Pia Mia: ‘I’m here to speak for what’s really going on for teenagers’
It’s not often that a dinner party turns you into a viral sensation, but a meal put Pia Mia on the map.
The Guam-born teenager, born Pia Mia Perez, already had a loyal following with YouTube covers of artists like Michael Jackson, Bruno Mars, Rihanna, Adele and Maroon 5 — which logged hundreds of thousands of views — before her best friend, reality star Kylie Jenner (“Keeping Up With the Kardashians”), invited her to a casual family dinner late last year.
Kim Kardashian and Kanye West would be in attendance, naturally, and West also invited a special guest: Drake.
At dinner Perez was put on the spot and asked to sing her cover of Drake’s smash “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” Kardashian recorded the impromptu performance on her phone and uploaded it to her Keek page.
More than a million people saw the clip of Perez belting an a cappella version of the song as West beamed and Drake danced in his seat.
“It was a weird coincidence. I loved Drake’s original when he put it out, and immediately after I heard it I went to the studio and flipped everything,” Perez recalled over a recent lunch. “It’s a little nerve-racking to sing Drake his song, but I didn’t feel nervous because he has such a great energy.”
Sure, the clip brought a wider audience, and an influx of press, for the 17-year-old — but Perez was already hard at work on launching her music career.
Singing since she was 8, Perez had landed gigs all over her native island (“I would sing at Japanese weddings, government events, anywhere I could, honestly,” she laughs) before she begged her parents to give her permission to pursue music in Los Angeles.
“I knew I wanted to take it to the next level, but there’s not a lot of places to do that in Guam. My mom and dad said I could come here for three months, experience it, and come back,” she said. “But I’ve been out here for four years now.”
Within a week of moving she booked a gig ghost-singing for Disney’s 2010 straight-to-video film “The Search for Santa Paws.” She then landed a yearlong production deal with associates of famed producer Babyface, but ,like countless teen singers before her, she quickly learned she had zero input.
“I didn’t have final say or control of the music I was making,” she said, “and I just knew that was not how I wanted it to be.”
Things turned around for Perez last year when she landed a shoot for streetwear company Pink Dolphin and met the company’s chief executive, Neima Khaila, who became her manager.
Khaila then introduced her to Abou “Bu” Thiam, known for his A&R work with Rihanna, Kanye and Jay Z and managing Chris Brown.
Having learned from her previous partnership, she teamed with Thiam to form Wolfpack Entertainment, signed herself to the imprint and began crafting an EP.
As the clip of her serenading the two rap heavyweights continued to build steam she issued the video for her debut single, “Red Love.”
The power ballad, which frankly tackles virginity, was the first offering from “The Gift,” an eight-track EP she issued for free in December that’s stuffed with bouncy, rhythmic pop and smartly penned lyrics about teenage love (pulled from her journal entries).
“I’m not afraid to share my experiences. I never want to be offensive to anybody in doing that, but I’m here to speak for what’s really going on in the world for teenagers, who maybe don’t have a voice to say what they are going through,” she said. “Maybe they don’t know what they are going through is normal.”
“‘Red Love’ was a little bit of an awkward one to write. It’s a really close song to my heart,” Perez said. “The song wasn’t about debating whether or not to take your relationship further. It’s about how you took it as far as you wanted to — and you kind of regretted it after.”
The online buzz from the EP and the viral video clip caught the attention of a number of labels and in February she signed a deal with Interscope Records.
“Originally we planned to stay independent, but we kept getting so many calls from different labels,” she said. “It was very overwhelming, but really what it came down to is we found people that felt like family. I didn’t want to get trapped in a deal where I felt like I wasn’t making any of the decisions because ... I know what I want and I don’t want to be pushed around.”
“It was a little more comfortable because I know I have final say in every decision I make,” she said. “That made it more comfortable.”
Interscope reissued the EP in February and a collaboration with buzzy upstart Chance the Rapper (he also used the Internet to launch himself) landed on the “Divergent” soundtrack the label issued in March.
With more than 10 million YouTube views to her name, and a label backing her, Perez is ready to emerge in the spotlight — but she’ll be doing it on her own terms, a rarity in teen pop. She’s currently prepping her debut, set for summer.
“Everything is derived from my journal. I don’t want to sing about things I don’t know about,” she said. “I’m a very open person. We have some really dope songs. I’m so excited.”
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