Is the World Finally Ready for Gia Woods?
Gia Woods released her first single, "Only A Girl," in January 2015. She was 18 at the time, and her debut, a soft, sensual pop track about falling for a girl after previously dating boys, announced an emerging queer artist committed to being her authentic self. The song's emphatically sapphic music video — a gentle touch on the tennis court here, a steamy makeout in the sauna there — reinforced that, and served as her "very dramatic" coming out to her family and the world. Over the years, it has wracked up more than 11 million views on YouTube.
"I think the people who gravitated towards 'Only A Girl' were people who were like, 'Oh my god, finally, there's someone like me,'" Woods tells me on a Zoom call from her home in Los Angeles. "It's crazy to think how rare [queer pop artists] were at that time."
Six years later, Woods, 25, is still making music, but she has yet to experience a meteoric spike in popularity like some of her contemporaries. She has a smaller following than, say, Hayley Kiyoko, who also broke onto the scene in 2015 with her hit song "Girls Like Girls," or King Princess, who released her first song, "Talia," in 2018. "It was like the world was ready for me," Woods says, "but the world wasn't ready."
Her latest EP, Heartbreak County Vol. 1, out today (October 8), isn't all that different thematically from "Only A Girl." Her musicianship has matured. Standout cuts like "Fame Kills," an angsty meditation on life in the City of Angels, and "Next Girlfriend," a cheeky, bubblegum-pop single about lusting after a girl she can't have, showcase clever songwriting and catchy beats. And yes, as the numeral in the title suggests, it is Part 1 of an ongoing project.
One through-line of the EP is Woods's perspective as a born-and-raised Angeleno. Growing up, she didn't understand why she wasn't boy-obsessed like other girls at school. "I feel like I had one queer friend who was also really closeted," she remembers, "and then I had another friend who actually ended up being my first girlfriend. But it was really hard. I felt like there was something wrong with me." The closest thing she had to explicit lesbian representation in pop music was Katy Perry's 2008 single "I Kissed A Girl."
Still, she had a front-row seat to the lofty dreams many artists come to L.A. to chase. "Everyone wants to be someone here," Woods says, echoing language from the project's first teaser. Most people don't succeed, hence the "heartbreak" in the EP's title, and the ones who do often end up "really fucked" when they achieve fame. "We're chasing Hollywood, running up that hill / They like me right now, but they love when fame kills," she sings in the chorus of "Fame Kills."
Woods, however, has never been motivated by fame. "I want to make music because that's actually what I love to do," she says, "and unfortunately being famous is what comes with it." It's why she can say her debut single was ahead of its time with zero bitterness or resentment. She loves her listeners, too: "They're like family." Woods has an Instagram group chat with some of her biggest fans (it's called the "GFF Club," in case you were wondering) and hosts monthly Zoom calls where they all talk about their lives.
"I open up a lot, maybe a little bit more than I should with my audience," she explains, laughing. "But honestly, at the same time, I'm already so open with my music that I'm like, who gives a fuck if they know who I'm singing about? I have nothing to hide."
Many of these fans have followed her since "Only A Girl" first dropped, drawn to something she can't quite pinpoint — earnestness, or perhaps 19-year-old Woods's naïve fearlessness. "I look back and I'm like, who the fuck was that? How did I do that? You know what I mean? I think that's the beauty of being a baby and being young. Sometimes you don't really even know what's out there."
Woods has grown personally since 2015. She's more vocal than ever about her Persian heritage, which she rarely sees reflected back to her in American pop culture. It's even harder to find depictions of queer Persian-American women. When we put our gay heads together, we can only name two: Dani (played by Arienne Mandi) and Gigi (Sepideh Moafi) from The L Word: Generation Q, which premiered less than two years ago. Woods has yet to tune in, although she plans to binge-watch the reboot of Showtime's iconic lesbian drama soon. "Someone told me they speak Farsi on the show, which is insane!" she gushes. "And fun fact, my song ['Feel It'] is in the latest episode of The L Word. So like, I need to get in on that."
Cultural attitudes toward LGBTQ people have also evolved. When "Only A Girl" dropped, marriage equality was still illegal throughout most of the United States. That June, when it became legal nationwide, a slight majority of Americans (52%) supported it. Today, some 72% of Americans believe homosexuality should be accepted by society. A record-high 70% also back same-sex marriage.
These shifts have had ripple effects in the music industry. Woods points the massive success of chart-topping rapper Lil Nas X, who irrefutably displays his queerness in hit songs like "That's What I Want" and "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)." The music video for the latter, in which the 22-year-old gives Satan a lap dance, even scored him Video of the Year at the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards.
"He was literally butt-naked on TV!" Woods recalls, laughing. "I just hope that motivates young queer people — like, if he can do that at that level and be on TV and be himself, I hope that gives hope to people that you're going to find your way of being your authentic self, and find your community of people who support you and love you."
Of course, Woods knows the fight for LGBTQ visibility in pop music is not a competition, even if she was aiming for a similar goal with "Only A Girl" all the way back in 2015. "I was trying to basically open doors there, and I think I did," she says. "That's part of why things have progressed. One artist leads to another artist, leads to another artist. We all open doors for each other."
Heartbreak County Vol. 1 is out now.