We trace the narrative progression in the 88rising artist’s new visual endeavor
There seems to be no limit to LA-based Indonesian artist and 88rising member NIKI’s ambition. Bound by a cohesive narrative and cinematic inclinations, her debut full-length album MOONCHILD, which was released just last month, almost seemed destined to be augmented by its own visual interpretation.
Directed and produced by Andre Bato and his team (who’s worked on campaigns for Reebok, Nike and Conde Nast, to name a few), NIKI’s MOONCHILD Experience immerses viewers into her fictional realm come to life. Divided into three acts and three moon phases that correspond to the album’s structure, the live performance has us witnessing the titular character’s journey towards growth and acceptance—a classic Bildungsroman, if you will.
ACT I – CRESCENT
“There’s never time to warm up,” sings NIKI on opener Wide Open (Foreword), and it’s never been truer for a story that begins with her character on all fours, a foot deep in a puddle of cloudy water. The entire place is shrouded in darkness, save for the moonlight shining on her. Every movement feels executed with intent—the Moonchild caught in a moment of weakness, gradually thrashing about the water and then building up to a dignified stance by the song’s end. Alluding to the ways women are forced to navigate the music industry and its longstanding history of misogyny, Wide Open acts as a cautionary tale. For a 21-year-old who’s just released her debut album, NIKI already bears the weight of it and sets an example not only for fellow women trying to find their place in a male-dominated society, but also specifically for Asian-American women seeking more representation in the media.
While Wide Open revels in its blunt delivery, Switchblade takes a more doe-eyed approach and finally introduces the world in flashes. A warning would have been nice for viewers who might be easily triggered by strobe lights, but it does serve its creative purpose in bringing some of the song’s Los Angeles glitz and glam to life, not to mention doing its reflective wonders on NIKI’s bejeweled ensemble as she let loose and dances around the forest. The live band arrangement starts becoming more apparent on this song, the drums sounding much fuller than it did on the album.
Nightcrawlers introduces six interpretative dancers all clad in skin-tone garments, stocking masks and orange wigs. Suddenly there’s comfort in the thought that the Moonchild isn’t alone in all of this. While Switchblade leans toward pure optimism, Nightcrawlers possesses the kind of cheekiness that comes with professional success. “Once I own myself, now everybody wanna own me,” raps NIKI past the two-minute mark. There’s a notable minor key change around this point that lets the song take a dark turn, where the dancers begin to move less like fellow-moonchildren and nightcrawlers and more like leeches trying to ride on her coattails.
Selene in this performance acts as a bit of an interlude between the first and second acts, not really belonging to either of them, which makes sense given the song’s trance-like nature. It sticks out like a sore thumb in MOONCHILD Experience, being the only scene tinged with a darkroom red. It’s one of my favorites from the album, hands down—that groovy bass line and the trumpets were *chef’s kiss*—so it was a bit of a shame seeing its reduced screen time. But as with the rest of the creative choices made thus far, this is most likely deliberate. The all-black outfit change, newly slicked back hair and sensual dance moves do make it seem like the Moonchild character becomes possessed by the song’s namesake, the Greek goddess of the moon.
ACT II – HALF-MOON
As the second act opener Tide creeps in and the moon moves into a different phase, the set becomes brighter, the Moonchild coming to possess more self-awareness. A literal enlightening, perhaps. We also get a better view of the full band setup and some mysterious women, clad in red, in the background. There’s a lot of angst in this song that’s cut by the tender voicemails at the end, maybe acting as a reminder that regardless of the situations that force you to build walls around yourself and doubt any form of goodwill, it’s always good practice to let some warmth and light in. This openness was rendered with such grace by the dancers’ movements, akin to heartbeats and the set’s shift to a warmer lighting.
For a song that speaks about “dying out in slow motion,” Pandemonium sees the set come to life in its most saturated state. Notwithstanding the Moonchild’s and the dancers’ positions on the ground, this might be one of the more grounded moments on both the album and the performance, tucked in that small space between solace and surrender—the lyric “I am my own asylum” speaking volumes.
The Moonchild is lifted up and out to the piano for everyone’s favorite ballad, Lose. We’re still treading this line of peaceful surrender. The aforementioned red ladies assume their roles as back-up vocalists, but their enigmatic energies are almost reminiscent of the Fates, if we were to follow that Greek mythology thread. It still harks back to the idea of humbling one’s self and, if how they all look up and sing to the moon is any indication, surrendering to a higher power and letting nature take its course.
ACT III – FULL MOON
We’ve reached the redemption arc, people! The happy-go-lucky energy of Plot Twist welcomes us to this final act with another outfit change to boot. NIKI’s pulling the dancers’ marionette strings now, playing narrator to her own story following Act II’s moments of clarity. Both If There’s Nothing Left and Drive On are sung as if she’s just come back from war bruised and scarred, but nonetheless finding a silver lining in the form of a loved one. The Fates continue to bear witness with no need for intervention. These final two songs occupy the same consoling space as Pandemonium, where the Moonchild settles into some form of peace that comes after a rush. But this time, it feels like it’s tinged with pixie dust.
In retrospect, even the Moonchild’s hairstyles were a deliberate choice, beginning from a slightly damp and disheveled look in Act I to a combed back look in Act II and a clean updo for Act III. Following her unabashed entry into this world, we’ve seen her beaten down and struck by the pangs of reality, arriving at a form of inner peace and finally learning to put a little faith in something good again. It seems like a clean and linear progression, one we’re so often familiar with but one that always works.
Stream NIKI’s album, MOONCHILD, on all major music streaming platforms. Join Wonder and 88rising’s cover contest for NIKI’s track, Lose, for the chance to win 0917 x NIKI merch and get featured on Wonder and 88rising’s channels.
Words Bea Mata
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver