Accompanying her new EP is a video for the title track, “Bruised," premiering on Billboard today (Oct. 4). In the stunning visual, Jam paints a haunting portrait of the cycle of violence and abuse, specifically for transgender women of color, through painful imagery, violent scenes and even a specific angelic depiction of trans actress Laverne Cox.
“Many trans women are not allowed to come out of it on the other side without even being able to speak up about the abuse and the violence because girls are being murdered,” Jam tells Billboard. “This is just another layer to [the #MeToo movement], where your voice isn't even being heard, and you're silenced because of death.”
Jam spoke with Billboard about including trans women in the #MeToo movement, working with her friends Laverne Cox and MJ Roddriguez, and why she has hope for the future. Watch the video for "Bruised" below, and check out the rest of our Q&A after the jump.
I've read that this project was deeply inspired by the #MeToo movement. How did you find that manifesting itself in the EP and this video?
Basically, it manifested through the symbolism of what it means to sort of go back and forth between being with someone in a toxic relationship, whether it's emotional or physical abuse, and what that sort of looks like. The back and forth, where there are good times, good moments, but then there's some rough physical moments that, in this case, often end in death. And it’s specifically speaking about trans women in this account, and trans women of color. You know, many trans women are not allowed to come out of it on the other side without even being able to speak up about the abuse and the violence because girls are being murdered. So, it's one thing for the #MeToo movement's conversation to be had, and to sort of inform people that this is a problem. This is just another layer to it, where your voice isn't even being heard, and you're silenced because of death.
This song and even the EP itself was sort of inspired by a piece I did, a short film I did last summer called Black Star Mila. And I do a spoken word piece in it about the uprising of black excellence, and the excellence in women and women of color. At the end of the video, I basically state, "What a time to stay alive." So it just kind of led forward to me being like, "We're all out here trying to just stay alive." It's one thing to just be alive and to enjoy life and to have great things and great stories. But it's another conversation when you're working to stay alive. And that's what I think is universal, you know? Everyone is doing what they can to stay alive. Whether you be trans or cis or black or white or anything, we're all in this together, and we're all trying to figure out ways to live our best lives.
How do you think, in general, the #MeToo movement has been doing thus far with advocating for and on behalf of trans women of color?
I always say that I primarily advocate by living out my best life — by thriving in my life, and being a positive reflection of what it's possible to be and become as a woman of color and a woman of trans experience. That is just very important for young people to see, because it's all about representation, and it's always about what we see when we're looking at who we can be. Like, I didn't have a Mila Jam growing up, you know? It has been quite inspiring for me, as a young person. Like, as much as I have idolized Whitney Houston and Brandi and Beyoncé and Mariah Carey, I want young kids to look up to someone who [reflects] their experiences. There's a lot of work being done within the community. A lot of my sisters are really out there working hard to spread the story and the experience. I also want to allow myself to have a creative space to express how I see things, but also to touch on the messages of what it is and what it means to be me and trans women that are having a similar experience.
This project seems a little different from your previous music. What was your approach to this project?
I approached it with this strength of resonating with something that's going on, specifically right now, and incorporating people around me that could help tell a story in a very strong, visual way. I always make music with a message, and I usually tend to focus on sending love and this light, in a sense. But I wanted to show a different side of myself. The song ["Bruised"] is, I feel, very emotionally triggering, very passion-driven -- it's very real and it's very raw. I wanted to bring more transparency to the table as an artist, so I was just compelled to do it differently. So I approached this song in a way that I haven't before. I mean, even in the final edit of the video, there are just clips of me dealing with actual physical assault and abuse, and what that looks like to someone that accesses inner peace. There are questions that come out of that, like, "What do you do about that? How do you change that?" Because even when you have answers, it's not always easy to make the situation better, and to get out of a situation like that. So this touches on something that I think is really poignant. I really wanted to do something that would get people to stop and go, "Oh, wow."
I also think we get used to seeing people in certain lights, we get used to their brands and we get used to seeing them deliver things in a certain way. And I think this is not only one of my best pieces, but it's a different side of me, a more intimate, vulnerable side of me. And I hope people see that it's not just me wanting to be pretty or look a certain way, there's a lot to it.
You mentioned incorporating people around you, and this video has a lot of other great talent, including Laverne Cox, MJ Rodriguez, and Yuhua Hamasaki from Drag Race. Why was it important to have all of these people involved in this project?
I believe that there is power in numbers. There is a much more received impact with art when you can see familiar faces. These people that I've involved have firsthand experience with what it's like to be marginalized, to be mistreated, to be assaulted, to be attacked both verbally and physically. And a lot of them just happen to be friends of mine I have in the industry that are also doing amazing work. When I asked Laverne to be a part of this project, I just envisioned showing her in a way that represents hope. One of the undercurrents of this project and this video is hope. It's about how we move through these things and how we find a light at the end of the tunnel. And she has represented hope for a lot of our community, so I wanted her to be a beacon of light. She plays an angel that comes down and gives me some sort of strength. That's the symbolism.
Having MJ in it was so cool, too. She's one of my closest friends, but she's just like any girl walking down the street who experiences the same thing we experience. And having Yuhua in it is an example of the dynamic and the spectrum of what happens in the femme community. Trans women are women and drag queens are doing their jobs as performers and entertainers, but that doesn't erase them from experiencing the same thing that a lot of women experience. [The video] paints this idea of how we're all looked at as objects and how we're taught to be controlled.
What has it been like to see your friends like MJ and Laverne blow up into mainstream success in the way they have?
It has been absolutely wild [laughs]. We have always been -- and I say we because we're all in the same circles and we all support each other -- hungry to not only do good work, but to make a mark in this world. You don't always get to see the fruits of your labor, and that is something that I have been lucky enough to witness countless times with Laverne and MJ, and people like Peppermint and other girlfriends like Trace Lysette. Seeing that come to life, and to see the respect slowly come about and to see more opportunities is incredible. As trans people, and as people of color and marginalized people, the opportunities being able to be turned into livelihood is magical. That is so wild. Like, Laverne and I have been friends since way before her role in Orange is the New Black, and I literally got to see her grow from the ground up, from the day she booked the role to being on a billboard in Times Square. That is bananas [laughs].
I also feel like in my own career, I have been working hard to not only do work that I put out myself, but to be recognized for all of the stuff that I've done in all of my body of work without having major outlets behind me. There's something to be said for that, at least in the world of music and an industry that's driven by numbers and people's opinions of you, I am blessed to have friends who support my cause and what I do as an artist. I am blessed to believe in something and...it's not easy to execute. It takes a lot of work, so my dream is to be able to do that and to grow in that and not be...not get pushed aside and told I can't because someone else is judging me.
What can fans expect when they listen to this EP?
So the cool thing about it is it's only three songs, and one remix of one of the songs. But the journey starts with "Bruised," which is the first track representing the hurt and the pain. The second song is called "Glass Castle," which is more of the reflection of dealing with the hurt and the pain and realizing it's there. And the last song is "A Time to Stay Alive." I call it the sort of motivating anthem of knowing that you've got the light, you can move forward toward it, and that something can come from that experience. It's that realization of hope, that realization of something better. Even the mood shift -- it's not a super-pop dance EP, it's an emotional, soul EP. But it ends on a note of optimism and that is what I want everyone to take away from it. I think it's really going to resonate with a lot of people. They're going to hear and see me in a different way, they're going to see a new delivery and the way I connected with the music. It's really moving, I'm so excited for people to hear it.