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Performing on stage at Charli XCX’s LA Pride event last June, rising pop star Gia Woods flips her newly blonde hair and strikes a pose in a petite two piece outfit, working every angle like she was born to be in front of the camera. With her sensual choreography and confident stage presence, it’s impossible to tell Woods grew up as a self-described shy and antisocial person in a conservative Persian family.
It was music that helped her grow from being too nervous to even order at a restaurant to confidently performing in front of thousands. “[Singing] was the only way to use my voice without having to directly talk to somebody,” Woods recalls over the phone while celebrating the release of her EP, Heartbreak County. “Music is exactly why I finally became confident.” Now armed with two EPs and a bold sense of conviction, Woods is pop music’s latest disrupter. Her shimmering four-track Heartbreak County EP gives a voice to young queer girls who don’t feel seen. It offers an erudite reflection on the dark side of fame masked with buoyant beats and dance-ready production. Songs like “Oh My God” and “Next Girlfriend” pay homage to the hot pink and bedazzled era of Y2K pop while putting her own distinct spin on what it means to be a woman in the pop sphere.
As someone who grew up in LA, Woods has seen what happens when fame corrupts a person. She notes that much of the superficiality associated with the birthplace of the influencer comes more from LA transplants than natives, but she still attended high school parties at the houses of famous actors — a stark contrast to her traditional upbringing. Woods’ Heartbreak County song “Fame Kills” explores how fame can lead to an artist’s downfall, and according to Woods, “literally sums up” her entire project. It’s a chilled out bop that opens with atmospheric synths and a bouncy beat as she sings of the prevalence of drug use among burnt out celebrities. She name drops several members of the 27 Club, musicians, artists, and actors who died at the age of 27 after catapulting to fame.
“Growing up in LA, I’ve been around and seen a lot of famous people come and go,” Woods says about her inspiration behind “Fame Kills.” “LA can look like it’s all glitz and glam, but it’s honestly really dark too.” Woods has noticed that once an artist achieves a certain level of popularity, people start essentially bullying them online. “When someone’s doing really well or someone’s having a really amazing moment, we always have to find a way to bring them down,” she says. “Artists see people talking and putting them down in the press and in the media. I think that’s why artists lose themselves, because they’re so vulnerable and they’re so open and they put themselves out there. And then this whole other side of the world is judging them and putting them down. That’s why, a lot of the time, fame can lead to drugs, alcohol, losing control, and losing the focus of why you even started music.”
After witnessing first hand the dangers of fame, Woods is breaking the mold of the “perfect pop star.” As someone who has been subjected to the pervasive misogyny in the music industry, Woods notes how female pop stars are expected to look and dress a type of way. “I think we need to stop putting pop stars on this pedestal,” she says. “We are allowed to look bad sometimes, we’re allowed to sound bad sometimes, we’re allowed to say the wrong f*cking things, nobody is perfect.” Particularly as a queer musician, Woods has experienced the pressure to say the right thing. “I’ve never really felt that I needed to be this perfect artist. I’ve always wanted to do my own thing. I’ve always been on my own path,” she says. And she strives to use her platform to inspire young girls to similarly forge their own futures.
Woods has already received countless messages from fans who thank her for inspiring them to be their authentic selves. After releasing her debut single “Only A Girl” in 2016, a snappy WLW anthem. Woods used the song as her way of coming out to her family and music team. To this day, the singer still gets messages from people in their teens to their mid-40s who say her music has inspired them to come out. One women even told her that hearing “Only A Girl” inspired her to leave her husband. “People ask what my biggest goal is, and it’s being a part of people’s journeys who are discovering themselves,” Woods says. “I’m eternally grateful that I could play any part in that, just because I didn’t really have anyone to look up to you growing up.”
The singer’s Heartbreak County song “Next Girlfriend” is a sultry and buzzing maximalist pop tune about finding an intense connection with another woman, a song she wishes existed when she was young. Before releasing “Only A Girl,” Woods describes herself as “super closeted and super, super, super alone.” She adds, “I didn’t even think I could ever come out until I had the motivation and support system from my music team.” Part of Woods’ hesitation to come out came from growing up in a household she described as “old fashioned.” She started dating her best friend in high school, was going out to parties, and experiencing all her “firsts,” all while her parents were unaware. “It was definitely weird growing up with a Persian family who were old fashioned because I did really feel like I was Hannah Montana,” she said, describing the difference between her home life and personal life. “My family outside of my family was showing me the world around me. And when I was home, it felt like my parents just didn’t tell me sh*t. I was my own teacher throughout all of it.”
Now, after having several girlfriends and finding success in the music industry, her mom is more accepting of her identity. But she still needs to set boundaries, like when she recently blocked her mom on Instagram after her insensitive response to a Heartbreak County teaser that showed Woods making out with a girl. “She was just reminding me of my childhood experience with her. I literally just hung up the phone and I blocked her on Instagram,” Woods recalls. “We’ve come so far, are you really trying to go backwards now? And are you seriously still asking these questions? I’m kissing a f*cking girl. Get the f*ck over it. If I was kissing a boy, you would not call me right now.”
Another aspect of Woods’ original dubiety to come out in her late teens was due to the representation of lesbians in the media. As a super feminine women who’s always rocking body suits and acrylic nails, Woods’ concept of queerness was influenced by the women she saw in TV and film at the time. “I didn’t even know you could just be gay and you can still dress and act however you want. The stereotypes really got in my head,” she said. “I was like, wow, I guess I could be super femme and still be gay. People still to this day don’t even believe [I’m gay]. Everyone’s always like, ‘Wait, really? With those nails?’”
That’s why Woods wrote Heartbreak County — to show young girls discovering their identity that they don’t need to fit a certain stereotype to be valid. To her, music is an escape, and she hopes that others will find solace in getting lost in the dancefloor-ready beats of songs like “Oh My God” or “Enough Of You.” But more than anything, Woods wants her listeners to know they’re not alone. “Wherever you’re growing up right now in whatever city, I want people to know that you’re not going to be stuck in that forever, even if it feels that you are.” The last takeaway she hopes listeners have from her EP, she notes with a twinge of sarcasm, is to “leave your husbands and block your parents on Instagram.”
Heartbreak County, Vol. 1 is out now via Snafu Records. Get it here.