Gia Woods unpacks the Los Angeles experience on her new EP, Heartbreak County Vol. 1.
A native to the City of Angels, she identifies several of the city’s most dangerous vices — addiction, religion, sex and fame — over walloping beats on the project’s four songs. In the process, Woods proves that all that glitters is certainly not gold.
The glossy release also represents something of a sonic shift for the rising star. She introduced herself with the confessional “Only a Girl” in 2016 and dropped the alt-leaning Cut Season last year.
In stark comparison, Heartbreak County Vol. 1’s lead single “Enough of You” is an electro-disco anthem along the likes of Britney Spears’ underrated Blackout deep cut, “Heaven On Earth.” Woods conceptualized the song on guitar during a Zoom writing session in the midst of the pandemic. With its ephemeral production, the end result is a relatable ode to an addictive lover.
As the title implies, the EP’s second single “Oh My God” delves into the religious connotations of the Hollywood lifestyle. Make no mistake, though; this dangerous bop is no church song. In a monologue introducing the single, the staunchly a-religious Woods conflates the worship of Madonna and Elvis with Jesus.
“At night I pray that I may be saved in the valley of Heartbreak County,” she pleads. It’s a serious mood.
“Next Girlfriend,” a cocky exploration of sex, offers the most obvious evidence of Woods’ evolution from the tender “Only a Girl.” Here, she evokes a full-fledged rocker looking for her next fix. The hit-maker, who was included in Out’s Out100 last year, serves a serious look for the single’s cover art. The topless pic puts a queer spin on that Janet Jackson Rolling Stone cover.
The moody “Fame Kills” closes out Heartbreak County Vol. 1 as something of an ode to avoiding the 27 Club. It’s lush with references to the pop greats, but the somber number serves as a fitting reminder that a city billed as full of opportunities holds plenty of threats, and the anthem leaves you wondering if the price of fame is really worth it in the long run.
Woods poses a similar question in a press release accompanying the EP: “Everyone knows about LA, everyone thinks they want to come here, but do they really know LA,” she wonders.
Below, PopCrush spoke to Woods about Heartbreak County Vol. 1 and got all the tea about how the project came together; her sonic influences; and what it feels like to be an out and proud artist in 2021.
How does it feel now that Heartbreak County Vol. 1 is out and people can finally hear it?
I feel like every song I’ve been releasing has been a reopening of what exactly I went through writing the project. The first single was the best way to introduce Heartbreak County: what it means to me and what it feels like, all the emotions and the production. I felt like that was the best introduction. All the other songs have been a follow-up of that initial start. The project was kind of like my escape from the pandemic.
I was writing it during the most crazy time of the world. I felt like it’s exactly what I needed to get away from what was really happening in the real world and just live in my own world. It’s really crazy to be releasing that music now. It’s crazy to see where we’re at right here, right now, and where I was when I was writing that project.
It’s interesting because I feel like a lot of creatives have turned to their creative outlets during the pandemic.
One hundred percent. If I didn’t write Heartbreak Country while going through all that, I would have been a f—ing mess. I would have literally lost it. It was exactly the thing I needed to do and express while everything was falling apart.
I’m interested in the idea that you were looking at L.A. as a native. How did you come up with the idea?
Heartbreak County is basically about Los Angeles, and I kind of wrote it calling it L.A. Heartbreak County because being someone who’s from here, I’ve witnessed so many things and so many people coming in and out of this city. I’ve seen a lot of people come because L.A. has this facade. Like, “This is where you come to make it.” Or, “You’re going to meet all these people, and all these celebrities.” It’s like heaven, where this is the city to be in.
It’s obviously not. It’s like the complete opposite. I feel like if anything people come here having one expectation, and most of the times leave with the exact opposite. I’ve witnessed people come here to trying to make it, and their hearts get broken. They realize there’s so many people in this city doing exactly what they’re doing. So it’s kind of about Los Angeles, and what this city means to me as someone who’s witnessed it.
Do you listen to Allie X at all?
Yeah, I actually just met her not that long ago. She’s really cool.
She’s an icon. But her EP Super Sunset looked at L.A. as an outsider moving in. I thought it was unique to have both perspectives. Yours as someone who’s grown up in this city and hers as someone who came after growing up.
