Los Angeles has long been a hub for spirituality and all its iterations. From cults to mega-churches, celebrity psychic advisors to crystal shops, the spiritual economy of La La Land has been booming for decades, attracting starry-eyed dreamers, restless soul-searchers and believers convinced they are destined for fame and fortune — or in the very least something a little more meaningful and exciting.
For many people hoping to find success in Tinsel Town, having a strong sixth sense is imperative. Perhaps more than a good agent or heavyweight publicist, being able to tap into one's intuition — that powerful, unconscious compass that functions as our "gut feeling" — is one of the most important skills a Hollywood hopeful can have on their résumé. Just ask independent pop star Gia Woods or E! network's resident medium Tyler Henry.
Though Woods and Henry had very different upbringings — the "Fame Kills" singer was born and raised in the chaotic heart of LA, while the Hollywood Medium With Tyler Henry star grew up in a quiet, rural town near Fresno, a little over three hours north of the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood hills — and pursued very different career paths based on their universe-given talents, it's no surprise they are cosmically connected by their respective intuitive faculties.
For Woods, that often means listening to her heart, no matter the cost, to navigate the thorny social networks and toxic expectations of the notoriously difficult-to-break-into music industry. For Henry, meanwhile, intuition has served not only as a metaphysical tool of his trade, but also as an innate extension of his psychic abilities as a sought-after medium who communicates with the departed — an ability he has built his career on.
While their journeys are contrasting on a surface level, at their core, Woods and Henry are just trying to share their gifts with the world in the most authentic, fulfilling way possible.
Over a Zoom call with PAPER, Gia Woods and Tyler Henry dove deep into the mysterious allure of Hollywood, the power of healing and dealing with cynics on social media. (It turns out both mediums and pop stars get their fair share of anonymous haters online.)
You both grew up in California — Gia in Los Angeles and Tyler in a more rural area. Can you talk about your respective relationships to Hollywood and the LA area growing up?
Tyler Henry: Hollywood for me was always just an ideal — a thought, a place that represented more than it actually is. I would see it on TV and in movies, and then my life synchronistically went in a very interesting, strange direction. My first celebrity client was Sarah Paulson from American Horror Story. I had been watching her on TV and was wondering if I would ever get to meet her, and here she is calling me up. I very quickly found myself among people I didn't know and didn't recognize.
It was definitely a culture shock for me and I think it is for most people. One of the appeals of Hollywood — or one of the more interesting things about it — is that so many people come here from their little towns in different states with a dream. Sometimes that dream pans out into a reality and other times it doesn't. But there's a certain allure to the West and California — Hollywood, specifically. People find it seductive.
Gia Woods: Growing up in the city, I've seen what it does to people. Young kids look at the city as the place to come to make all their dreams come true. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't make it. I saw a lot of that growing up here. Everyone's always really surprised, like, "Wait, you're actually from California?" Everyone's always from New York or Boston, and I'm always the LA native in my friend group. LA also has this charm to it and this spiritual element, too.
I actually wanted to ask you, Tyler, do you feel like there's something within this space that creates that spiritual allure?
Tyler: Absolutely. It's what we would call "esoteric geography" and it certainly has it. Hollywood since its inception has been not only a place, but an idea and an ideal among the entire country. People look to Hollywood for their media. With that comes this illusion that it's something it really isn't. I was actually just listening to your song, "Fame Kills," which I love. I was wondering from your perspective of growing up in LA and as you found yourself rising up in the industry, were you apprehensive at all about fame, knowing what it often elicits?
Gia: There's been a lot of moments where I've been like, "Do I really want this?" Because I know there's a lot that comes with it. But at the same time, since I grew up here and have seen all the Hollywood scandals, I've learned the do's and don'ts through pop culture. I'm a bit more aware of what can happen if you allow the chaos to get inside your head. Growing up in Hollywood, I've been around celebrities, I've gone to school with celebrity children. It's been around me, so I don't think it would hit me as bad. I feel like I would know how to handle [fame]. I have good friends and good family around me, too. Unfortunately, seeing a lot of the downfalls in pop culture have offered a sort of guidance. I've watched and learned.
