Music

Go Behind the Scenes With Pia Mia for 'Bitter Love'

Those used to Pia Mia's brand of club bops — a suave blend of electro-pop and trap-influenced styles — will find themselves taken aback by the superstar's newest track, "Bitter Love."

The song, featured in the movie After, based on the hit book series by Anna Todd, is a smooth pop ballad, unlike many of her other tracks. It's also the singer's first entrance back into the music market since her 2017 EP release, The Gift 2. Despite having made "Bitter Love" well before After, she had to hold onto the song for a while before it was able to be released. Now that she's newly independent, she's ready to do things on her terms — and After was the perfect moment for Pia Mia to start her new era with a pop. Not only is the song featured in the movie, but she plays a pivotal role acting in the film, as well.

Her role of Tristan was a favorite in the After series, and was the subject of much speculation pre-release because the character was originally male in the books. Wanting to do the series justice for fans on the big screen, she embarked on the new challenge of acting in a major motion picture with a smile on her face and a determined spirit, and her hard work paid off. The movie has already grossed well above its budget worldwide, and fans everywhere are satisfied.

Now, post-After buzz, Pia Mia is reimagining the song in a new context; she filmed an entire music video for "Bitter Love," complete with a massive yeehaw stallion and huge, flowing gowns. She felt there was even more of a story to be told with the song, and also wanted to give After fans a special treat with an unreleased scene from the movie.

Read PAPER's full interview with Pia Mia about writing the song, the inspiration behind the stunning video, and embodying her character of Tristan for After.

Let's talk about "Bitter Love." Did you make it for the movie, After, or did you have it made already?

I had "Bitter Love," and I had chosen it as the song I wanted to put out. At the same time, we were shooting After. I was on set and they were like, "Send us any songs and we'll see if anything fits for the movie." When you listen to "Bitter Love," it sounds like it was written for Hardin and Tessa, who are the main two characters in After. So when I submitted it I knew that it was going to be perfect. Then, Anna Todd, who is the author of the After book series, hit me and was like, "Oh my god, this song is so Tessa. It's so beautiful." It fit perfectly, and now it's the theme song for the movie, which is crazy!

That's amazing that you could write something that could parallel both your experience and the experiences of the characters. It all fits together like a puzzle.

Yeah, that's why I think it's so cool and important to write about your own life, because everyone goes through the same things and sometimes people are afraid to say whatever they're going through. This is a perfect example of: I made this song, submitted it for After, and it fit their story, too. Everyone experiences the same ups and downs.

It really speaks for itself as a ballad, not just in the lyrical content. It's emotive. How does the song make you feel, singing it?

I was excited to do "Bitter Love" because I am a vocalist and when I started singing when I was eight, I studied people like Céline Dion, Mariah Carey, and Whitney Houston. I come from that background of singing and stretching your vocals and really using your range. At the same time, because I come from an island, I like the edgy, more clubby-type feel records — rhythmic pop stuff. I wanted to put "Bitter Love" out because I did a lot of that rhythmic pop stuff in a row, and I wanted to show another side of me as an artist and as a person. I feel like I have so many different emotions and ways I use my voice that I haven't really shared before. "Bitter Love," it's not like a new direction for me, it's just another side I wanted to show.

Exactly! A lot of people want to mark these moments where artists switch it up as some "shift," but in reality it's just that an artist has an entire body of work they haven't released yet, it's always within them. When you listen to the track, what do you feel now that it's done and out there?

I feel mostly relieved that it's out because I had the song for a minute and I kept wanting to put it out. It just wasn't coming out, there was always some reason: it wasn't the right timing, it wasn't cleared on time, it was just whatever. Whatever it was, the stars just weren't aligning for "Bitter Love" to come out. I never knew why, and then now that I'm independent it's important that we find the right platform to put our songs out so that they have the best chance of doing well. "Bitter Love" being the theme song for After made perfect sense. It opened my eyes: "This is the right time for 'Bitter Love,' this is the right home for 'Bitter Love.'" So I feel this sense of relief. It was so funny, when I was at the premiere my sister came and my whole team came with me. My theatrical manager was crying because she was so happy, I acted in the movie, "Bitter Love" is the theme song. My sister was crying. It was super emotional, in a good way.

Of course, it's the ultimate way of combining all these interests. What was your experience like with acting beforehand?

Well, this was my first feature film, and I would say this was my first big role. I had done a couple things here and there. I guest starred as myself one time on a show, then I guest starred as a character on another show, but this was my first real role. It's new for me in the acting world, because shooting movies is totally different than shooting TV shows. That kind of acting is different from how I do it in music videos. After was a whole new thing for me, and I feel like I was just learning something every second that I was there. You're uncomfortable because you're thrown into this world and you have to figure it out as you go, which is good because when you're uncomfortable you know that you're learning and growing...

... But on the other hand!

Yeah, it was nerve-wracking. It was very helpful to have Anna Todd on set because she helps us get a deeper look into our characters and make sure that we're portraying the characters the right way because the book series has been out for a while. We wanted to make sure that we were bringing the characters to life the right way for the fans.

Congrats on the success of After, by the way. It has such a great fanbase, people are responding so well on Twitter!

