Lounge Talk: NIKI

Amid lessons of heartbreak and the struggles of growing up, NIKI’s firsts became our own as we navigated the way through our youth. Now with the release of her latest album Nicole, NIKI’s lyrical storytelling shines once more as she brings back her origins as 15-year-old nzee24 in Jakarta, Indonesia. Reminding us that it’s okay to love and let go, here’s a glimpse not just into the life of NIKI but the life of Nicole Zefanya, the teenager who started off recording songs in her bedroom.

When you opened for Taylor Swift at only 15 years old, what was going through your mind performing in front of such a large audience?

I just kept telling myself to try and relax because my heart was racing and I couldn’t process the level of adrenaline that was surging through me! It was the wildest experience of my life up to that point, and I honestly remember thinking that I blinked and it was over. It really did, though, solidify my curiosity towards performing and really set a positive, formative tone for the years to come being on stage.

Your unique talent for storytelling through songs gives listeners a glimpse into your life until now. How has your style of music changed throughout the years? What stayed the same?

I listened to such a wide array of music growing up that I always felt my spectrum of taste was too vast in order for me to hone in on just one, and that explains my wide-ranging body of work. I think I used the last five years as a way to explore what exactly my sound is, and with Nicole I feel like I have finally found it. Or perhaps, a more accurate way of putting it would be that I found my way back to it. When I started as NIKI, I was so young and was still trying to figure out what it was that I liked or didn’t… So much has changed since then, but the biggest change in my opinion, would be my perspective. I learned that as an artist, it is OK to be nuanced and have varying tastes, many things can be true at once. What has stayed the same however, is my deep love for language and lyricism, and my musical tendencies or as I like to call them, my “isms”. I think at their core, NIKI songs sound like NIKI songs no matter the genre because of those two elements.

As the first Indonesian artist to perform at Coachella (alongside Rich Brian), you have paved the way for Asian musical artists. How has your cultural background influenced your music and outlook on life?

I think there is a deep love and appreciation for music and singing back home. I grew up around musicians and singers, as my mom sang at church. So, having my childhood set against the backdrop of Indonesia and church, I think I have always been adjacent to music and I understand it on an emotional and spiritual level that makes it feel like second nature.  Virtually everyone I know back home loves music and enjoys singing! Growing up and seeing everyone around me appreciate music so deeply modeled this profound,  inherent connection to it.  It’s like my first language, I suppose. I’m not sure I know how to speak or exist without it.


As a role model for so many all over the world and a kick starter for the recognition of Asian artists in mainstream entertainment, what is a piece of advice you hold dear to heart?

Just be as true to yourself as you can possibly be. And pay attention to your innate wisdom. What is your wisdom telling you? That is a guiding question I try to ask myself when I feel stuck or lost.

What was going through your mind when you decided to move to Los Angeles permanently?

I just knew that if I wanted to pursue my artist career, it was where I had to be. It felt right, as difficult as it was to make that decision. A lot of tears were shed, but I would not have changed anything.

What is something about Indonesia that you wish more people could experience?

The beaches! Specifically, the warm, tropical seawater. I didn’t realize that water wouldn’t be as warm everywhere else in the world. I learned the hard way the first time I went to Malibu, in the dead of summer (the water was still freezing!).

When are the moments you miss Jakarta the most?

I moved to the States completely solo, so whenever I’m in LA, I miss my family so terribly. And whenever I am home, all I want to do is just be wherever they are!

You started off singing original songs on Youtube. Now with Nicole’s release just around the corner, talk me through your decision to bring your past songs into the light once more.

I was sitting with myself during the pandemic and one day got sucked into the rabbit hole of my old, archived YouTube videos. Listening back to original music I wrote at fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, I realized that these songs still very much resonate with me from an emotional and writing perspective. One day, I decided to book a studio day to re-record them truly just for fun, and the idea for the album quickly snowballed and evolved from there!

In honor of Nicole’s release, if you could go back and tell your past self one thing, what would it be?

You are exactly where you need to be right now to end up exactly where you need to be in the future. Relax, surrender, and trust that whatever is meant for you won’t pass you by.

With your upcoming tour in the fall, what is something you will bring with you to remind you of home?

Honestly, I’m thinking of bringing my dog Lucy along! We’ll see if that actually ends up happening,  but seriously considering it right now!

Who is an artist you would like to work with in the future?

Samia, Phoebe Bridgers, Caroline Polachek, Laufey, MUNA, Anaïs Mitchell, Sarah Kinsley, Beabadoobee, just to name a few.

A fun one to end! Throughout all your performances, what was your favorite concert outfit that you have worn so far?

Probably my black vinyl outfit at Coachella. I felt like a rockstar. (Laughs)

NIKI’s album Nicole is out now. Stream on Spotify / Apple Music

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