Gia: I've manifested almost everything that's ever happened to me. I feel the same way about my project. A lot of the time I'll write songs where I know something is going to happen. Like Heartbreak County — when I wrote that I wasn't going through any heartbreak, but I had this desire to write about it, and then I ended up going through a break up right when it came out. I guess I have some sort of manifestation powers, for sure. The Calvin Klein music video was crazy, though. I shot that because I love those classic black and white Calvin Klein campaigns. I always wanted to be a model for Calvin Klein, even though I never wanted to be a professional model. And then a year later, I ended up being in their Pride campaign for 2020.
Tyler: So much of art is subconscious and that's often the basis of how art is manifested into the world, which comes into alignment with premonitions and intuitive abilities. I believe personally, from experience, that we work on a very subconscious level: dreams, art, that which is more subversive. It sounds like you have been able to channel that through your work.
Gia: I'm curious, through your years of talking to spirits, have you always been aware that this was your future? That you were meant to do this?
"Hollywood for me was always just an ideal — a thought, a place that represented more than it actually is. I would see it on TV and in movies, and then my life synchronistically went in a very interesting, strange direction." –Tyler Henry
Tyler: I always knew this was my calling on some level. It all started for me when I was 10 years old. I actually had a premonition of my grandmother's death and from there my life was never the same. I graduated high school early when I was 16 and at the time my goal was to try to become a hospice nurse because I felt like that would be the most practical application of my abilities — helping people who were nearing death go through that transition. But very quickly, word of mouth spread a lot faster than I ever anticipated. For me, fame was something I was never exposed to. I never had much of an interest in it. If anything, I'm very introverted and a little shy. So it was really hard to go down that path of suddenly being under a microscope, and being pretty well known and established while I was still a teenager.
Gia: Do you feel like when you're alone there's a lot of spiritual energy around you? How do you shut it out, or let it in and beware of it?
Tyler: I would liken it to — something I think you can relate to you also — something a bit similar to creative energy. We all have this ability to tap into these deeper levels and I believe that's where creativity originates. On some level for me, having a healthy release is very important. Being able to do readings in a structured setting and then when I'm not working being able to turn off is very important. Otherwise I'm just inundated with intuitive impressions about my surroundings. I would imagine the creative process is similar, right? Where you wanna have a time and a place, otherwise it just builds up...
Gia: I totally relate to that. Music is literally my therapy. I've written songs since I was seven and I've processed everything I've gone through just by writing and letting it out. If I didn't, I'd go insane. I have another question for you... So I lost someone that was really, really close to me. My dad passed away right before COVID, which was not good timing. And I wonder, do you have any tips on how to see signs if he's with me?
Tyler: I'm so sorry for your loss. It's hard enough to grieve, let alone grieve during a pandemic. We had so much time to just sit in our houses and think [last year], and for someone who's grieving, that had to have been really difficult. One of the things I've learned over the course of my readings is to let time pass. People oftentimes expect there to be an instantaneous connection the moment someone passes away, and very often it doesn't happen and people are left wondering, "Well, are they there? Do they see me? Do they connect with me?" I believe there is really a natural process that we have to go through in the sense of mourning that physical loss, and mourning that physical absence of a person. And no matter how spiritual of a person you are, that's still a natural process we all have to go through.
I would say dreams are often a very big way that people do inevitably make a connection. However, not all of us remember our dreams, so I'm really a big fan of keeping in mind meaningful coincidences. Carl Jung called them synchronicities. And I believe that's often a form of messaging from them, when we notice certain coincidences that are a little too coincidental, a little too meaningful, that help put our life on a certain trajectory. We spoke about the Calvin Klein ad, that's very synchronistic. Have you noticed other synchronicities throughout your life?
Gia: My whole life I always saw myself doing music, but never really knew how to get into the music industry. I didn't even realize it was an option to make music my professional job, so when I was in high school I was going to start applying to colleges — but I always knew I was going to be in music somehow. So I kind of sat back and was like, "I'm going to let the universe take its course and we'll see what happens." Magically enough, there was someone in the audience of one of my choir performances in high school who scouted me and discovered me. And it was literally the month before I had to make a decision on what college to go to. I feel like I've definitely had angels or something around me that have guided me.
