Nikitaa blends R&B and South Asian elements to make waves with “Goddess Pop,” a genre that’s all of her own manifestation
South Asian women are making waves in the music industry. From Madame Gandhi to Arooj Aftab, Kiran Ahluwalia to Charu Suri, these musicians all add an essentially South Asian verve to their music while creating unique sounds refreshing today’s charts.
An up-and-coming talent on the scene is Bombay-born, LA-based singer-songwriter Nikitaa. Nikitaa combines ethereal pop and RnB with a subtle nod to the South-Asian soundscape to create a sound and genre she calls Goddess Pop. “I see my music as fierce, unapologetic, raw, vulnerable, powerful, empowering, and unique all at once,” she says. If you, like her, grew up listening to the RnB of the early noughties, you’ll love her sound.
You might have heard her hit single Boomerang, which made it onto two charts on Apple Music in India, placing #24 and #155, in Top 200 Pop and Top 200 All Genres, or in the OST of the excellent Netflix show Masaba Masaba.
A born entertainer and trained Bharatnatyam dancer, Nikitaa’s mission as an artist, is to break down barriers, shatter stereotypes and bring people together under the universal language of music.
SEEMA got to know the South Asian sensation, her life, and loves over an email interview.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
I grew up in Mumbai, India! I started classical vocal training and western keyboard when I was around 4, but kinda fell off with my keyboard lessons when I was around 10, though I kept playing. I also hadn’t always loved the structure of Indian classical voice training, so I voluntarily left when I was about 12. At that age, I also discovered the music of Whitney Houston, Beyonce, Aaliyah, Justin Timberlake, and Madonna. Until then, it had just been Bollywood through the 60s to 90s (courtesy of my mom) and Rock, Metal, and Indie Hindi music like Lucky Ali (courtesy of my brother). It was a brave new world of music, and I was so fascinated. When I came home from school, all I would do was sing along to Beyonce or Whitney Houston—my all-time favorites. As I got older, I returned to contemporary western vocal training, and eventually attended LA’s Musicians Institute (MI) for their Associate of Arts in Vocal Performance program!
What was your journey to becoming a musician?
I was that 14-year-old kid who had always dreamed of being a singer but knew her parents weren’t super into the idea.
I’ve been on a stage in some capacity since as far back as I can remember—plays, dances, choir, everything. I made a deal with my parents that if I finished my Bachelor’s degree (which I did), they would allow me to pursue music. But even still, my mum had some resistance. I think it’s because my late nani (my maternal grandmother) and I had the same dream—to sing and write songs. And since my nani’s dreams had remained sorely unfulfilled, my mother didn’t want that kind of sadness to taint my life. But eventually, she realized that having a career that made me happy and felt fulfilling for me was more important than that fear. I was 20 when I finally jetted off to study at MI in LA. Up until then, I’d done a couple of small ad stints — voiceovers, jingles. But when I got to LA, I really focused on my songwriting and what kind of artist I wanted to become. I met my long-time collaborator/co-producer Mukund Komanduri at MI, and I haven’t looked back since.
What is Goddess Pop? How do you define it?
The idea of calling my sound Goddess Pop was born the day we wrote my single, “Goddess.” My artistry has always been about the path of the goddess, the path of the Divine Feminine that lives inside everybody. There was a time before any known religions existed when the goddess was this genderless all-encompassing being that was both light and dark, benevolent and vengeful, life giver and taker. Just in the same way that humans — especially those who are more feminine — are more than just the ideas of femininity that society feeds us. My songs and my lyrics always have a bit of both together — softness and cutting honesty. Vulnerability and power. And so was born the genre Goddess Pop, with music that was always meant to be empowering, and a reminder that you can be the entire spectrum, rather than an unrealistically curated and highly edited being.
Tell us the story of your latest release, “Bad Trip (Sitam).” It’s a little different from your previous musical releases, what were you experimenting with here?
Mukund and I started writing Bad Trip at a really low and dark point in my life in early 2018. I had just broken up with my on-again-off-again partner after he went on a bender — to which he was very prone. I realized that I was with someone who was emotionally abusive and unaccountable for his behavior — caring for someone like that on any level leaves you drained and bitter. And so “Bad Trip” had started off as a really angry song, with extremely cutting lyrics, and the verses and chorus were completely different from what you hear now.
Over the years, we kept returning to the song, but the production was never right, and the structure didn’t feel good. That is, until this year, I started reproducing it from scratch and rebuilt all but the Sitam hook and the pre-chorus “Forgive him Mother…”. I realized what the song needed was a different narrative. I needed to be able to tell this story after it was actually over, from a much more mature point of view that could encapsulate the highs and lows of healing from something so toxic and terrifying.
This was also the first song I wrote where I incorporated Hindi lyrics. I was experimenting with literally everything—my signature sound (which is so much darker but also more ethereal now), my writing, my perspective, language… everything.
What are you listening to right now? Any South Asian musicians you’re a fan of?
I’ve been listening to a lot of the music I loved as a teenager lately! A lot of Tokio Hotel — a German band I found when I was 14 that I adore to this day. I’ve also been listening to RINI very heavily. As far as South Asian musicians go, I am a huge fan of Anik Khan. I have recently had the pleasure of connecting with Rhea Raj, another fantastic South Asian artist, writer, and producer whose music I absolutely adore.
What’s coming up for you in the future, what are you working on?
I just dropped an NFT! It’s my very first and is actually the first time I’ve mixed and mastered my own music, so that’s been incredibly fun. I’m also preparing my next single and I’m really excited about the vision I have for this one. My sound is definitely a lot darker compared to when I started out; and my lyrics are moving from cathartic release (heartbreak and so on) to more celebratory, fun, sensual, and sassy. Think my 2020 releases, “Clutch” and “Goddess,” but on steroids and multilingual (English+Hindi). I’m very excited to share this with the world!