In the video for her latest single, "What I Like," Los Angeles-based pop newcomer Gia dons a gold crown and gauzy, goddess-like ball gown, hosting a glamorous party where guests sip goblets of wine in hot tubs, make out in dark corners and eat wedding cake with their bare hands. Inspired by Greek mythology, Gia takes on the role of the God of Wine, also known as the Liberator.
"I'm freeing everyone from their inhibitions," she tells Billboard over the phone. But with her debut EP Keep On Coming and its messages of self-acceptance and LGBTQ pride, it's a role the 21-year-old is taking off-screen, too.
Gia made her debut in 2015 with "Only A Girl," a sparkling, breathy pop earworm and steamy music video which doubled as her coming out as lesbian. Neither her family and friends nor her manager knew Gia was gay until the track, about Gia's first same-sex relationship, was written.
"I definitely knew, 'I can't not pull the trigger. I have to go with this," says Gia, who wrote a Love Letter To The LGBT Community about the song for Billboard Pride. "I don’t want to put music out that’s mediocre, and that doesn't really say 'he' or 'she.' I want to be able to talk to my fans, and especially the females in the industry. It’s an important role for lesbian artists to be open and embrace themselves."
The video, in which Gia leads a Red Vine-chewing troupe of blonde tennis players, was a viral hit, racking up 8.5 million streams and counting. She went on to rock the stage at L.A. Pride in 2016 clad in a fringe miniskirt and stilettos, a major turning point for a singer who just a few years earlier "didn't even want to sing in front of people" at her high school.
Gia laughs remembering that the first song she ever wrote was called "Bored" -- "I was a loner when I was little, and I wrote a song about being bored on the weekend," she says. "I was always nervous. I was always shy." Even so, she got her start in music "straight out of the belly," playing violin in her elementary school orchestra by age nine while teaching herself guitar and piano at home and watching Madonna music videos on repeat.
When Gia's shyness took over, her family had her back. "My mom, she sort of always advocated for me to do [music]," Gia says. "She was like, 'you have it in you.'” In fact, Gia never would have joined her high school choir -- where she'd eventually be discovered by her current manager -- if it weren't for her sister, who secretly signed Gia up for the course.
Her choice or not, choir was a game-changer for Gia, who built up her courage performing Beatles tracks and other classics at local coffee-shops as part of the class. It was during one of those performances -- this time, a cover of "Hey Jude" -- that Gia was discovered by her current manager.
Meanwhile, Gia was secretly coming to terms with her sexuality, suddenly understanding early playground crushes and why she felt so jealous when female friends hung out with other classmates. She began to date her best girl friend of seven years, a relationship she says her family never spoke about.
It wasn't until after confiding the truth in her manager, Gia explains, that she realized she couldn't continue as an artist without unleashing her authentic self. "[My manager] was like, 'you need to write about that. You need to write a song about finding yourself.' I was shy and scared... but I was like, 'I know you’re right.'" For the first time in her life, Gia found herself addressing lyrics to a "she" instead of a "he" that had never existed at all. Suddenly, her coming-out letter to the world was written in the form of a chorus that finds significance in its simplicity: "Only a girl/ Knows how a girl feels/ Only a girl/ Can make me feel this way."
"When my video came out, my family and friends saw it, and that was kind of my first step towards, hey, this is me. This is who I am,” she says. She adds that the response so far has been nothing but positive. "The LGBT community has embraced me from day one. When my video came out, they were the most supportive, I have to say, with helping spread it and share it," says Gia. "They are my day ones. That’s definitely my lane in the industry."
It's a lane Gia continues to tread with her newest track, "What I Like," a bubbly, positive melody fans might be surprised to learn she wrote after her first breakup. Gia says she first got the idea while meditating, a new ritual she picked up from her manager and continues to practice daily. "When I went into the session, I was like, 'I want to write about the things I like, not the things I’m lacking,'" she says.
Written by Gia and songwriting collaborator Jesse Saint John, the result is a breezy, carefree self-love anthem helmed by acoustic strums and crisp production courtesy of King Henry (of Major Lazer and Justin Bieber’s "Cold Water," Beyoncé, The Weeknd) and Morgan Taylor Reid (Backstreet Boys). And filming the party-centric video, directed by Gianennio Salucci, was just as fun as it looks -- Gia adds that the final scene, where the group gorges on cake with their bare hands, was ad-libbed. "We were wrapping up, and I kind of just went over there and grabbed a piece and started eating it...[Salucci] started filming me," she says.
The same fun-seeking, self-accepting spirit runs throughout Gia's debut EP, Keep On Coming, which Gia describes as "alternative trap" mixed with elements of pop. "I think no matter what, [success] will happen for you, whether right now, or five years from now. That inspired the title," she adds. "That no matter what, if it’s meant to be, it will keep on coming."
For Gia, seeking personal truth is the first step. When she's not in the studio working on her EP, that includes mediating, cooking at home with her girlfriend ("we make the best steak," she says, giggling) and hiking -- following the interview, Gia says she'll head to L.A.'s scenic Runyon Canyon Park.
"My biggest thing is being genuine, and always being honest with who I am and what I’m about. There are so many people who put on a facade," Gia says. "People need to be reminded to embrace themselves, and I think that’s my purpose."
Watch the full video for Gia's "What I Like," premiering below, and look out for more news on her debut EP, Keep On Coming.