Tyler: It sounds like your passion really drove you. I always say our interests are indications of our calling. I really believe that our interests will guide us down the path that we're destined to go, but that does often require a lot of courage and a lot of us feel we're not able to pursue our interests in life. And so I think oftentimes the universe meets that passion and rewards it, and it all has to do with timing and finding yourself at the right place at the right time. Especially talking to and doing readings for other celebrities, you really see how certain people's lives seem to be pre-written.
A lot of celebrities and folks in Hollywood appear to be hyper-spiritual or interested in the occult, whether it's Demi Lovato's new series about extraterrestrials or Spencer Pratt's crystal business. Why do you think there's so much spiritualism and fascination with the occult in LA?
Tyler: Spiritualism was all the rage in the early 1900s. It found its inception in New York, became very popular and then went through a bit of a dip. Then in the '60s, we saw a big resurgence in alternative spiritualities. California was always this place that people looked to for new ideas. That in itself is interesting from an esoteric geography perspective. The West has always been seen as this land of opportunity and of new ways of thinking. Even when people went from Europe to the Americas, going west has always had some sort of spiritual significance.
The history of the occult is very fascinating, particularly in its inception in Hollywood and Los Angeles in the '60s. You had Scientology and a number of different alternative spiritualities spring up. The relationship between cult and culture is very real. Cults often influence culture on a larger scale and not always for the better, but it's the world we live in. We've seen celebrities and creatives gravitate to alternative ways of thinking in part because you have to be nontraditional to break the mold. With that comes taking into consideration beliefs that people who aren't creatives might not normally think about. I would argue that a lot of celebrities feel like they were destined to become famous, and that alone puts an interesting thing into one's psyche of why and how? That often entertains new thoughts and ideas around spirituality, not from a Judeo-Christian model, but something that's more rooted in a manifest destiny of sorts.
You hear a lot about energy vampires and people with bad intentions in LA, and there's a lot of trauma in Hollywood, too. How do you protect your energies from that type of drain?
Gia: I meditate a lot. That's something I've been doing since I was a teenager. Music helps me see everything in front of me amidst the chaos and all the broken-hearted people who come here, so I definitely feel like that's why I do what I do. I lock myself away and write. I love journaling, too — that's always been my way of letting it all out.
Tyler: It sounds like boundaries are very important to being able to maintain a certain sense of normalcy, especially as you're gaining fame because it's very easy to get pulled off course or focus on things that don't quite matter.
Gia: In this city there are a million people with a million different opinions. They're like, "Do this! Try this! Wear this!" No one is right, no one has the answer. You can have the best team around you, but I think deep down if you don't love it and you're not happy, everyone will be able to read that and see that it's not authentic. That's why it's important to know what you stand for before you really go for this. It's really easy to be steered in the wrong direction. It's also nice to have one or two really good best friends in your life because it's hard to balance a big friend group. Whenever I'm having a breakdown, I just call up my friends and they help ground me.
Tyler: Having people who are going to be objective is such a valuable thing in a world of so many subjective opinions. I actually talk about this in my second book. You can be the biggest, juiciest peach, but there's still gonna be people out there who hate peaches.
Gia: There's always going to be haters.
Tyler: It does come with the territory, though. When it comes to detractors and criticism, I always say anything ideological — be it politics or religion — is very polarizing. You're going to deal with both ends of the fence. From your perspective, when it comes to being true to who you are, how have you coped with people who don't believe in what you see for yourself?
Gia: I've been really good with keeping my blinders on. I just won't let you get in. There have been some moments where I've obviously reflected and thought, "Maybe this person is right and I'll change my mind." But I always find myself back where I started. There's always going to be a million people telling me something, but if I don't connect immediately, my gut is usually right — and I always follow my gut. The second I don't, I go in the wrong direction and I end up being really unhappy. Can you relate to that, as well?
