Niykee Heaton‘s transition from Insta-model with 2 million followers to crossover artist signed with Capitol Records didn’t happen overnight. After her YouTube cover of Chief Keef’s “Love Sosa” first put her on the map in 2012, the Chicagoan waited two years before scoring a spot on the Billboard + Twitter Trending 140 with her debut EP Bad Intentions. Heaton’s been busy ever since, wrapping up a sold-out 20-city tour at the end of 2015 and dropping The Bedroom Tour Playlist mixtape earlier this month.
As her following continues to grow, maintaining creative control of her artistry — from songwriting to styling — has remained important to Heaton. “I never really had someone to look up to, so I kind of just had to be my own guide,” she says. “There’s an idea that if you don’t have a hero, you should become the person you need most. I think that’s a good message for young girls.”
Billboard caught up with the DIY maven about thrifting her tour outfits, the beauty products she can’t live without and how to take a perfect selfie.
What got you into styling your own clothing for performances?
It came out of necessity because normal clothes don’t fit me properly. I was always having to get things altered, so I found it easier just to wear clothes that were stretchy. I would literally take pantyhose from Duane Reade and cut holes in them and turn the bottom half into a bandeau bra. I feel like that’s what looks best on me because I can shape it to my body.
I also distress or rip things up that I get from thrift stores. It’s hard to style yourself for a tour and find all these cool pieces when you don’t have access to a high-end stylist. So instead, I would go to Goodwill and find pieces that cost $3.99. Most of the things I had on tour were under $10, but everyone was like, “Where did you get it? It looks amazing!”
Do you do your own makeup and hair too?
I do everything myself. I use video tutorials; I watch what everyone else is doing. I’m such a sweaty pig that everything kinda melts off of me. So I had to try a bunch of different things, especially for tour. It took me a long time to figure out that the natural state of my hair suits me best. For so much of my life, I dyed it every color under the sun, I chemically straightened it, I chopped it off. Eventually I was like, maybe I should just leave it alone because it likes to do its own thing. Now I just shower, scrunch and let it air dry.
What’s your go-to makeup look?
I like to look pretty and bronzed and natural. I wish I had perfect skin so I didn’t have to wear anything. I’m always trying to achieve that “naturally perfect” look, which is very hard to do. I like to look effortlessly flawless: not too much product, not too glam. I don’t like to wear eyeliner or eye shadow. I get false eyelash extensions — because I’m so lazy and I don’t like putting on eye makeup — so I can just wake up and go. I literally don’t wear anything else on my eyes.
What are your favorite products right now?
My highlighter is MAC “Mineralize Skinfinish.” My bronzer is called “Ambient,” from Hourglass, and it’s so pretty that I use it all over. I use the “Coconut Balm Dotcom” from Glossier. These are my favorite products; I can’t not have them.
Do you contour for Instagram?
Not as much as one would think, because I get really irritated and hot and then wipe it all off. I feel like everyone looks better natural rather than with a painted face. I think it’s weird when I go on Instagram and can see like nine layers of makeup.
Any tips on taking the perfect selfie?
I can’t take a good picture from a low angle. I have a bunch of chins. So I like to hold the phone a little to the right and above me, and just find the right lighting.
What do you think about right before you go onstage?
Right before I go onstage, I’m just concerned with not passing out from fear. I shut down that part of my brain that worries and overthinks, and completely turn it over to the music side. I don’t channel anything other than trying to do a good job.