Yes. That is really interesting. It’s the same thing; people get so jaded. It’s so easy to get stuck in this city and all the s–t that comes with it. I always have been grounded because I have my family, my friends here. But if I was just moving here, oh my God. This city is so deep and dark-rooted. There’s so much dark energy here even though it looks like the place.
It’s shiny on the outside, but once you get in it’s kind of different.
That’s the best way to say it. Once you’re in there’s crickets, white noise. Who are you guys? What is this? Where are my people?
I’ve been here my whole life, and I’ve actually been wanting to experience change and leave. Go experience a different life and live somewhere else. But then at the same time, I love the chaos of it. This is my life. As much as I want to leave I can’t. It’s my home. I know this place like the back of my hand.
Visually, every song has a really distinct almost character that you’re playing. How did you build out those images for each single?
The first few photos that I did were very conceptualized. We started with a photo of me with a disco lollipop as a little hint that we were going in a different direction, honey. The second photo and the third photo shoot that I started releasing was basically… My long hair was dressed around this city, like a little Gia-wood. It was like a little Hollywood. That and the first photos were kind of just an introduction to this world.
They definitely were thought out because I really wanted to capitalize on the L.A. landmarks that we all know about. Even Beverly Hills, I shot my single art cover with my angel wings for my song “Enough of You” because I wanted to be in the heart of Beverly Hills.
When you think of LA you think of three places: You think of Hollywood first, Beverly Hills and Malibu. Those were three spots. I haven’t shot in Malibu, but I really wanted to capitalize on the main historic places of Los Angeles and the downfall.
We’re in this city, and there’s so much going on. I feel like everyone is feeling the same way — this emotional kind of distress about the city. But I wanted that photo to come across like I’ll be your guardian angel. That’s what I feel like Heartbreak County is like, too. I’m the guardian angel giving a tour of the city. As long as you’re with me, you’re okay.
I really appreciate the commitment that I’m seeing for each single. Every release has had a gorgeous shoot. I also saw the EP art; the silver glitter shoot. Why did you feel like that summed the collection up so nicely?
It kind of goes back to what I feel like L.A. is: the glitz and the glam of Hollywood. I felt like, what’s the best way to portray that other than being fully naked, covered in glitter? That’s the best way to sum it up. I also didn’t really want there to be any clothing. I just wanted to be stripped. This is me and here I am in this land I call home … It took weeks to f—ing clean up this glitter.
“Enough of You” has such a perfect electro-disco vibe. How did it come together?
I started that song on the guitar actually, which is really interesting because it sounds completely different. I was on a Zoom call, just like this one, with my friend Carly [Paige Waldrip]. She’s one of my really good friends, and I’ve written a lot of songs with her. I was just like, “I’m really going through it right now, and I really need to write a song.”
We did a session, and I started strumming those exact chords. We started singing and humming different things. All of a sudden we had all these melodies. We wrote the song in like an hour. It was the fastest written song I’ve ever done.
It was such an intimate moment with someone. We were in the middle of the crazy pandemic. I didn’t know what the f–k was going to happen, but we were there writing this song about all these crazy, neurotic, toxic feelings I was feeling. I was definitely really going through the motions of what I felt toward a past lover and a current lover. It was a very crazy time.
When you’re going through breakups, you don’t really fully heal until you’re forced to sit with it and think abut it. Because of the pandemic I literally couldn’t get it out of my mind. I needed to get it out. So that song was kind of my gateway to get out of that weird phase; the toxicity I always find myself involved in. I’m like, “Can I just stop for one second? Jesus Christ.” I literally attract toxic people, or toxic situations. Or maybe I’m the one that’s toxic. F–k. Who knows. Maybe both?
We’re done with this one now. Maybe…
Yeah! I actually wrote a lot of my songs about this one particular person from my last project. I could write a million songs about it because it was such an intense time in my life. I was in the longest relationship as a baby. I was 17, 18. We broke up, my ex and I, around when I was 22. It was a very large amount of time to spend with someone. For me that relationship is something I’ve always gone back to and have so much to write about.
Even writing “Enough of You,” I just learned so much more about myself. I feel like yes, I know how to walk away when I need to. But sometimes there’s moments where I catch myself falling into the same pattern. I spiral and make excuses as to why I should stay involved; why I’m maybe the one at fault.
