While major labels still maintain a stranglehold on commercial radio, possibility rumbles throughout the musical landscape in the streaming era. For all the obvious, straight-ahead pop hits, there are plenty of quirky concepts, unusual production choices, and unique voices forcing their way into mainstream consciousness (or at least as much of a mainstream consciousness as exists in a fragmented culture that can seemingly only be united by tragedy or the NFL). Of course, the Lorde’s and Meghan Trainor’s of the world eventually become seeds of homogeny as record labels scramble to mimic their successes. The copy machine processing of success is nothing new. That doesn’t mean such artists aren’t novel in their beginnings, intolerable though you might find them after radio’s ritualistic force-feeding.
When Los Angeles-based singer Gia popped up online a few weeks back with songs “Only A Girl” and “Hard Road,” she seemed primarily notable for two reasons.
First, she was tweaking pop’s formulas by infusing alt-R&B inspired production (at the hands of Bob Dylan’s producer/rapper grandson Pablo) with a more immediately accessible structure—a trick many have tried over the past few years without any truly soaring hits.
Second, the video for “Only A Girl” (which you can watch below) shined a provocative spotlight on the 18-year-old’s sexual orientation. Though certainly not the first openly gay singer in pop music history, Gia displayed equal measures of bravery and savvy with her first foot forward, bringing the context of still looming political and personal identity discussions to the young singer’s music.
Gia’s new single “LOUD” is lyrically broad by design, as so much pop music is, but it takes on greater weight given Gia’s past releases and public self-exploration. It also marks another interesting production choice, with “2 On” co-producer Jon Redwine blending strains of early 2000s guitar pop with dashes of modern hip-hop production.
Read a brief interview with Gia and listen to “LOUD” below.
Who are some of your biggest musical and creative influences?
I think every aspect of Fiona Apple was incredibly inspiring to me. Her aesthetic, lyrical content, and vocal tone all struck a chord in me. Aaliyah was very dope as well, she carried an air of mystery that is difficult to achieve in these days of 24hr media coverage and social media exploitation.
Were you apprehensive about your first release directly addressing your sexuality?
Not really. It felt extremely honest so it didn’t scare me. Teenage love is a common theme in popular music because it feels so massive and you’re feeling these things for the first time. It would be more inauthentic for me to ignore my teenage love story just because it is same-sex.
How has “Only A Girl” been received by listeners so far? Have you gotten any particular feedback, either from people you know or strangers reaching out?
It’s been amazing! So many people have reached out through Facebook and Instagram and saying how “Only A Girl” really relates to them and its such an incredible feeling to know that I can be a voice for anyone who hasn’t heard such an up front song that expresses sexuality. I love when people Facebook message me, I always take my time to respond to anyone who wants to say hi! I think the most important thing for me is to know that I’m making a difference in peoples lives and my artistic expression is somewhat refreshing or expressing a voice that feels unheard or stifled. And so many people have been sharing my Soundcloud page, just after 4 days of releasing my song it went on the top charts of HypeMachine. So that was pretty cool! The fans have been incredible and I’m so blessed to be sharing my music with the world.
Are you afraid that some people might view the video “Only A Girl” as more of a provocation than a serious exploration of your sexual identity?
It would be naive to say that I didn’t think this video wouldn’t raise some eyebrows, but it was important to me that the video and song conveyed me as someone exploring a sexual identity, not a provocative curiosity. I didn’t kiss a girl just to try it, hoping my boyfriend wouldn’t mind it. I kissed a girl in a search for companionship from a like-minded female, and continued kissing her because it finally felt right.
Can you talk a bit about the moments that “Only A Girl” alludes to? Or does it speak to more of a general realization about your sexual identity?
It’s not based on any specific moments, but just myself growing up and figuring out what I like and how I feel. The song speaks to a broad sensibility of female companionship but for myself specifically it addresses my sexuality.
As a young artist in a volatile historical moment, do you feel compelled to address some larger social issues in your music?
The only responsibility I feel as an artist is to express my personal experience in a way that I hope mass audiences will relate or respond to. It’s impossible to ignore the current social climate, and I have empathy for everyone feeling unheard, or betrayed. I genuinely hope my music helps people through their journey, whether it distracts or empowers them. “LOUD” is a song about not always feeling perfect but making sure that you’re being heard and valued. It’s important to me to make noise and make change.
Any examples of particularly touching messages you received? Any that surprised you?
I’ve been surprised by the amount of responses I’ve received and touched by the young people who say they see themselves in my expression and it makes them feel less alone, or a little more heard and understood. It’s inspiring to me to hear from these kids.
Has there been any negative backlash?
I’m extremely fortunate that I haven’t received much backlash up to this point *knock on wood* but there will always be detractors and when there are it means I’m doing something right.
Do you think the American listening public is at a point again where challenging concepts can be addressed through pop music?
Absolutely, I know people are hungry to hear their perspective, whether it be angst-ridden or celebratory, in pop music. I love using my voice in as many ways possible, and I’m never shy about making a statement or speaking my truth. “LOUD” is actually a big mission statement for me, about feeling imperfect and using that to make a statement and be heard! I know my generation will relate to that song.
Watch Gia’s provocative “Only A Girl” video below.