Tyler: In such a public forum, it really is invaluable to have that intuition and inner knowledge. It allows you to see what's worth focusing on. I try to take every opinion into consideration and be as objective as I can. There's value in listening to our critics as they can sometimes make us reflect on ourselves and do better, but not always. There's a fine line between those who are skeptical and those who are cynical. That applies to creatives as well as mediums. I also think social media has made things more challenging. Do you find social media valuable, or is it something you dread?
Gia: It's definitely both. There's a huge level of love I have for it because it's allowed me to do my job and connect with people online. I've made so many deep connections with fans through being online. I'm really close to my fans and we even do Zoom therapy meetings once a month, and they literally tell me everything about their lives and it's sick. But then there is a lot of pressure, especially as a female pop star, to look good all the time, and have perfect makeup and perfect outfits. People rip you apart when you look bad online, like if you show a pimple. Even Instagram filters have really gotten in our heads and I'm guilty of that, too. There's moments where I'm like, "Why am I doing this? I don't even look that different!" That's what I don't like about social media — feeling the need to always look good. But emotionally I'm pretty open, that's never been a problem for me.
Tyler: I was recently watching an interview with Monica Lewinsky and she said something eloquent that I thought was interesting. She referred to when they used to stone people back in biblical times — and sadly they still do in some parts of the world — and she always wondered, if someone threw that first rock and they saw it hit the person, did they pick up a second rock after they saw how the first rock impacted that individual? I think on social media we have that aspect of anonymity where people can keep throwing their rocks without seeing the repercussions of their words.
On the topic of vulnerability, it takes a lot of bravery to share your gifts with the world and you are both gifted in your own respective ways — whether you're sharing a psychic gift in the public sphere, which comes with much scrutiny, or sharing your intimate stories and voice in your art, which comes with its own pressures. How do you decide how much you're willing to share with the world?
Gia: I've always been super vulnerable through my music. I came out through my first song. It was my sexual awakening. When I released my first single and came out to the entire world, including my family, it was like ripping the bandaid off. That was the moment where I was like, "Wow. I was closeted for my whole life." In middle school and high school I felt like there was literally something wrong with me. I was like, "Why am I attracted to girls and not boys? Why are all of my friends talking about obsessing over boys?" I couldn't relate to that.
Now it's different for me. I'm not holding back. My recent project, Heartbreak County, was an invitation to welcome everybody into this world that I've been creating with this concept EP. Now I want to open up even more about what I've been going through, especially with losing my dad. I want to be super vulnerable with my music to help other people. I want to offer guidance and be a voice for someone that needs it and wants to relate to someone that has gone through something similar or is going through it.
Tyler: Representation matters. It's important to be vulnerable in order to represent yourself accurately. As challenging as being vulnerable is, when you do it is rewarded by people in the long run. Looking back at my own life, growing up in a small, conservative town, being both gay and a medium required a couple of closets to come out of. It was a big challenge. But on some level, the very thing that I was bullied for is the thing that I'm applauded for now, and I think that required staying true to who I was and honoring that and showing that courage. The only way we get representation is to break those molds ourselves for future generations.
Gia: Was that hard for you? Was your family accepting?
Tyler: It was definitely a challenge. I had people who were supportive of me being a medium, but not of me being gay, and I had people who were supportive of me being gay but not necessarily being a medium. And then I had people who supported me in both, and people who didn't support either. You certainly learn who your tribe is, but it requires some degree of awareness to not take things personally.
Healing is something you both facilitate. Tyler, you help people heal amid their grief, and Gia, you help others heal, as well as help yourself heal, through your music and singing about the things you've been through. What does the power of healing mean to you?
"Since I grew up here and have seen all the Hollywood scandals, I've learned the do's and don'ts through pop culture. I'm a bit more aware of what can happen if you allow the chaos to get inside your head." –Gia Woods
Gia: I don't think there is a blueprint for healing, it's something that happens through time and allowing yourself to process what happened and not ignoring it. I've been guilty of suppressing my feelings and not wanting to deal with it, and then I'll find myself years later coming back to the exact same problem and being like, how are you still here? The power of healing is just accepting it. Acceptance is the hardest thing to do, but after that it's just letting it out however, whether that's music, drawing, hiking or being outdoors.
