Gia Woods Is Listening to Freddie Mercury, Madonna, and All the Queer Icons

Published August 14, 2020

Photos by Jenna Marsh.

This is “Add to Queue,” our attempt to sort through the cacophony of music floating in the algorithmic atmosphere by consulting the experts themselves. Our favorite musicians tell us about their favorite music—the sad, the happy, the dinner party-y, the songs they want played at their funeral. In this edition, we speak with Gia Woods, the queer Persian pop sensation. In honor of the tail end of Pride month, the release of her video for “Naive,” and her new single “Into It,” she shares her range of eclectic pop influences, from Björk to Britney.

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GRACE HALVORSON: Now that it’s July, I hope you had a great Pride Month! 

GIA WOODS: Thank you. It’s been crazy. I feel like we somehow squeezed in some Pride things at the end of this month, but in the beginning I definitely felt like, “I don’t want to do anything but support what’s happening.” And I’m still doing that, but it’s nice that we can still celebrate Pride as well in some way. I hope next year we can do it all.

HALVORSON: How did you celebrate? Did you do anything special for Pride? 

WOODS: I’ve been just hanging out with a lot of my friends, but I’ve done some of the little festivals on IG Live which has been so nice, because I usually play a show, especially during Pride Month. It was nice that I could still kind of do something, performing-wise. But I would love to do a Pride Festival tour next year, if that could happen. I did it last year and it was so much fun. Whether it’s in L.A. or Chicago or a different city, everyone at Pride is so welcoming, whether they know your music or not. And that’s what I love about our community. It’s just so welcoming. I hope next year, or maybe the year after… I’m hearing so many different things about when people can perform again. So, we’ll see. 

HALVORSON: Is there a song that you have related to in the past—that you’ve assigned some personal narrative to that probably isn’t there from the artist, but has still felt important to you?

WOODS: I was doing a series for Paper where I cover songs and I did a lot of nostalgic songs that I grew up listening to. I did the song “Time of Your Life” by Green Day. I fucking love that song. That song made me think a lot about how I feel about the world right now, and how I feel in my life as well. It’s literally called “Time of Your Life,” so that’s already saying a lot. But it really hits when it reminds you, don’t take things for granted, and enjoy the little moments in your life because you never know when they’re going to be taken away from you. It hits home for me every single time I listen to it. 

HALVORSON: What was the last song that you listened to?

WOODS: It was a song called “Clear Bones” by a guy named Gene Dawson. He’s a new artist. You should check him out.

HALVORSON: Do you remember who the earliest musician that influenced you was?

WOODS: Oh my god, yeah. A lot of people. Green Day, Madonna, Björk. Radiohead. Coldplay. Those are the artists that my older sister passed down to me. She would give me all her CDs and I’d play them on my little boombox. I still listen to them on a daily basis.

HALVORSON: What was your first concert that you went to?

WOODS: I think it was Britney Spears, the Circus Tour. That concert blew my mind. I was like, “I want to be a pop star.” There were real live animals. I think there was a lion. It was a literal circus.

HALVORSON: Do you have a favorite movie soundtrack? 

WOODS: I’ve rewatched Call Me By Your Name, like, three times in the last three months. So, that soundtrack has been coming up a lot for me. It’s really pretty.

HALVORSON:Do you have a favorite song on it? 

WOODS: “Mystery of Love.” That song is so good. I can never say his name, Sufjan Stevens. Is that how you say his name? I don’t know. However you pronounce it, he’s a genius. His song “Death With Dignity” is also insane. 

HALVORSON: Do you have a dream collaborator?

WOODS: If I were to pick someone right now, I would say The Weekend, just because I’ve always loved everything he’s put out since the beginning, and I think he’s so versatile and he has a lot of the same tastes as me. He started collaborating with Gesaffelstein and Daft Punk, and those are two artists that I was always obsessed with in high school and middle school. It’s interesting to see that he always collabs with people I’ve always wanted to collab with. So, I feel like it would be fun to do a song with him. 

HALVORSON: Is there a song that always puts you in a good mood? 

WOODS: “Crash” by Gwen Stefani. Such a fucking bomb. I love that song. 

HALVORSON: Wow, Gwen Stefani. That’s another throwback. 

WOODS: I know. She’s one of my biggest inspirations in terms of melodies. The way that she sang on the songs, it was her own thing. It’s almost like she was rapping, but not really. There’s something about the way her melodies were, so different than all the other artists I remember growing up listening to. 

HALVORSON: What songs might you put on a playlist for, say, a road trip? 

WOODS: There are so many by MIA, but I would say “20 Dollars.” That song is so fire. I love that song. And then Perfume Genius, “Slip Away.” That song is insane. 

HALVORSON:What about if you were throwing a dinner party? What song or songs might you put on that playlist?

WOODS: Oh god, that’s hard. Let me think. Do we want it to be like a fun dinner, or a more romantic, kind of chill dinner? 

