Women in Music 2016

Niykee Heaton on the 'Gift & Curse' of Social Media & Her Kanye-Meets-Shakespeare Music

Mike Le
Niykee Heaton

On an otherwise rushed Tuesday night, singer/songwriter/Instagrammer-extraordinaire Niykee Heaton and I spoke for nearly two hours. Having only known Heaton from her large social following (1.8m Instagram followers, 508k Twitter followers) and overtly sexualized persona (at a recent outdoor festival in D.C on a cold October day she took the stage wearing nothing but Spanx, a nude leotard and Nikes), I didn't know quite what to expect.

Niykee Heaton Heats Up, With Assistance From Russell Simmons

As she embarks on her first-ever, nearly-sold-out tour -- aptly named The Bedroom Tour -- while producing, mixing and writing her own music, it’s clear Niykee is unexpectedly unfiltered. While she has a hard “fuck you and fuck the industry” stance that might seem a bit extreme for a 20-year-old upstart, she has a knack for explaining everything -- from her hatred towards social media to her “Shakespeare sonnets mixed with Kanye trap beats” -- in a simple, understandable and honest manner. Here's what she had to say. 

So you're about to rehearse for your first tour -- how does that feel?

For me, performing in general is something I never saw myself [doing] or prepared myself for. All I ever really wanted to do was just make the music. If I could just sit in my room and live broadcast and play a couple lullabies, that would be a dream come true. But unfortunately that's not the case. Getting onstage in front of people is terrifying.

How do you get over that stage fright?

When I was younger and I would do open mic and community talent shows and stuff like that, I had the worst stage fright ever. Like I thought that I was gonna have a panic attack or an aneurysm and my heart would be racing. But the first time I ever got onstage for real, for real, it was three years ago with Snoop Dogg and I was backstage and was about to go on for the very first time and my heart was racing and I was sweating like a pig and then as soon as I was about to step onstage -- all of a sudden -- it was like the most natural thing in the whole world. I had no fear. I had no tremors. It just felt right. I think it was just a matter of getting to that point in my self-confidence where I realized, "This is what I'm meant to do."

Going from such fear to immense self-confidence, how did that happen?

That's a really hard question to answer. I just feel like -- I grew up always being the ugly duckling type and no one really believes me when I say that. But I was never cute growing up. I was always a bigger kid. Always had a big butt. Always had big thighs. 

But as soon as I felt confidence in my art and in my craft is when I kind of just didn't give a fuck about what anyone said about me and my aesthetic and the way that I looked. So I'm like "Fuck everybody. I like who I am." And when I started seeing that young girls were seeing that and they were reciprocating and they were loving what I did because they needed that confidence too, that drove me more. 

 

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A photo posted by Niykee Heaton (@niykeeheaton) on

 

Speaking of your look and aesthetic, what would you to say to someone who says "You're way too sexual", "your Instagram is so superficial...", etc?

I would tell them to stop looking at it if it bothers them so much. Our motto is "fuck everybody." Not literally, but everyone has this opinion. I don't do it to initiate any sort of response from anyone. I don't do it for a shock factor, I don't do it to cause thirst traps or whatever they're calling it. It's literally how I dress every day. It's how I act -- it's who I am. 

How do you feel about social media since it's been so influential in growing your career?

I hate it. It's a gift and a curse. It's gift because, I mean, you can do things now that you could never, ever have done 20 years ago in this industry. So it's great that you have this sort of platform you can reach people on. But other than that, I fucking hate it. I want to get to the point where I can sell out all my tours and keep making music but like shut down everything else and live in a tent. Because I cannot stand social media.  

 

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A photo posted by Niykee Heaton (@niykeeheaton) on

Do you ever read the comments?

I try not to ever, but Lauren [my manager] still reads hers -- I don't know why. I really try not to unless I see it on accident. Because if I went through and read every single comment and took it to heart, I would end up committing suicide. These kids are so awful, and they say the worst things that if you take it personally, it will destroy you.

I would love to do something where we travel to different schools, we talk to kids in different areas about the awareness that needs to be brought to cyberbullying. Because I honestly think that if kids were responsible legally for the things that they do, then they wouldn't just be telling people to kill themselves in their Instagram comments.

How would you describe your sound?

I always knew that I was very different and I didn't follow any sort of set pattern or concrete path. I grew up with older siblings who listened to a lot of soul and blue grass and alternative, and my sister loved, loved loved poetry, so that's kind of where I got my writing style and my musical roots. And then when I was ten, I discovered Lil Jon, and I just got so ratchet from there on. It's kind of like those two worlds colliding, like folk, rhythm, and Shakespeare sonnets mixed with Kanye trap beats. And that's kind of the perfect mixture of what I feel like my music is. It's like a weird, weird orgy of all those things.

Think anyone else in the industry is doing that?

Not really. I feel like people have kind of like maybe picked on a little bit to what I'm doing, but I don't think so. The best lesson I ever could have had was my record label not doing shit for me because if they wouldn't have done that, I never would have known what I'm capable of, and I probably never would have tried to produce. And the fact that I did, I discovered who I was meant to be as an artist. Cause I had to literally create everything from scratch by myself. So it was 100 percent genuine, 100 percent me.

So if you’re doing everything yourself, it must be difficult to have people take you seriously.

I think that people don't take me seriously because society is brainwashed into thinking that if someone is attractive or good-looking, then that automatically discredits everything else about them. They can't also be talented. They can't also be smart. If you're good-looking, then that's it. Then you're just a porn star. Even if you have a Nobel Peace Prize, you're still just a pretty bitch. But for me, I'm not going to put on a ski mask and a trench coat in order for people to take me seriously because they're not going to anyway. It's gonna take a lot longer, and it's gonna be a much harder road, but I would rather do it this way.

Who are some of the people that have let you down the most?

Pretty much every rapper that I met.

What should we expect from The Bedroom Tour?

I don't want them to expect too much cause I'm not Beyonce. And if you want me to dance that crazy then I'm probably gonna be sweating, and I'm gonna need to take a lot of breaks, so hopefully they just are happy with me giving my all and a little bit of jiggling.

What are you most nervous for?

Sometimes I'll look out into the crowd, and I expect people to be jumping around and turning up, and I look out and people are just kind of like standing there and staring at me, and I'm not sure if it's because they're really impressed and shocked or if they're just like "Gross."

Or they’re just Snapchatting on their phones…

Yeah, I don't like that either. I'll just smack the phone out of their hand while I'm singing. I honestly wish that we could just go back to the '70s for like a minute and just have people be excited to be in that moment and to hear music. I hate seeing people on their fucking phones. Like I can't even see your face, I can see your iPhone 6 plus. I can't see you. Like, put your iPad down and pay attention.

Billboard Hot 100 Fest 2016