We have so many constant distractions in today's world. It's almost like if something traumatic happens to you, you're not even able to process it. There are so many people who don't allow themselves to grieve or process and it bites them in the ass. I've finally hit a place where I don't want to run away from it anymore. When something happens to me, I really want to be alone with my thoughts and allow myself to deal with whatever I'm healing through. Also, I finally started therapy.
Tyler: Co-signed on therapy. I think it's important to have some objective source of reason and a therapist can be great because they're not your friends, they're not your family, they're going to provide a perspective that's more objective. I think when we have a conversation around healing, for me, it's just honoring what you're feeling and what you're going through. Our natural inclination as humans is to resist and what we resist persists, as the famous saying goes. Honoring solitude and allocating time to sit in what you feel, and look at it in a way that embraces both the prettiness and the ugliness is important. Very often people run away from their feelings, but we can never truly run away from our feelings — they find a way to come back and slap us in the face if we don't pay attention.
Gia: I'm curious, who are the artists that you looked up to growing up?
Tyler: It's a little controversial, but Lana Del Rey. She doesn't necessarily write the best music for healthy relationships, but neither did Patsy Cline. She's iconic, she's incredible, she is a cultural reset.
Gia: I've actually been listening to her new album. She doesn't miss. But Madonna is my number one goddess queen. She's literally God in my opinion. I'm obsessed with her. She's done such an amazing job of navigating this industry; she's gotten the worst side of the industry out of almost everybody. She's been through so much misogyny — "she's too much, what she's doing is wrong" — but she's always been someone I've looked up to, showing me I can be who I want, I can dress however I want, I can do music for a living as a woman. She's always fought for the gay community and was one of the first voices for our generation and for our culture and community.
Gia, "Fame Kills" is a cautionary tale about living fast and dying young. Tyler, a few years ago you tweeted, "One thing my work has taught me: don't dread getting older, it's a privilege denied to many." I think that's profound and opens up a larger conservation surrounding our socio-cultural anxieties here in the US, especially in Hollywood, about aging and death. What are your thoughts on growing old and the pressures that come with that?
Gia: I've been thinking a lot about this, how in pop culture we look down upon aging. There's always this pressure of making it at 16, or 17 or 18. Some pop artists are in a way guilty of putting their age out on a silver platter, like, "Look, I made it when I was 16!" That's cool to be able to do that at a young age, but I also think that's not always necessary. Some people's mission and path are different. I think it's why so many people give up, because they're just like, "I'm 30 now and that's the age you're supposed to be established." But I don't believe in that. You can be 40 or 50 and completely reinvent yourself.
People need to start changing the way they view age; it's really not that deep. Everyone should just be accepting of each other and motivate each other because you can change the course of your life at any point. Especially in music, I look up to Madonna for that as well. She didn't really make it until she was 26 or 27. It's awesome to see someone rise as they've gotten to learn the ins and outs of the business they're in, as well as about themselves. Age shouldn't matter and people need to stop being so hard on each other.
Tyler: "Youth is wasted on the young" — that's the famous saying. But it's so true. I think youth has always had this degree of glamorization because it's appealing, but as you get older you revere the good old days and look back on them. I'm sure that gets externalized onto pop stars and that has to be really difficult to deal with. In general, we live in a very patriarchal society and the pressure on women is a lot more than on men, and it's wrong.
Gia: It's so unfortunate.
Tyler: It's frustrating. Men with grey hair are considered distinguished by a lot of people's standards, but when women get a grey hair, they're told to bleach it or dye it. We have very different experiences and I really feel for those who go through it, but I think that experience adds more value to your work. Being a strong female and icon for people to look to and refer to and honoring that is extremely valuable, because when we heal ourselves and honor ourselves, it helps other people do the same. There's a ripple effect there. Your work transcends you.
Gia Woods' Heartbreak County: Vol. 1 EP is out now. Tyler Henry's new book, Here & Hereafter: How Wisdom from the Departed Can Transform Your Life Now, is out February 2022 and available for pre-order now.
Photography: Aaron Holliday