Welcome to The Drop, Refinery29's home for music video premieres. We want to shine the spotlight on women artists whose music inspires, excites, and (literally) moves us. This is where we'll champion their voices.
If you’ve seen DC’s 2020 film Birds of Prey, you’ll recognize Ella Jay Basco as the sullen, shadow-lurking Cassandra Cain, a teenager (and future Batgirl) who accidentally gets caught up in Harley Quinn’s wild and dangerous web. But in her new music video for “Gold,” featuring rapper Ruby Ibarra, the 14-year-old isn’t sullen or in the shadows. She shines brilliantly and confidently — all thanks to her gold complexion.
Written by Ella, Ibarra, and Ella’s writing partner (and brother) Darryl J. Basco, the song is a love letter to the Asian American community. “Head to toe I’m dipped in gold,” Ella sings in the chorus, “and I know and I know that I’ll break the mold/ When you learn to love your true reflection/ Then you’ll always be rich with a gold complexion.” The video, directed by Leslie Alejandro and premiering exclusively on Refinery29, was put together by an Asian and predominantly women crew. It begins with Ella in a 1950s-style commercial for “Brown Be Gone,” a fictional skin whitening soap. However, she soon breaks out of her black and white setting and lands in a warm, prismatic world.
While Ella, who began her career at just six months old in an Old Navy print campaign, has already had an impressive start in the world of acting, her musical journey spans nearly just as far. “I've been in love with music my entire life pretty much,” she tells Refinery29 over the phone. She began writing songs very young after getting a notebook from her aunt, and since has learned to play multiple instruments, including the ukulele, guitar, and piano. Inspired by musicians like Beyoncé, Billie Eilish, and Lauryn Hill, Ella decided to release her own music, and has been doing so steadily since early 2020. Last year, she released singles “The Ballad of Cassandra Cain,” “Screaming in the Rain,” ”Miss Popularity,” and “Nadu,” as well as her first EP, Middle School.
However, “Gold,” which was first released as a single in January, is her most mature track yet — seeing the young performer at her most vulnerable, but still with a poised, grounded self-assurance. Inspired by the recent dramatic rise in anti-Asian hate, this song is Ella’s message of comfort to those who ever have moments of self-doubt. “I want people to understand that your skin is beautiful no matter what people have to say about it,” Ella says. “And embrace that pride, too. I think that people don’t get enough that being gold is a privilege. We're so amazing through our beautiful culture and heritage. I just really hope that people feel the same way that I do. And feel that they are loved and that they can appreciate their culture the way I do.”
Refinery29: What inspired you to write your own music?
Ella Jay Basco: “It was my aunt who also really inspired me. I remember when I was maybe five or six, she handed me this book and she was like, ‘You can write songs, you can write poems. Do whatever you want.’ And I remember writing...Kids, right? A silly song about things that I didn’t have a general concept on, like love and peace or something.”
How did the inspiration for “Gold” come about?
“Me and my brother, Darryl, who I write all of my music with wanted to create a song that empowered Asian American women and brown women in general. He started writing the song and then he sent it to me over voice memos and I thought, this is great. I think it was my dad who had the idea to put [Bay Area rapper] Ruby Ibarra onto the song too.”
How did you come up with the concept for the video?
“I was talking with the director of the music video, Leslie Alejandro — she's amazing. Visually, she can create such beautiful images. I said to her that I wanted a period piece idea in the beginning to go along with ‘Gold.’ Then we all collectively came up with the idea of having a ‘50s commercial, in the beginning, which really sets the tone for the rest of the video. We thought that skin whitening was such an eye-opening and interesting topic to include in there. But I wanted the rest of the video to really just have beautiful visuals and projector images that show my home movies.”
I'm really in love with my heritage. And I think that when other people of colour listen to the song, they could really relate to sometimes being boxed into a stereotype. This song is really about breaking through that.
Ella Jay Basco
Why did you decide what to include your personal home videos?
“I did some digging through my home videos and I thought it'd be cool to honour my grandparents, my family, and the Filipino flag. We also decided to include some cool imagery and psychedelic moving pictures as well.”
You said you’ve grown up with a real sense of pride in your heritage already. Where was that instilled in you?
“My family is an interesting family. I grew up with a lot of strong, powerful women, specifically, too. My grandmother, my mom, my aunts have all really taught me to just embrace who I am and not care if people make fun of me because of the colour of my skin. I really grew up in this family who are really proud of who we are.”
How do you want people to feel when they listen to “Gold”?
“I want them to have pride in their culture the way that I do. I'm really in love with my heritage. And I think that when other people of colour listen to the song, they could really relate to sometimes being boxed into a stereotype. This song is really about breaking through that.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.