Photos by Trever Hoehne
If you’re at all aware of what’s going on in pop music this year you’re probably one of the 104 million plus people who watched Pia Mia's video for summer single "Do It Again"—a pop-R&B banger (which includes verses from Chris Brown and Tyga), whose brilliance creeps up on you like an inappropriate crush. Or perhaps you know Pia Mia from following any one of the Kardashians on social media—come on, don't pretend you're too cool. She's been BFFs with Kylie Jenner for a few years now and the family K have played a pivotal role in her career: Back in 2013, Kim shared a video of Pia belting out an acapella rework of Drake's "Hold On, We're Going Home," at the dinner table. In front of Drake, Kanye, and various Kardashians. Casual! Unsurprisingly it went viral and helped Pia land her major label record deal.
But there’s a lot more to Pia Mia than “Do It Again" and the Kardashian connection. Based in LA, but born and raised in Guam, a US island territory in the Western Pacific, her 2.9 million strong Instagram following dwarf’s her home country’s population of 160,000. As with any savvy rising star, this 19-year-old’s ’gram is expertly curated—there’s shots of her working it on stage, rocking her trademark bandana and waist-length blonde hair, she’s at the gym, she’s photo-ready and fabulous, she’s selfie-skilled and more than aware of her angles. What her pictures don’t communicate is the ferocious singular drive that's taken her from self-described "island girl" to potential superstar. Recently we sat down with Pia at her abel's London HQ and found her to be polite, focused, and surprisingly self-deprecating, but the lingering takeaway was—wow, you wouldn't bet against this girl making it big.
Noisey: Although you're only 19, you've already been doing this for a long time. When did you realize you wanted to be a singer?
Pia Mia: Well, I was always really shy as a kid—I got carried into school until third grade—so music was never something I thought about doing. But then, when I was about eight, my school was doing a musical and all my friends were auditioning, so I followed them to try out for Cinderella and I ended up getting the part. The moment I stepped on stage, I just instantly knew that music was what I was meant to do. It was the one place I felt comfortable and able to express myself. From that day on, I just worked really hard… and now I’m here!
Did that confidence you felt on stage help your confidence off stage?
Kinda. I felt more secure in myself because I knew what I wanted to do. If I was ever having a bad day, I could just go to music and everything would be OK. But I lost all my friends when I started singing. No one wanted to be my friend any more.
Why do you think that was?
I think it was because, being so young, kids didn’t really understand me knowing what I was meant to do already. And I worked so hard—I was singing at weddings and government events, I was going on humanitarian tours raising money for kids that needed surgeries, things like that. I was like eight, nine, 10, 11, 12 at the time. I think there were definitely pros and cons to me finding music. In me finding confidence, I lost a lot of friends.
When did you realize you’d have to leave Guam to take things further?
When I started, I didn’t know anything about, like, making a song or iTunes or how anything happens in the music industry. I was just doing everything I could do on the island. But yeah, at some point I realized that to really take this to the next level, I was going to have to go off island. When I was about 14 my parents let me come to LA for three months to learn about the music industry. I didn’t really have any expectations about what would happen, but one thing led to another and now here I am.
How did you land your record deal?
I just kept dropping covers and eventually the labels started calling. When they heard my cover of "Hold On, We're Going Home,” they kind of went crazy for it. But at first I wasn’t going to take any label meetings because I didn’t want to sign to a label. I’d been in a production deal previously and I didn’t like the feeling of not having control over my image and sound. I’d already formed my own personal label when I was 16 called Wolfpack Entertainment, so I was like, I’m cool, I don't need a label. But then it got to the point where the presidents of labels were calling me and I started taking the meetings out of respect. And when I met with Interscope, we just kind of clicked.
Do you still have as much control as you want?
Yeah, I got a really good deal! I’m basically leading my own project—my personal label connects to Interscope. There was no way I was going to take a deal where I wasn’t in control of everything.
Where does your insane drive come from? I mean most 16-year-olds don’t set up record labels.
