Rising From the Chaos with 88rising’s NIKI
How do you describe 2020 to a foreign entity from an alternate universe not governed by our reality? It’s chaos, utter and complete chaos. Mercury may no longer be in retrograde—with the last day ominously coinciding with the 2020 US Election Day—but it seems that we’ll continue feeling out of sorts for a while.
This year has presented us with the impossible. We put our lives at an abrupt halt; we redefine what we consider normal; we evaluate what we deem essential. Every time we feel like we’ve made progress, we take another detour. We are wandering through the Upside Down, hoping the elusive finish line may present itself soon.
It’s a tale as old as time: 15-year-old Nicole Zefanya opened for Taylor Swift’s The Red Tour in Jakarta in front of 10,000 people after winning a competition. She began posting song covers—amateurly filmed in her small, dainty bedroom—on her YouTube channel, which propelled her career to greater heights, eventually getting the attention of 88rising’s Sean Miyashiro. She flew to LA to meet with the people behind the record label-cum-management company highlighting Asian talent and the rest is, as they say, history.
It took two years—and a pandemic—for NIKI to complete her much anticipated full-length debut album MOONCHILD. The ambitious three-part sonic allegory is very much rooted in the self, straying away from her usual themes of love and youth. She goes inward and tackles universal themes of self-discovery, identity and empowerment. She elaborates, “I always knew that I wanted my first album to be a concept album. I toiled over it for two years to make sure that it stuck to a cohesive theme. To me, that’s what an album is and should be—[to adhere to] one cohesive theme—and that’s why it took me two years to make.”
She fuses her signature R&B and pop sound with punk and country, proving her versatility as a musician. From stripped-down ballads like Lose to saccharine pop melodies like Plot Twist, the album illuminates NIKI’s journey as an artist and individual. She adds, “It’s been such a long time coming so it still feels so surreal that it’s out. MOONCHILD means everything to me…I’m very grateful that it’s out and humbled by the reaction! It’s been amazing to see that so many people resonate with it.”
If she were to pick a favorite track from the 10-song album, she would choose track nine, If There’s Nothing Left. She shares, “I think it comprehensively represents the album the best. But that’s like picking between my children; it’s very hard for me to choose!”
With concerts and live performances put on hold indefinitely, she’s managed to find an alternative. MOONCHILD EXPERIENCE is her visual interpretation of the album, which is absolutely free for viewing on YouTube. Still, she misses performing live. She explains, “I miss performing [for] crowds! I’m really sad that I can’t perform MOONCHILD live. I hope I can tour in 2021. I love performing live! Having a crowd is a completely different experience than virtual performances.”
A Balancing Act
Creating a routine in quarantine has benefitted the 21-year-old tremendously. The period of isolation has been a time for self-growth and self-reflection. It’s even helped her become a pretty good dog trainer! She elaborates, “I think I’ve learned I check out a lot when my life is super on-the-go. It makes me miss the little things in life. Slowing down has been a total blessing in that I have been able to appreciate the smaller moments that otherwise fly right by.”
With the deluge of inescapable headlines lately, she’s stepped up her self-care game with tangible steps to keep her grounded. After all, we’re way past the point when we mistake self-care as something frivolous or unnecessary. She shares, “I take a bath, light a candle, eat some comfort food, journal, write a song, go on a hike. Anything that I feel like will get me through that hour, day or week.” She emphasizes, “Do what you can and do what you need. That’s pretty much what self-care is.”
NIKI’s Survival Guide to 2020
Twenty-twenty has been extra challenging for many young people. When everything seems to be at a standstill, how do you rise above and overcome this grueling stretch of a year? NIKI reflects on how she centers herself, “This whole year has felt [out of sorts], in all honesty. I believe in God, so I pray. That usually centers me and makes me feel less alone and small. Next to that, I talk to my loved ones! My family, friends. Talking to others and getting a fresh perspective help ground me and sometimes snap me out of a mental spiral.” She adds, “I also love going on long walks with my dog. Sometimes, getting out of the house and getting some fresh air help remind me that the world is bigger than me.”
We all, at some point, have felt out of sorts with the downward spiral of negativity we face on a daily basis. Many young folks are disheartened, faced to reckon with their dreams put on the back burner because of lockdown. NIKI has sage advice for anyone going through this dilemma. She shares, “We do what we can. We are not machines, and the world is changing every day. You are allowed to rest and recuperate. Don’t be so hard on yourself! Then, when you do have it in you, give it all you got. I’m a firm believer in whatever is meant for you won’t pass you by. Also, go hug your loved ones. Kiss your dog. Eat some comfort food and love yourself as you would a friend.”
With MOONCHILD as “essentially a musical parable about growth,” we can’t help but ask NIKI to revisit her younger years. If she were to speak to her younger self, constantly overthinking about the future, she’d say, “Relax. You will end up where you need to be.”
We all have questions about how this will all end, and frankly, we won’t have answers for a long time. This year has brought us to our knees, prompting us to ask very difficult questions; after all, we can’t overcome what we don’t confront. We’re moving forward and wiping away our tears—God knows how much we’ve shed—and pulling ourselves together to get things done. Twenty-twenty counts, folks. If we don’t acknowledge it, we’re doing a huge disservice to all the frontliners and essential personnel silently fighting this war.
We’re telling new stories to ourselves every day—make today be a good one. Life carries on, and no good or bad thing is forever. As NIKI beautifully puts it, “You just learn as you grow. That’s all life is. Growing and learning, and enjoying all the chaos in between.”
Wonder exists to spark conversations about anything and everything men, women and everyone in between care about, from fashion to grooming, career to sex and relationships, pop culture to self-love—including things we’re sometimes too shy or find hard to talk about.
As a brand, we value authenticity, human experience and truth-telling as we document stories of people, cultures, places and things that inspire. All that is developed into a platform that encourages openness and a little bit of humor, change and creativity, one that incites Wonder.
Get the latest update here
Photography Natt Lim
Art and Art Direction Matthew Ian Fetalver
Cover Story and Interview Elisa Aquino
Special Thanks 88rising