I always have these reasons and I have this conversation with myself. I’m like, “No, if this isn’t working it’s not working.” Sometimes you have to close the door and walk away instead of staying and dealing with it. Which is what “Enough of You” is about. Like, I can’t get enough of you. I know you’re bad for me, but I f–king can’t leave you.
That’s such a universal experience, but it’s also a really universally queer experience in a way?
Dating another girl… It can be the hardest thing. I don’t know if straight people feel the same way, but the second you’re breaking up with your partner who’s the same sex, you’re like, holy s–t. You’re my best friend and my person, and we’re going our separate ways. But you’re glued to each other. I don’t know if it’s because you’re a girl [with] another girl, but it makes things a lot more intense.
I feel like part of it too, is that growing up there wasn’t a lot of representation of queer love. So we’re kind of figuring it out on the fly.
It’s true. I didn’t have any representation really at all. The closest thing I got to that I think was literally a Katy Perry song: “I Kissed A Girl.” And that wasn’t even a moment of, “Aww.” It was just hot and sexy. It wasn’t like, “Damn, she’s going through heartbreak.” I haven’t really had that representation so it’s valid to say I’m learning as I go.
Not to totally change the subject, but did a lot of the songs come together via Zoom for this project?
Actually only that song. There were a lot of songs I was writing that didn’t make it on the project. So yes, I was writing a lot on Zoom, but this is the only one that came out. The others came together in a studio. The COVID restrictions would go down, and we’d be like, “Okay, let’s get in the studio.” It was nice to be in studio because I don’t know if I could have written an entire project on Zoom. I would have lost my mind.
You’ve introduced every song on the EP with a monologue. How did you come up with that idea?
I was working with my friend Jesse Saint John; he’s kind of my co-creative director, and also he’s my co-writer. He’s been very heavily involved in the project, in terms of that it was kind of something where we were like, “We should include these storylines of the song.” I felt like it would be cool to have a poem with each record, giving a tease of what the song is about from my own vision.
Obviously people are going to take a song into their own interpretation and take whatever they want. But I wanted to give a hint of how each song represented an emotion that Heartbreak County comes with: sex, religion, love… All the stuff that goes into what the city represents. And fame. I wanted each song to have an introduction about it and how it relates.
The “Oh My God” one is interesting in how pop culture is presented as a religion in and of itself.
I feel like that’s kind of what Hollywood represents. This city has lived off that pop culture as if it’s its own religion. We’ve all witnessed the chaos and the dark side of Hollywood. Kind of like those idolized people we look up to. As much as we idolize them, we kind of look at it as if they’re an extension of us. We’re praising them, but we don’t even know them.
Looking at “Next Girlfriend,” I love how cocky the song is. How did you feel the first time you sang it?
I felt like I was literally the hottest b–ch alive. It’s one of those songs you turn on and immediately feel in a better mood. When I wrote it I was involved in a relationship so it was more of a cheeky kind of thing. Like when you go out and notice someone and would be down, but you have a girlfriend.
But now I’m on the other side where I’m going through my own thing and just got out of a relationship. That song is an awesome breakup anthem. It makes you feel like you don’t need anybody. You don’t need that ex; you don’t need that next person. It’s almost like I can be my own girlfriend.
I love the Janet Jackson reference in the visual. Is she a musical influence, too?
I never really was a hardcore fan, but I’ve always appreciated Janet Jackson. Every performance and music video I’ve ever discovered from her I’ve always been like, “Holy f–king shit.” She’s a superstar. One of a kind, legend. There’s no one like her. That was something I pulled from.
In the press release for the song you mention that sexuality and experiences with sex are different when you grow up queer. How would you say that is reflected in this song and your music in general?
Growing up in L.A., I’ve gone to so many different parties and events and get-togethers. As someone who’s grown up queer I never really found people like me in the beginning. When I was in high school I felt like the outsider.
This song speaks on sexuality in a way where you never know who’s gay. It also kind of reminds me of when I was younger and I’d be out or having a little crush on a friend. I could never really tell what it was through being friends with people at that time.
It’s still like that, too. I’ll be out in L.A., there will be someone attractive, but I don’t know if they’re gay. I can’t tell. This song kind of ties back to Heartbreak County, growing up here and the culture behind accepting and fully thriving in your sexuality. But also navigating through it in this city — who’s like-minded, who’s queer and who’s not.
How would you say your perspective on writing about sexuality has changed since “Only a Girl” came out?
“Only a Girl” was my introduction about me. I wanted to start my first record being very open and vulnerable. So when I made new songs it was almost like a given. Now when I write it’s less like, “Oh my God, I’m saying the word girlfriend.”
It doesn’t make me feel like my reintroduction. It feels like this is who I am, and I’m fully owning it. That’s the awesome part. Now I just feel the most myself that I ever have because I’m not scared about what people are going to think. I’m not scared about what my family is going to think. I’m really writing about what I’m going through and not overthinking it. That perspective has definitely changed for me. Before it was so much more intense. Now this is who I am.
It sounds so natural now.
Oh yeah. If I put this song out five years ago I’d be like, “I wonder what people are going to think about this.” We have a long way to go obviously in the entire world. But in terms of music and and the way culture has shifted… Even with having Lil Nas X be open and out. Things are headed toward normalcy in some ways where this isn’t any different than a heterosexual relationship.
It speaks to that but also it seems to speak to your comfort with yourself in a way maybe?
One hundred percent. Little Gia compared to Gia now have completely different mindsets about that. I’m so happy that I finally feel confident. That was a really hard thing to experience growing up — being closeted. Hiding it all throughout my high school years and finally having a peak after I graduate.
You mentioned Lil Nas X. Who else do you feel is really doing it on the queer scene right now?
Girl In Red definitely. She’s kind of that female representation that is finally happening in gay culture. We only have so many artists when you compare how many straight people there are in the industry compared to gay. The big ones, there’s not that many gay people on the top tier year. That needs to change, and we’re slowly kind of heading there. Having Lil Nas X, having Girl In Red, having people like me…
We’re all the voices of people in that community, and we’re finally having a moment. I feel like we’ve always been there, singing our songs and putting our visuals out. But now more than ever it feels like people are paying attention and understanding. Like, “Wait, why did we give a f–k about what people are wanting toward another person?” Go live your life. Worry about you, don’t worry about me. Just listen to my amazing music.
So much of what you’re releasing is personal to you, but it speaks to so many people as one of the examples of queer representation in music. For example, “Only A Girl” was your coming out song. Do you ever think about how those moments that are so personal to you also speak to other people?
It’s crazy how much that song has changed people’s lives. I still get messages to this day saying that’s the song that made [them] come to terms with [their] sexuality. Or that’s the song that made [them] realize [they] want to leave [their] husband. So many crazy messages, and I think that’s been the most amazing experience in all this, too.
Starting off with a very strong message and having it connect so well. I think it also connected so well because it was during a time when no one was flipping out about it. I know I’m not the only one. I hadn’t really studied or knew any history of the community until I started getting older. When I was 18, I didn’t really know that being gay was actually an existing feeling. I actually didn’t know that there were other people like me.
I feel like “Only a Girl” was such a big awakening for so many girls and boys that saw that during that time and could say, “Wait..” That song did more than what I expected, but I was so happy it did. It’s honestly one of those things where if I died today, I’d feel like I fulfilled something really amazing.
Sonically, Heartbreak County is so different form “Only a Girl.” Who is inspiring you right now?
It feels like so much music I grew up listening to. It goes in waves. For this project a lot of it was really listening to Kylie Minogue, Madonna and Daft Punk. Gwen Stefani, a lot of those artists. I just wanted to dive into more. I grew up listening to Madonna. That was my queen, my number one pop star, I was so hooked on her. A lot of that was because of my sister. Whatever she listened to, I would listen to.
I went through two different phases growing up: I listened to alternative music and dance music like Madonna. My first EP was very alternative-pop influenced. The music kind of transitioned to what it is now, the other side of music I literally was obsessed with growing up.
I love that there’s so much emotion through the production of it being dance but sad. I find it really cool when a song is saying something really deep but the record is like, boom, boom, boom! That’s me in my room. I’m right here, but I’m experiencing it in a whole other way.
That crying-on-the-dance-floor feeling.
Exactly. I’m on the dance floor crying.