Thank you, I totally saw that, too. Signing on for a movie, I didn't know what to expect with the fanbase, but I have never seen such engaged and loving fans. When they found out I was playing Tristan they made all these collages of inspiration for how they see the character, which I think also helps us.

Yeah, you're like, "Oh yes! This is great!"

Exactly.

That's awesome. It's great that Anna Todd was on set, too, because I would have been nervous if I hadn't been a fan of the book before being cast. I would have been like, "Oh my god, how am I going to do this justice?"

Yeah, and especially because Tristan was a guy in the book and a girl for the movie. It was a new take on the character, but I think everyone was happy about that and Anna was very supportive.

With the music video now being filmed after After premiered, how are you taking the song and claiming it as a piece of your narrative outside of the film?

So we went to shoot the music video literally the night of the After premiere. We drove a few hours, our call time was like, 5 AM the next day. We shot for 30 hours over two days. For the music video, as you can probably tell from watching it, I wanted it to have this fantasy, dreamy-type feel. We shot on two lenses that were from the '60s, which gives it that dreamy feel. I really played into the fashion of it. We have Galan, he's a stallion, and I had to do a crash course learning how to ride him before the music video. What's funny is, when we chose this treatment it was so last minute. I was actually down the line looking at other treatments. Alex Delgado, the director, had submitted this treatment to us and I literally dropped everything else I was looking at and committed to Alex's because I thought it was so different. It gave me short film vibes. I wanted to learn something new, and learning how to ride a stallion is not something that's very easy. I was up for the challenge.

The lyrics of the song, like the shots in the video, flow so naturally, too. Did you have collaborators on the song?

Yeah, we made the song: me, Ilsey Juber, and the producer, Rykeyz.

When you were filming the video, then, did they come to set and talk it out? How have they been liking the response to the song? It's gotten such a great response.

I think everyone's really happy. We all love this song. As far as being on set, Alex was really involved and I'm always very involved creatively, so it was mostly us two talking it out. I followed Alex's lead because it was his creative. I'm so hands-on with everything. I was in the editing session for like, 16 hours editing the video. Then, after that, you have to do the coloring. There's so many different ways you can cut a music video and color it that gives you totally different emotion. It's like mixing a song, too. Any little thing you do changes it.

I've heard from other people that you want to know who's mixing and mastering your album before you even start it.

It's so important. Literally nothing happens without me saying yes. When you make a song, in the beginning, sometimes I feel like I don't even want to mix and master because it can take away the emotion or change the entire messaging of it, literally by adding an effect. It's very important to know who you're choosing to make sure that your message is getting delivered the right way.

Being independent now, do you feel even more of a freedom with doing that?

As far as mixing and mastering, I was always involved with that even when I was on a major label, but I think where I feel the most independence is being able to choose which songs I release and when. It's important to me that I'm involved in the songs that I do choose, and the visuals, especially now with social media. Connecting to my fans, talking to them, they know who I am as a person and they know what I like, so I always want to be honest with them. It's also a lot of pressure, because as a businesswoman, everything's fallen on my shoulders: how we shoot the music video, how the budgets are getting put together. Everything runs through me, which I love. I'm happy to do that.

Would you ever pursue a business side outside of your own career in cultivating another artist or working in that sense?

Yeah, I would. I've had my own label since I was 16. I had my first label, which was called Wolfpack Entertainment. When I separated from my major label, in the transition period, I created my other label, which is now called Cherry Pie Records. I think it's important to share your knowledge as an artist with the new artists that are coming up because there's so much stuff that you can only know from going through it yourself. If we had more artists talking about their stories and the challenges, it could save you so many steps and heartbreak. I'm definitely open to that, and when the time is right and I can really give enough attention to another person, I would love to sign other acts and help develop their careers.

The video for "Bitter Love," again, is so beautiful. I honestly wanted to be on the horse. It reminded me so much of the princess stories.

Someone said that to me, too! What's crazy is when we were editing the video and watching it back, I was like, "It doesn't even look cold." That day, it was maybe 50 degrees.

I was gonna ask, was it hot? Oh my god.

They said, "It's gonna be 80 degrees when you shoot! It's gonna be so beautiful." I'm like, "Finally." "Do It Again" was freezing, too. Then, we get there and it was like 50 degrees, the sun's not up yet. It doesn't even look like that. Galan, the horse, he had to be up at 3:00 AM because they have to bathe him, get him ready every morning that we shot. I had to be up at 4:30 AM or 5:00 AM, then he had to be up at 3:00 AM to get bathed and get ready!

It was neat to see the video as an iteration of your artistry outside of the movie. While it's great in the context of the movie, it was also great that you were able to revisit it again.

One thing I forgot to tell you, after the video ends there's a never-before-seen clip from the movie. We shot so much stuff for After, and of course not everything fits into the movie. When I was talking to Anna about it, we were like, "This would be really cool to add to the video," because in the book series there's a lot of push and pull between Hardin and Tessa. There are more tense moments in their relationship that you don't always see in the movie, so we're feeding the fans that because we saw that they were missing that and wanted it. I think they'll be excited, because they have no idea.

Photos courtesy of Veronica Gutierrez

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