HALVORSON: Totally up to you.

WOODS: I’m so picky. Let’s see. Honestly, probably Madonna. Yeah, I would put Madonna on there. And the song that I would pick: “Vogue.” I just love that song. That, or “La Isla Bonita.”

HALVORSON: What about a breakup playlist? 

WOODS: Probably Coldplay. Anything by Coldplay will make me fucking cry, and I love that.

HALVORSON: Similarly, what would you play if you just needed a good cry, to sit alone in your bedroom, or maybe when you drive to the beach by yourself?

WOODS: God, there’s so many. Honestly, I don’t think this song has anything to do with a relationship, but “Reckoner” by Radiohead, for some reason anytime I hear that it just puts me in a mood. Have you heard that song before? 

HALVORSON: No, I haven’t.

WOODS: Oh, after we get off, you have to listen to “Reckoner” by Radiohead. It’s such a beautiful song. And it’s also one of the first things I learned on the guitar, the little rhythm he plays in it. He’s just singing the word reckoner with like a high falsetto and it’s just so emotional and beautiful. 

HALVORSON: Do you have a go-to karaoke song? 

WOODS: “Toxic” by Britney Spears. All the fucking time. 

HALVORSON: Do you have the choreography to go with it?

WOODS: Actually, yeah I do. Me and my best friend, we went to karaoke right before this whole thing with COVID happened. It was her birthday, and we took over the whole room. Everyone left because our room was the loudest and most obnoxious. But we were all singing “Toxic,” and it was so much fun. I miss karaoke. Damn. Hopefully we can do that again soon. 

HALVORSON: Do you sing in the shower?

WOODS: I used to a lot when I was in high school. But I do music now full-time, whereas in high school it was like, school was school, and then when I’d come home, any chance I got to sing or write, I would do it. So, I would definitely sing in the shower. But not so much anymore. Now, I just want nothing but silence when I’m in the shower, just to decompress and relax.

HALVORSON: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So in high school, were you singing things that you were writing, or just anything?

WOODS: In high school, I was really awkward and antisocial. I had maybe zero friends, so I would just spend a lot of my time in my room on the weekends. When everyone was out with their friends, I would just be home writing. You know those old school journals, like the black and white ones?

HALVORSON: Yeah. 

WOODS: I have, like, two of those filled with writing and I think one of my first songs was about being bored because I was bored on the weekends. Nothing crazy lyrical, but she was writing.

HALVORSON: What about queer influences? Are there musicians, either contemporary or in the past, who’ve inspired you as a queer artist?

WOODS: Definitely. Queen, for sure—Freddie Mercury especially. Was he Persian? I’m still a little confused about it. They said he was Persian, but then they also said he was not. So, I’m not really sure. But either way, I remember hearing his music when I was younger and just becoming obsessed with his stage presence and how comfortable he was. So definitely him and Madonna. 

HALVORSON: Is there an instrument that you would like to learn how to play?

WOODS: I know how to play the violin, but I kind of forgot how to play it these last couple years. I was in orchestra when I was growing up, so violin was my go-to before guitar, but then I dropped it. I would love to get back into that and maybe do some online Zoom classes or something. I have two violins just sitting in my room right now. 

HALVORSON: That’d be cool. It’s really interesting when artists bring orchestral strings into pop.

WOODS: That’s my favorite. I don’t know if you noticed, but in “Naive,” the outro is actually violins that my producer recorded. So, that was really fucking sick and any chance I can add that, I am so down, because it’s just like such a classy instrument that will never sound outdated.

HALVORSON: Do you wake up to music? Do you use it as an alarm clock?

WOODS: It’s kind of like the same thing with the showering thing, because I feel like when I wake up I can’t do anything until I have my coffee, and … you’re going to think I’m crazy. I have three to five cups of coffee a day. 

HALVORSON: Wow. 

WOODS: Yeah, I know. I’m crazy as fuck. I’m psycho. But three to five is what I need. I need like two and a half in the morning, and then in the middle of the day I have two more. ]I can’t listen to music until I have coffee, and then as soon as I’m awake … who would I listen to? I love Disclosure. “Where Angels Fear to Tread”—that song is definitely a vibe I would totally turn on in the morning.

HALVORSON: What’s a song or an album that you think if everyone listened to it, it might change the world? 

WOODS: Album-wise, I would say “In Rainbows” by Radiohead. I feel like a lot of records don’t come close to that level of musicality. It’s timeless. 

HALVORSON: If your life were a TV show, do you think there’s a song that might be the theme song? 

WOODS: That’s a good question. Honestly, my song “Naive.” Not to, like, promote my song in any way, but just literally, I feel like that is my life. I feel like there’s so many situations where I’ve been naïve, and I think you always kind of have it with you as you go. There’s a lot of things that you learn and you look back on them and you’re just like, “Holy shit, I was so naïve.”