I think it just comes from the fact that music is the only way I know. I feel like I’ve never been good at communicating, I don’t think I do interviews good…
You're doing pretty well in this one…
Thank you! But I feel like music’s the only way I can truly express myself. So it comes from that, and also from losing my friends when I started out. Music is just what I had, kinda. I want to work hard and show other kids who go through what I went through that great things can come from not so great days.
Do you still feel like that shy kid sometimes?
For sure. Music has really opened me up, but in some situations I still feel really shy and go into my shell.
How did you cope with having to sing a Drake song in front of Drake—plus Kanye West and Kim Kardashian?
That was definitely a shy moment! It was such a weird coincidence that I’d just done my Drake cover and then there he was, and I was being asked to sing it for him. I was for sure nervous—I totally blanked out, I don’t even remember what was going through my head at the time.
Do you remember how Drake reacted?
Yeah, after the fact. When I was done singing, it was like I'm back in the room, you know? He said he loved my singing and my style and that he really wanted to sign me, but I was already in negotiations with someone else at that point.
Drake was too late to sign you.
Obviously the Drake cover got you noticed, but what inspires your own songs? It feels like you don't really sing typical love songs: "Fuck With You," "Do It Again," "Red Love," they all have more of an edge.
It's just my life. I don’t think anyone’s love life is perfect, so I don’t see any reason to pretend like it is. If love was perfect, it wouldn’t be exciting, you know? If I’ve been going through a bad relationship, I’ll write about it, like in "Red Love." If I need to get something off my chest, writing a song is how I’m gonna do it.
What inspired “Do It Again”?
It’s basically about wanting to be more than just friends with someone you're really close with, but you haven’t crossed the line yet. A lot of people think it’s about having a one-night stand, but let’s be real, I’ve never had a one-night stand before, so I couldn’t really speak on it.
I interpreted it as a song about having a one-night stand, but then wanting something more.
Yeah, I definitely think that’s another way it could be interpreted. I love "Do It Again" because anyone can really put it to their own life. I've always liked songs like that.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
Well, growing up on Guam, at the time there weren’t any artists coming to perform live, so I really just used YouTube to study people: Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, and Beyoncé were the three main people I looked up to. I like those three because they're all true artists who really love music and maintain control over everything they do.
Control is obviously very important to you. Do you ever switch off?
Switch off? That’s a good question… If I’m not doing interviews, I’m in a rehearsal, or doing a show, or doing a shoot. I guess I'm always doing something to do with music, but music doesn’t feel like a job to me, so it’s not something that I, like, want to turn off. I’m always thinking of ideas and looking at how I can make every aspect better, because I know I still have a lot of work to do. So no, I don’t think there’s an off switch.
Your personal style is obviously an important aspect of what you do—you've got the Pia Mia bandana on today. Growing up, who were your style heroes?
Oh, I think Michael Jackson again. I think it's dope how he could turn anything into fashion. I remember this one stage outfit where he turned, like, baseball kneepads into pants. That was so cool. He always wore different, weird stuff and made it look cool, not out there or anything.
How would you describe the Pia Mia look?
I don’t think I could really put a label on my style, just because it’s so random all the time. I think that has a lot to do with growing up on Guam—there weren’t a lot of places to shop, you know? I’d take clothes from my sister and my mom and dad and just tear them up and put them back together in my own style. That's still what I do now, my outfits can be so random, but I feel good in them and that’s what matters.
I guess the bandana provides a constant.
Yeah, I feel like whenever I have my bandana on, it brings it all back to my style. And normally I have my grill on too, but the other day it was kind of bothering my teeth so I took it out in the elevator at my condo, and then I heard this... clank. My rose gold diamond grill had fallen down the crack! I'm really hoping the elevator engineer can find it for me. Normally when I have my bandana on and my grill on, I feel on point, so I’m only half way there today. I feel so naked without my grill!
Pia Mia's new single Touch drops on 10.30.
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