If you need a pick-me-up in life, visit Gina Naomi Baez’ social media pages. The actress, singer, songwriter, Youtuber, and influencer is a breath of fresh air in the entertainment industry, arriving with undeniable energy and an aura that is immediately contagious upon meeting. Hailing from New York City, Gina prides herself in using her platform to push positivity — something we can all appreciate during these unprecedented times.
Getting her start on Broadway as a little girl, Gina has since landed some outstanding roles, acting in Netflix’ She Gotta Have It, Orange Is The New Black, and FBI. As she began to take music and her own artistry more seriously, it was her “Lizzo’s Truth Hurts x Hocus Pocus” parody music video that went viral, even gaining shares from Lizzo herself across all social media platforms.
But her biggest accomplishment to date is the fact that she’s a 2-time cancer survivor, documenting her journey on TikTok (where she just got verified!). Her song “Hidden Hurt” is directly inspired by this trying time in her life, paving the way for the arrival of her forthcoming EP titled Ginita.
Sheen Magazine caught up with Gina Naomi Baez in downtown Los Angeles, who also revealed she has a forthcoming film on Apple TV called Triple Threat, centered around a musical going to Broadway. Read below as we discuss her background, going viral, beating cancer, the meaning behind “Hidden Hurt,” and more!
What part of New York are you from?
I’m from Long Island, right outside of the city. Not too far. I grew up there my whole life. I was always in New York City: singing, acting, dancing, and doing all that stuff.
At what age did you start all this?
Oh my goodness. I think my parents put me in dance class when I was 3 or 4 years old. I first fell in love with The Wizard of Oz movie. I love the Shirley Temple movies. I remember my first dance recital, we did the “Good Ship Lollipop” song. I was obsessed with watching that movie and doing my dance when she sang the song.
My mom was really into Barbara Streisand and musical movies like West Side Story. I’d always watch Funny Girl, which is one of my favorite movies. Oliver, all those musical movies growing up I was obsessed. I needed to sing and dance just like the performers.
When did you start singing?
I begged my mom to put me in voice lessons so I could be able to sing really strong. I was taking voice lessons , dance, and doing a lot of community theater. I was obsessed with that. [laughs]
What was your first big break professionally?
Probably when I was in middle school. In 6th grade, I did A Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden, that was my first taste of the real professional world. I have been addicted ever since. [laughs] I knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life!
Madison Square Garden? That’s huge!
It was huge. It was a really cool experience at such a young age.
What do you feel when you’re on stage?
Oh my gosh, it’s this rush. This electricity and fearlessness. You feel like you can literally do anything. There’s no boundaries. Hearing that applause you get this rush that you can’t even describe. It’s transformative because you become someone else on stage.
What’s the reality of the training or preparation behind that?
Oh wow. For any performance, whether it’s doing my own music or theater, first of all: the actual work. Making sure you have it memorized, making sure you’re confident. But at the same time, you have to be able to perform and connect with your audience. Really deliver that message and get that point across, no matter what it is.
Do you get nervous?
Oh yeah. I was told by an acting teacher that if you don’t get nervous when you’re going to perform or audition, then your heart’s not in it. Even if you’re the biggest, award winning performer you should still get nervous or there’s something wrong. I think to myself, Okay.. I’m still nervous. So this is good. [laughs]
Is it hard doing all that you do, and still trying to be your own recording artist?
I dove into taking music more seriously these past 4 years. It is hard, but especially with the pandemic, since a lot of live performance was nonexistent, I really felt I could focus on writing more music, recording more music, and becoming my own artist that way. Expressing my feelings with no one else telling me how it’s supposed to be. There’s no script, there’s no director. I’m in charge. And now I’ve just kept on going because, why not?
You went viral after posting your “Lizzo Truth Hurts x Hocus Pocus” parody. Talk about that moment. Did you know you were going to go viral?
Oh my gosh! No, not at all. I had no idea. [laughs] Again, I’m just a theater nerd. I absolutely love Hocus Pocus. I love Bette Midler. I don’t know why when that song was so popular, all I thought of was “100% that bitch. 100% that witch.” The Sanderson sisters need to sing this song!
I brought that musical theater side of myself to Lizzo’s song and created this song for the Sanderson sisters. I thought “okay, I need to make a video of this.” I just felt like I had to. I asked two of my friends who I thought would be good for the other parts. I said “hey, you want to make this?” They were completely on board.
We ordered the costumes on Amazon, and it was shot on my camera. I wanted to make it as funny as possible while still staying true to Lizzo’s song and also to the Hocus Pocus characters. Once the video was made, I just put it up on YouTube and other socials. I thought Hey, this will be a fun one for Halloween. Whatever.
