Life, so far, has played out like a fairytale for Pia Mia.
The first few months of 2019 alone have been nothing short of magical for the 22-year-old singer. Pia has been busy readying the release of new music and gearing up for her acting debut in the upcoming feature film After. Pia's latest single, "Bitter Love," out today (March 22), also serves as the theme for the movie adaptation of Anna Todd's wildly successful YA book series.
Pia says that the fusion of both projects feels surreal. "Growing up and seeing Whitney Houston with her song in The Bodyguard, and then Lady Gaga with 'Shallow' in A Star Is Born — now there's 'Bitter Love' to go with After," she tells Streets Talkin by phone. "It makes me so excited. I've wanted to release this song for so long and this film just felt like the best way to do it."
Pia crafted "Bitter Love" alongside producer Rykeyz (Little Mix, Keyshia Cole) and songwriter Ilsey Juber (Rita Ora, Britney Spears). With powerhouse vocals, Pia explores the heartache of a complicated but intensely addictive relationship over a sparkling, piano-driven melody. According to Pia, who was asked by producers of After to submit songs for the soundtrack, author Todd was immediately drawn to the lyrics of "Bitter Love," which seemed to perfectly echo the romantic drama's narrative.
"Anna was like, 'This is Tessa and Hardin. This is perfect for the movie. It's exactly their story,'" Pia recalls Todd saying about the song's embodiment of After's star-crossed couple (played by Josephine Langford and Hero Fiennes-Tiffin). Pia — who portrays Tristan, the girlfriend of Tessa's college roommate Steph (Khadijah Red Thunder), in the film — adds, "When After fans hear it, they're going to be like, 'Damn. This is it.' It's as if the song was specifically written for Tessa and Hardin."
"Bitter Love" — which will reverberate through theaters during After's final scene and closing credits — is Pia's first musical release since December 2017, when she dropped The Gift 2, her follow-up EP to 2013's The Gift. "My fans have been so patient, waiting for new music," she says.
"I can't wait for them to hear 'Bitter Love' and see how much I've grown. As an artist, doing a song like this — something that really feels like my heart and soul — that's always been my dream."
How did making your first movie compare to making music?
It was really different, because everything in music that you see is me. And then, of course, when you're doing a movie you're telling someone else's story — which I love. Anna Todd is amazing and bringing her books and vision to life was so cool. We had her on set and seeing how she felt about the characters and getting into it on a deeper level was really great and felt really special.
Your character, Tristan, was originally male in the book, but was then reimagined for the film as a girl, one who is in a same-sex relationship. What did it mean for you to play an LGBTQ character onscreen? Was there any pressure to get it right since you have a strong gay fanbase?
Definitely. I was so excited to kind of be a voice for the gay community because I know and appreciate that the LGBTQ community is such a big part of my fanbase. But, to be honest, when I was playing Tristan and they told me that she was a lesbian, I didn't look at it, like, "Oh, I have to play it a certain way because she's a lesbian." I just think love is love and it doesn't matter if you like a boy or you like a girl, or whatever the case may be. Love is just everything, so you don't have to play it a certain type of way if that makes sense. Love doesn't have a stereotype.
"Bitter Love" is your first release as an independent artist after leaving Interscope. What is the most exciting part about being your own boss?
I truly believe everyone at the label had good intentions, but things can get backed up when so many opinions are involved. "Do It Again" is a song that I walked in with when I first signed with Interscope. I had that song made, I got the features. Everything was already done before I had even signed. So, when I went to Interscope, it was a fight to get that song out and then it was finally released. That was the one song that was my choice and then the other songs that were released during my time at Interscope were strongly suggested by important people at the label. "Do It Again" was my heart. So, now, being independent, I get to drop songs that I want to. I have made so many songs on my own throughout all this time. If you looked into my Dropbox and listened to all the music that I had, you'd think it's crazy that I haven't dropped a project before. I just feel so free now and I finally feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
Did you ever have second thoughts about making the decision to go independent?
People might think that I'm crazy for walking away from such an amazing deal. But I was never hesitant because I knew that there is no point in me doing this, if the music that's coming out isn't my soul and isn't connected to me and my life, because I'm the one who has to get up there and sing it. I have to perform it. I have to talk about it and it's wrong to talk about stuff that I don't connect with. So, I knew that it wasn't fair to my fans who are supporting me and who believe in me. I talk to them on such a real level through social media, so why should my music not be the same way?
Do you look at the music you made during your time at Interscope differently now?
I've been told so many times that I have to be urban, or to be cool, or more pop, or to be more in the middle. And I'm like, "Guys, just stop." Let me just create, and it's going to be what it is and that's fine. But I'm still grateful for those opportunities and I learned a lot from my entire experience with every song. When I look back on that work, it's a good feeling, because I was able to learn so much at such a young age. Look, I'm happy that I got to get in and be creative. It's all just a learning experience and it's all good.
Are there banked projects ready to go, or are you starting over from scratch?
I had made multiple bodies of work [during my time at Interscope]. I have so many different lists of different projects, different albums. I could put together 10 different projects with all the music that I have. I still have a bunch of stuff that is ready to go that I'm going to drop. After "Bitter Love," I'll probably drop another single and then maybe an EP. I want to tour, I want to do more videos, but my favorite part about doing all this is doing the shows because I like to be face-to-face with my fans.
What are your current plans for a full-length album? Is that still important to you, even in today's singles-driven industry?
I want that to happen ASAP. And yeah, that is important to me. I think bodies of work are important because that’s what you need to be able to get on the road and tour and be there in person for your fans and let them see you and touch you — and for me to be with them and hug them and talk to them. I want to drop a full-length album at some point, for sure.
What is the biggest challenge of being an independent artist?
The fact that it's self-funded. Getting on playlists, that's based off of people genuinely liking your music and the fans carrying it and pushing it through. I don't have a label secretly funding me. I don't have an investor. Everything is just me, so now when I drop a song or drop a project, I'm really hoping that the fans, media outlets and streaming services support and recognize that I am truly an independent artist and I am doing this myself. But good music is good music and I think it can stand on its own.
How would you describe your creative process?
I don't like to wait. I don't like being slow. That gives me anxiety. I want to get in, I want to make it and I want to put it out. Sometimes we go in and we write the song in 10 minutes, and sometimes it takes an hour. But say the song is already written. I then go into the studio and cut it in about an hour and a half — all the leads, stacks, harmonies, ad-libs, everything is done very quickly.
What artists are inspiring you at the moment?
I'm listening to so much stuff. I love Khalid. I think he's amazing; I love his melodies. They're so incredible. Of course, Ariana [Grande]. I always love Ari. I would love to [collaborate with her]. I'm so in love with her voice and I'm so happy that she's another artist out there that is so vocally talented. It's dope, too, to see her growth as an artist. It's amazing.
Describing your own evolution as an artist, how does Pia at 22 compare to Pia at 18?
Deep question. [Laughs.] I feel more secure in what I want. You can't sway me anymore. I know what my voice is, and I know what I want to talk about. And I want to be heard. So now, that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to talk about what's real to me. I guess I was always like that — even when I started with "Hold On, We're Going Home," "Red Love" and "Do It Again." But then, I feel like when I got at the label, I maybe lost a bit of myself when I was there.
And you've finally found yourself again?
Yeah, definitely. Now I'm back.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.