Welcome to On the Rise, a BAZAAR.com series featuring the breakout talents everyone will be talking about. Get to know these fresh faces on the verge of stardom.
While some artists dream of opening for Taylor Swift on tour, Nicole Zefanya (now known as NIKI) had accomplished that feat before she even realized she wanted to become a performer. Fifteen at the time, she won a contest to open at Swift’s show in her birthplace of Jakarta, Indonesia. Taking the stage in front of tens of thousands of people wasn’t so bad for Zefanya, it turned out. “When you’re up there and the adrenaline’s rushing, it’s just like, ‘I can do this. And I actually like doing this, and I like entertaining people.'” Who knew that years later, she would be amassing giant crowds of her own?
Zefanya has gained popularity in recent years for her praised 2018 EP, Zephyr, and her affiliations to the collective and music management company 88rising, which champions Asian artists. But her roots in songwriting and performing stretch back to the aftermath of that Swift show, when she then began treating curious new fans to performances on YouTube.
Now, the 21-year-old is prepping to release her debut album, Moonchild, a conceptual work with a fantastical narrative and imagery. Just today, she released a new single, “Selene,” which boasts a seductive bass line and a disco, dancey feel. It’s a switch from her past subdued R&B tracks—even more so considering the song represents an alter ego in the Moonchild saga.
In our latest On the Rise video, Zefanya discusses her rise to fame, making her Asian fans feel seen, and what to expect from her forthcoming artistic album.
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On representing her Asian fans …
Looking back at the release of Zephyr, the singer recalls the “overwhelming” and “positive” reception for the project that boosted her career. “Especially within the Asian market, Asian-Americans, Asians in Asia, Asians everywhere,” she says. “I received an overwhelming amount of responses just saying, like, ‘Hey, thanks for representing me, and my face, and what I look like, and my story.’ That was what kept me going.”
She adds, “I need to do this for all the girls that look like me, all the kids that look like me that want to do what I want to do.”
On her dream director …
Zefanya has already released some stunning visuals, but she’s got her eyes set on Swift-style production. “You know what? I’m honestly a sucker for Taylor Swift’s videos, so I would love to work with Joseph Kahn,” she says.
On her debut album, Moonchild …
Zefanya has been working on her concept album “comprehensively” for about a year and a half and calls it her “most wide-ranging body of work so far.”
“It’s kind of like listening to a storybook if you listen top to bottom,” she describes. “This album was definitely my little brainchild. I…