Gina Naomi Baez, a singer-songwriter and actress out of New York City, spoke with HangTime for our Women in Music & Mental Health series. As an independent artist, she’s writing music on her own terms and time—and still making lots of it. She’s released multiple singles throughout 2021, leading up to her most recent EP, “My Time.”
She opened up about how music and acting helped her face cancer, self-esteem, and the many “no’s” of the industry she loves.
HangTime Magazine: Do you practice mindfulness and how do you do so?
Gina Naomi B: Okay so could you give me the definition of mindfulness to you?
HT: I always think of it as grounding yourself and being able to get a handle on your emotions and being aware for a moment.
GB: Yeah I mean I think we all try to practice mindfulness. I definitely try to. Being an artist there’s a lot of “no’s” and there’s a lot of “if’s” and “this might happen” and empty promises in a way. So you can get really caught up in that, especially auditioning and everything. I try not to get caught up in it but sometimes I’ll find myself feeling anxious about it. I have to remind myself I’m not in control of this so I just do the best that I can and put myself out there and hopefully it comes back. I try to practice patience and that’s really key in this industry. Because you could give up today and tomorrow could be the day that your dreams come true. So if you know in your soul that this is what you want, you have to keep at it.
HT: And how do you do that? Is it just reminding yourself consistently or do you have certain steps that you take?
GB: For me, I definitely have to remind myself, but also I started in this world in the acting and theatre world. I find my outlet is songwriting and lyric writing and if I’m having any heightened emotion that is what I use to deal with it. That’s what I love—even on my notes in my phone—if I’m feeling overwhelmed or anxious if I just write it down and make it poetry or make it a song, that’s really helpful for me personally. That’s how I got into the songwriting side and releasing music.
Also distracting yourself with some good ole guilty pleasure television and all that good stuff.
HT: What’s your go to guilty pleasure television?
GB: Well definitely [Keeping Up With the Kardashians], I love them. I was so upset when it ended. I can’t believe it’s over, but that was my number one guilty pleasure. If they were on, even in the background, they were keeping me sane. So that is definitely my number one.
HT: That’s so fun.
GB: It just blows my mind. When you’re listening to a song and then you just hear that one lyric that radiates within you and you’re like “this is so relatable!” It’s wild — it’s the best feeling.
I don’t know if my writing is as good but I’m a huge fan of Taylor Swift and her lyrics are ridiculous. I can’t deal with it.
HT: There are few better feelings than relatable lines. That was actually one of the questions we have. How has other people’s art helped you? Either in your healing process or just life in general?
GB: Oh my gosh I don’t even know where to start, this is crazy. I feel like it’s impacted me my whole life. I grew up with the classics—Barbara Streisand was and is my number one, I love her so much. She was the first artist who I saw and said, “I wanna be just like her.” I learned more about her and how she’s multi versatile, like she does stage, filming, producing, directing, she does it all. So that’s always been my goal: do it all. So she was definitely my first inspiration.
That’s when I fell in love with theatre and saw how powerful music was and how powerful art is and how it can heal you and inspire you in everything. And actually I don’t know if you know this but I’m a childhood cancer survivor. So, when I was going through cancer that’s when I really fell in love with music and everything. It was the one thing I had that helped me through it.
I was like, “Wow I wanna do this because if this helps people like me as a kid who’s 12 years old and going through cancer, I want to be a part of that my whole life.” So, I’m not doing anything else, this is it no matter what.
As I started getting into songwriting, Taylor Swift was honestly my number one that I was introduced to. Every album she put out was insane. That’s how I fell into songwriting. I was obsessed with her and Sia—in the olden days of Sia before ‘Chandelier.’ She had all these amazing singer songwriter albums a long time ago. I loved the way she wrote so I figured I’d try it out and try to express my feelings. Since then, I’ve always been doing it and sticking to it, I’m really enjoying it now.
So those are my number ones.
HT: That’s super cool! It sounds like there are a lot of moments that have led up to where you are now. So you kind of touched on this already, but if you could go a little deeper into it—how do you incorporate art into your healing process?
