Read all about the singer-songwriter, whose "Glowing" clip (out March 25) will precede her debut album.
Before she became one of Island Records' most promising new pop artists and co-wrote Demi Lovato's latest Top 20 hit, Nikki Williams was supremely angry. As a young teenager in Nashville with two older sisters who were allowed to go out clubbing when she was not, Williams would blast System of a Down in her bedroom and lament the outcomes of arguments with her parents.
"I used to slam my door when my mom made me go to my room, and every time my mom made me mad, I'd paint the word 'fuck' on the back of my door," the 24-year-old singer-songwriter tells Billboard. "And she never had any idea! When we moved, I was like, 'Hey mom, you want to see what I did when you made me mad?' And I closed the door and she said, 'Holy shit,' and it's a whole door with different 'fuck's' on it."
A decade later, Williams is now channeling that profanity into unusual pop confections. "Kill, Fuck, Marry," her debut single released late last year, is a tour-de-force ballad about romantic indecision that was produced by Stargate (Rihanna, Katy Perry) and co-written by Sia. "Kill, fuck, marry are the things I want to do to you," Williams croons on the track, which has sold 4,000 downloads according to Nielsen SoundScan (its official music video has earned 800,000 YouTube views).
Williams swears that the song is not about one particular person as much as about her own relationship limitations. "I just jump straight into the deep end -- like, completely gone," she says of dating. "Love drives me crazy. I'm definitely not the ideal girlfriend at this point. I've had so many problems with that lately -- I'll meet a guy that I really like, and I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm so in love,' for one day. And then the guy is like, 'How is this gonna work out?' And I'm like, 'It's not.'"
"Kill, Fuck, Marry" was the first taste of Williams' newly polished pop persona, which began to germinate when the singer -- who has born and raised in Port Elizabeth, South Africa before her family beelined to Nashville -- decided to escape the country music that surrounded her teenage years and hop on a plane to Los Angeles. After two weeks of crashing on couches, Williams met producer Breyon Prescott (Brandy, Jamie Foxx), who took the raw singer-songwriter under his wing and helped her land writing credits on Lauren Alaina's "Like My Mother Does" and the song "Fly Away" from the "Country Strong" soundtrack. In Sept. 2011, Prescott's Chameleon Entertainment label partnered with Island Def Jam Music Group, with Williams' debut set to become the first release on the joint venture.
One month after the Chameleon/Island Def Jam deal, Williams found herself hung over on Halloween night, heading for a studio session with a tiara on her head. The singer had been going through some drama -- or, as she puts it, "some fucking boy shit" -- and poured the emotion into "Heart Attack," which eventually became the lead single from Demi Lovato's forthcoming fourth album and sold 215,000 downloads in its first week of release, according to Nielsen SoundScan. "That song just… happened," says Williams, who shares a songwriting credit with Lovato, Mitch Allan, Jason Evigan and Sean Douglas. "It was just a good flow with the other writers. But… I knew it wasn't for me. It just didn't fit in with the rest of my album."
That debut album is basically done, according to Williams, and after "Kill, Fuck, Marry" made pop fans crane their necks toward the South Africa native, the single "Glowing," which was issued last December, will be the impact track leading up to the full-length release. The music video for the uptempo track will be released on Monday (Mar. 25), and remixes of the track by Fedde Le Grand and Cazzette are available now.
The Miami-set "Glowing" clip was directed by legendary music video auteur Hype Williams, and features a healthy smattering of dancing, neon colors and unhinged sing-alongs. Williams says of working with the director, ""He basically said, 'This is you and me… tell me any ideas that you have, and we're gonna do this together.'"
These days, Williams' schedule consists of a ton of travel, putting the final touches on her debut studio set and improving her live show (she'll perform at the 2013 Coachella fest next month). The singer-songwriter has been so busy setting up her own album -- which was largely overseen by veteran producer Dallas Austin -- that she hardly has time to reflect on "Heart Attack's" success, or consider snagging any more high-profile songwriting credits. "I write a lot of songs, and they aren't always going to be for my record," she says, "so, yeah, I'm happy to share!"
- Pop-Shop