It was so weird though, because it got traction before Lizzo or anyone noticed it. It was gaining traction on the internet, people were sharing it. It took about almost a month, because it was up for a while. All of a sudden, Lizzo shared it. I was in shock. It was the craziest day. I remember I was in New York City at an influencer event, so cool. [sarcastic voice] My phone was blowing up. My Twitter started blowing up, I didn’t know what was going on….then I saw…Wait, what?
How did she share it? On Instagram?
She shared it everywhere: Twitter, Instagram. It was everywhere. People were texting me, because everyone follows Lizzo. You must live under a rock if you don’t. [laughs] It was the most wild thing. Then a few days later, Bette Midler shared it and I completely lost my mind. The views kept going up, then we got to perform the song on Good Day NY live on Halloween. It was really wild and so fun.
How much do you think that boosted your name, your brand?
I think it boosted me a lot. It definitely got me a lot of followers on Instagram, like hey. [laughs] My signature on my email is “100% that witch.” Just in case you don’t know. [laughs] It made a name for me as a creative person and that I don’t do just one thing. I’m not aiming to do only Broadway, and I’m not just aiming to do only film and TV or aiming to be a recording artist. I want to be a full-rounded artist. I want to produce, I want to have my own production company one day. Those are my goals and I’m manifesting.
Talk about your song “Hidden Hurt,” what inspired this record?
I wrote it during the pandemic. I just got surgery to remove my thyroid, so this is a month out of the surgery. We did the Zoom. We were talking about social media and how no one really knows what’s really going on with someone’s lives, because Instagram and social media are only the highlights. How do we write this as a song and encapsulate that feeling?
It’s a song that we wrote for everyone, because you never know what someone’s going through. It’s a reminder to treat people with kindness, because you really don’t know. You’ve never walked in the shoes of the person next to you, to always have that in the back of your mind kind of idea. Everyone has “Hidden Hurt,” and you don’t know that story.
For me, I was going through thyroid surgery, which I then found out was thyroid cancer. It was a lot at the moment and it was hard to juggle that with also maintaining and keeping up with social media and all. There was a lot of pressure surrounding it. I did post about what I was going through but again no one ever REALLY knows. I look at my Instagram like “oh, people think this and that about me.” But I’m actually super insecure right now and was crying earlier. The song plays on that sort of idea.
Talk about surviving cancer and how music helps.
So I actually had cancer when I was in 8th grade. I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I was in remission at 15 years old. I’ve always been that type of person to live life to the fullest. You get this one life. Essentially when you go through cancer at such a young age, you grow up really quickly. But I’ve always thought “oh my God, I have to live my life to the fullest. I have to follow my dreams, because my life was almost taken away from me.”
The only thing that really got me through those years was music, singing, acting. I started producing a musical every year to raise money for childhood cancer and by the time I was in college we had raised over $500,000. That’s what really showed me how powerful the arts can be. I always loved theater, but I also did write some songs even back then in middle school when I was going through everything. But I never took it super seriously then or shared the songs with anyone. I didn’t have the guts yet. The arts definitely got me through, I knew that’s what I had to do the rest of my life.
Now having to go through surgery again and being told it was cancer, it definitely was scary. Thank goodness everything is okay now and I am free of cancer. But during the hard times I turned to writing music, as my way of getting through again. It’s something that’s so cathartic and so therapeutic. I can’t explain it, but it’s definitely special.
That’s so inspirational! What can we expect from your new EP?
I’m releasing my new EP this summer. This EP is called Ginita, that was my nickname from my family when I was growing up. I’m Latina, it means little Gina. The EP is very self-reflective. It’s written half to my younger self when she was going through cancer, then also to my adult self now having just gone through cancer again.
But it’s about more than that, of course. It’s for anyone who is going through a tough time, any difficulties or any bumps in the road. How to look at the positives, how to persist and keep going. It’s very singer-songwriter-folk-pop, more intimate and from the heart. I’m really excited to release it.
What can you start from your next single?
Oh my gosh, my next single is going to be “Pinata.” It is a whimsical ballad. It has a really cool guitar and dreamy piano. There’s some castanets in there, giving some latin flair. Pinata is written about sickness. The song is my younger self feeling like a pinata. You’re the center of attention but also the goal is to break it down. There’s a lot of imagery there. I was this little girl, going through such a scary time, you feel like your childhood and innocence is getting beaten down a little bit. It’s definitely a sad song but it’s also about overcoming the sadness. My favorite lyric is “I need to break for you to celebrate”, alluding to the strength that won’t ever completely break. I won’t give in. I’ll beat cancer, it won’t beat me.