in the US which you should have 500 of at this point. I love you forever angel Sam 💗”
She later revealed that the honor left them both excited and emotional.
“It was a super magical night, and we cried,” Petras told PEOPLE at Heidi Klum‘s 2022 Halloween party. “It was amazing. We spent it together that night, and I’ll never forget it.”
She wants her music to be universal
Though the “If Jesus Was A Rockstar” singer is proud of and vocal about her identity, she has also been clear about not wanting to be boxed in or reduced to her gender.
“I feel like my songs are good because they’re relatable to anybody. I feel like that is a big part of the equality that I want: for people to realize that everybody’s just equal and the same and have the same issues and go through the same things emotionally,” she told PEOPLE.
She continued, “I just want to be taken seriously as an artist — not as a transgender artist. I don’t want my career to be about my gender identity. I’ve written too many songs and worked too hard for that. I love being a voice for transgender rights and fighting for what I think is right and making the world a better place. Maybe the next generations will have it easier than me. I care so much, but at the same time I don’t want it to become about [my gender], because I’m really proud of my music. I work really hard on my music. It has nothing to do with me being transgender.”