NIKI is an Indonesian-born singer who is signed under the label 88rising, which has been incredible in bringing Asian and Asian-American artists to the forefront of the music industry. Some artists you might recognize from this label are Joji, Rich Brian, Stephanie Poetri and Keith Ape, among many others.
Before becoming NIKI, Nicole Zefanya was a- as she puts it- a foot-of-the-bed guitar girl who started out by posting covers and original songs on Youtube. She opened for Taylor Swift’s The Red Tour in Jakarta, which gained her some traction. In 2017, she was signed to 88rising, and NIKI was born.
I’ve been listening to NIKI for a while now, and I think it’s safe to say that she’s (currently) one of my favorite artists. Personally, I don’t think she’s released a single bad song, which is saying something as I can be very picky when it comes to music. So, if you’re looking for a new artist whose songs span R&B and pop, this is the article for you.
1. La La Lost You
This is the song that made me start listening to her music. It was released around October last year, and it was a very stressful time in my life. The official audio for the song popped up in my Youtube recommended page, and I clicked on it without any expectations. Needless to say, I was blown away and had a good, long cry instead of studying for the maths final I had the next day. This song is one of four of NIKI’s songs on 88rising’s collective album. She even recorded an acoustic version of the song, which is just as amazing as the original. Here’s the link to the music video for La La Lost You: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ErmgY5GX_wI, and here’s the link to her acoustic video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YlJt5EYrlM.
I believe that this might have been NIKI’s breakout song. I remember watching the visualizer for this song when it just came out in early 2019, as it was running as a Youtube ad which I’d seen many, many times. I enjoyed it then, but never looked into her music further. She was even invited onto Genius to explain the meaning of the song, and although the song’s meaning is pretty self-explanatory, it was interesting to see how she utilized wordplay into writing the song. This made me respect her as an artist because she really showed how her lyrics weren’t just written to rhyme, but that there were also double meanings and things to uncover beyond the surface. Here’s the link to the visualizer for this song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxyucLe9YE4. Here’s the link to the Genius video, which I really recommend you check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JNw5IQmWsA.
3. Sugarplum Elegy
This is the closest thing to a Christmas song that NIKI has released so far. It was only available on Youtube since she released it in 2018 up till last year, when it was finally made available on all streaming platforms. Here’s the link of the official audio video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lqdx118ilhA.
This is a girl power anthem which I absolutely adore, and it’s carried out in a ‘sing talking’ sort of way. This song is basically about empowering women and how we should never just settle, especially when it comes to the dating world. Here’s the link to the music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zkj_NHie5LM.
This is another one of NIKI’s songs which earned her a Genius video, where she highlights specific parts of the song by explaining her thought process while she was writing it. It’s a boss ass bitch type of song, which never fails to kick my confidence level way up. Here’s the link to the music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5e6F1VA6WG4, and here’s the link to the Genius video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCK7BMBXuY8.
I never find myself able to not cry when listening to this song of hers. It’s basically an homage to a best friend, someone who sticks with you through thick and thin no matter what. NIKI wrote this song for her mom, who she has named as one of her music influences, as she was a singer in church herself and has raised NIKI on 90’s R&B. She passed away due to cancer, which is extremely heartbreaking. It’s a beautiful ballad, and you can check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1fLFWxCCbI.
7. I Like U
This is one of NIKI’s earlier releases under 88rising, and it is one of my favourites by her. This song is basically about a friends with benefits situation gone wrong, as one of them has developed a crush on the other. Riffs and runs are extremely evident in this song, which mirrors NIKI’s incredible technique. Here’s the link for the music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0ellsn6cKk.
Warpaint is NIKI’s single from 88rising’s debut collective album, which is about moving on after a relationship has ended. The music video in this song is beautifully shot, as it takes place in an abandoned water park in Vietnam, named Ho Thuy Tien Waterpark, located outside of Hue. Here’s the link to the music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuk7BwuCgRI.
Switchblade is NIKI’s latest release, which is the first single of her debut album. I find this song very different from her previous ones, and I didn’t like it as much as I did her other songs. To be fair, I had pretty high expectations and had expected a specific sound, but after some time it grew on me. It wasn’t until she released a stripped version as part of the fundraiser ASIA RISING FOREVER by 88rising that I really liked it. The music video is beautiful, too, as it places NIKI in this ethereal, otherworldly setting with many mythical creatures. Here’s the link to the music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjPy9XielsA, the link to the stripped version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePxKxx4KFQU, and the link to the complete ASIA RISING FOREVER, which I really recommend you check out as it is in support of AAJC (Asian Americans Advancing Justice) and includes many Asian and Asian-American creators as they all join in for this fundraiser/online concert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8-49EaVE00.
These are some of Nicole’s songs that I only discovered during quarantine! These are more acoustic and indie folk-ish, so if her recent music doesn’t seem like your type, her earlier songs might be more up your alley. After rebranding herself as NIKI, she took down all her old videos as Nicole, so most of the videos linked here are reuploads. Currently, the only songs available for streaming from this list are Polaroid Boy and Anaheim.
1. Polaroid Boy
This song is amazing. It’s very chill, and an easy song to listen to. Here’s the link to the official audio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDkAERLH2E8, and here’s the link to the reupload of the original video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MiljKYeJnU. This song perfectly captures the heartbreak that people experience when they lose their first love, and pictures teenage heartaches amazingly.
Driving is a pretty heavy metaphor in this song, which I found interesting. It’s about someone who is unable to be fully invested in their current relationship because they’re still mentally stuck in their last one. The last chorus might be one of my favourite lyrics by Nicole, as she somewhat rewrites the original chorus, but is still able to blend it seamlessly into the song as a whole. Here’s the link to the reupload of the original video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f40l8IWrqpo.
This is the very first song from Nicole that I’ve heard that I didn’t find out about on Spotify. I was just wondering what some of her earlier stuff sounded like, and I was blown away. Anyways, here’s the link to the reupload of the original video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHmiNvn0VVI.
4. Milk Teeth
In this song, a newborn is used as a metaphor for a newly formed relationship, which ‘hasn’t even lost its milk teeth’ yet it already seems as if it’s falling apart. Here’s a link to the reupload of the original video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bl_wYFjTjSc.
5. Little Souls
As a senior, I’m still kind of trying to grapple the fact that pretty soon I’m going to enter the real world and leave everything I’ve ever known behind. This song is perfect for the existential crisis I have about once every two weeks, as it’s about how we all still have our inner child inside us all, which will always ‘look over us’ in some way as we brave through the challenges that growing up will put us through. Here’s a link to the reupload of the original video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4srTUoAaTE.
I genuinely think that NIKI is one of the most talented people in the music industry right now, and she has this charm to her that sort of pulls you in. I also enjoy watching her interviews, as she’s so well-spoken and wise. These are just some of my personal favourites by NIKI, and I’d just like to say that her music might not be for everyone! I hope that you do decide to check these out, and who knows? You might have just discovered your new favourite artist! Here’s a playlist with all the songs on this list that are available for streaming: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2ksoF6XsX306XhNIq5O6eA?si=oIXC4Z1VSHqQUIJyHRPEMg