GB: I incorporate art into my healing process by 1) songwriting, mostly lyrics, I love writing lyrics. It’s poetry and it’s just cathartic. But if I’m able to do what I love, it’s healing in itself. If I’m doing a show or performance, to get up there—either for theatre when I’m playing someone else or music when I’m being myself—it kind of just takes you away from the moment and everyone’s in the moment with you and that’s all that matters. I think that’s such a cool feeling, a healing feeling. Everything pauses for a moment and all that matters is what you’re creating.
HT: That’s seriously so cool. Do you have any specific memories where you really felt that?
GB: Oh yeah. Something that really sticks out to me was when I was going through cancer, I wanted to do my school musical, but I wasn’t going to school because I was doing chemotherapy and everything, it was a mess. The one thing I really wanted to do was sing and do the musical and the school actually made an exception and let me do it. So, even if I didn’t go to classes or go to school, I could show up to practices and do the musical. It was amazing I got to be a part of it. Honestly, that was the moment, while I was performing that show, that was my escape and I knew that this was going to be in my life forever and this was what I wanted to do.
I remember that distinctly. It was such an escape, it was like I was in my own bubble, surrounded by art and music and I could just escape for a bit. I still have that moment in my head, and I need to remember that girl.
HT: I love that, what was the performance you were doing?
GB: Joseph and the Technicolor DreamCoat!
HT: That’s so fun! To go back to songwriting, do you ever put pressure on yourself to write? Or do you focus on writing when it works for you?
GB: Yes! Tons of pressure! I feel like my brain is literally going 24/7. Like right now I’m working on a Christmas song and it’s August. At this present moment, I’ve been doing a lot of songwriting because I’ve been going through a lot and I just have been really writing songs.
So, presently I don’t feel pressure to write songs because I have an album’s worth of songs. It’s crazy. I think pressure is natural though, because you want to just keep writing.
HT: So, do you feel like most of the pressure is internal or external?
GB: External pressure: none at all because I’m in charge of this entire thing. I have a manager who’s helping me navigate this world. But, I don’t have a label or anything so if I don’t want to write a song I don’t have to. I don’t have to answer to anyone, which I kind of like because I don’t really have a style—well I have a pop style, but sometimes it sounds more country or folky. I kind of just go with whatever I’m feeling at the moment.
Internal pressure: it comes and goes, highs and lows. Right now, I don’t feel that much pressure to get more songs written or anything.
HT: Do you struggle with self esteem issues and if you do, how do you overcome them?
GB: Um… of course! I definitely struggle with self-esteem issues, I’ve always struggled with that since middle school. I don’t really know anyone who hasn’t. I try to tell myself to stay positive and confident. I always want to be that positive light that inspires people.
When I was younger, I went through a lot. That was really hard for me. I was very insecure with my body and what I looked like because I literally had cancer. I had no hair. I was always this battered, bruised girl growing up. Then I grew into myself and I started embracing myself.
I’m also Latina. So, I felt out of the box in musical theatre. There weren’t many Latina roles when I was growing up. But as the industry has evolved and continues to evolve, I’ve seen more and more of that and almost felt embraced. So that’s been a great way of feeling a little more secure.
Being in this industry sucks, you know? There are a lot of no’s. I just try to tell myself that you only need one “yes.” I don’t know what is in me that has this drive that keeps me going. Sometimes I’m like, “I’m just gonna give up.” But there’s this spark in me that always comes back.
Self-esteem’s difficult. But everyday I wake up. I’m alive. I’m breathing. I get to meet with you and talk with you. I get to do all these things. Not everyone has all these simple things. So, I try to be grateful all the time.
HT: Do you think that participating in musical theatre and songwriting has helped with your self-esteem and figuring out your identity?
GB: Definitely. Being an artist has definitely helped my self-esteem. I try to look back and remember how much I’ve done and I try to look at that as the little girl I was. If she looked at that she’d say, “Oh my god!” You know?
Yeah, I’m gonna cry now.
It’s definitely helped. Even the negative stuff — I’ve been told tons of negative stuff — makes me want to say, “Now, I’m gonna prove you wrong.” Give me all that negative stuff. That’s what’s gonna drive me as well. Not just praise. There’s always going to be those people who don’t believe in you. But, I’m gonna do it my way and that’s it. Keep going.