When NIKI wrote ‘Every Summertime’, she didn’t expect it to go onto be the lead single from the soundtrack of Marvel epic Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings. Nor did she expect it to become a viral sensation and her biggest song to date. “It was just one of those last-minute songs that we created at the tail end of the process [of making the soundtrack],” she reflects on a Zoom call from LA. “It’s interesting that it was kind of the throwaway back burner song and now it’s taking off.”
And take off it has. The sunkissed, smooth slice of classic R&B has taken over TikTok and racked up more than 90 million streams on Spotify alone – and counting. While the life it’s taken on might be surprising to its creator, the song’s success won’t feel completely out of the blue to anyone who’s been following the Indonesian singer-songwriter’s journey so far. On it, she’s proven herself to be an imaginative and essential artist whose tracks lift you off into new worlds with each listen.
For the latest in NME’s In Conversation series, we caught up with NIKI to talk about ‘Every Summertime’, Shang-Chi, new music, what to expect from her upcoming Coachella performance and more.
‘Every Summertime’ was inspired by an unlikely artist
It isn’t often these days that Barry White is cited as an influence on a track that’s soaring in popularity; but that’s just who NIKI and her producer Jacob Ray looked to when they were writing her sleeper hit ‘Every Summertime’. Specifically, the balmy jam was inspired by White’s habit of talking in his songs.
“Nobody really talks in their songs anymore,” NIKI explains. “I feel like that trend died in the ‘90s – where it’d be music and just really low voices. We were listening to them just bewildered as to how people made music back then.” What started out as fun listening sessions quickly began to feed into the “magical” moment of writing the Shang-Chi soundtrack single, helping NIKI make a “total car jam” all of her own.
After Shang-Chi, NIKI wants to work on more soundtracks
It wasn’t just ‘Every Summertime’ that NIKI contributed to the incredible Shang-Chi soundtrack, which was put together by 88Rising, the record label-cum-entertainment company celebrating and creating space for Asian and Asian-American talent in the west. She also worked on the songs ‘Always Rising’, ‘Clocked Out’ and ‘Swan Song’, collaborating with her labelmates Rich Brian and Warren Hue, plus rising Korean rapper Audrey Nuna and the Grammy-nominated ‘Icy Girl’ Saweetie.
The experience was one she really enjoyed and, although she says she doesn’t have a specific TV show or type of movie she’d like to contribute to next, she’s open to doing more soundtrack work in the future. “It’s been so much fun working on this specific one because, as a writer, you have to embody somebody else’s story and perspective,” she explains. “That’s been very creatively stimulating in a different way because normally I would write based on my personal experience.”
Moving to America has changed her relationship with her hometown of Jakarta
Late last year, NIKI blessed us with another beautiful single in ‘Split’, in which she detailed her feelings on having to adapt and assimilate between her hometown of Jakarta and her adopted home of LA. “Kinda wish I knew what I meant when I say I miss home,” she sings over a timeless, soulful foundation. “Guess I’m forever caught between two worlds / Right foot rock, left foot hard place, head and heart at war.”
“It’s really weird cos, coming to America, I experienced culture shock and now I live in America and I come back home to Indo and then I experience reverse culture shock,” she laughs. That takes the form of “very micro things” like the heat that hits when you first step out of the airport on arrival. “It’s been so long since I’ve adapted to that or been acclimated to that kind of weather, so I noticed it. There are all these things that I took for granted or didn’t notice because you acclimate to your environment, and then you step away and come back.”
Splitting her time between the US and Indonesia has changed the way she thinks about her hometown, the singer-songwriter explaining that the cliché “absence makes the heart grow fonder” has a lot of truth to it. “I view Jakarta in this new way where my love for it has grown,” she says. “My appreciation has deepened and changed. As a kid growing up in one place forever, you’re just like, ‘Yeah it’s home, whatever’ and then having that taken away from you and stepping out of your comfort zone tends to create an appreciation for where you’re from.”
NIKI’s new music goes back to her YouTube roots
Before she moved to the US and before she joined up with the 88Rising crew, NIKI got her start on YouTube, sharing acoustic covers and original songs in the indie-folk vein. Still a teenager at the time, she gained small success with that material, scoring tens of thousands of subscribers and, after winning a competition, opened for Taylor Swift when The Red Tour came through Jakarta in 2014.
While NIKI’s debut album ‘Moonchild’ and recent singles might have skewed towards more electronically produced R&B and pop, what’s coming next will see her picking up the six-string once again. “I’ve been working more guitar-based [songs],” she shares of what she’s been working on lately. “I’ve felt this beckoning call back towards my singer-songwriter roots, so I’ve been exploring and experimenting with that a lot.”
Writing on guitar will likely change the songs she’s writing in ways other than sound, she says, noting that the instrument tends to lead her to write lyrics that are “naturally deeper”: “It just has more substance to it emotionally. When you work with a beat, there’s a lot of things going on and the music guides you and guides what the song must be. But when you’re just with a guitar, it’s easier to dictate what the song could be.”
She looked to performances by Halsey and Taylor Swift when putting together her impressive Head In The Clouds 2021 headline set
Back in November, NIKI topped the bill at 88’s own festival Head In The Clouds in LA. Beforehand, she promised her Twitter followers that she was “absolutely not fucking playing” and, from the second she stepped on stage, it was clear she meant business. A full-scale pop star production, the set – which you can watch in full on NIKI’s YouTube page – felt like the ever-rising artist stepping up to an iconic new level.
Of what she was trying to create on stage, she jokes her focus was “just lots of pyro”. But, fireworks aside, she also looked to some big pop names for inspiration when building the set. “I looked to a lot of Halsey’s shows and some of the inspo was also Taylor Swift’s productions – their shows are always great,” she says. “All I knew is I wanted to play an hour long set and I wanted to really challenge myself.”