Nicole Zefanya Illustration

Lynette Slape /Daily Emerald

If you’ve been a fan of singer-songwriter NIKI for the past couple years, then you’ve come to know her versatile style, choosing not to be contained by a single genre. After riding on glittery pop in her 2018 EP “Zephyr” and moody R&B ballads on her 2020 debut “MOONCHILD,” NIKI is back for her sophomore full-length “Nicole.” 

But this time she revisits the past and takes a turn into a new sound.

A leading member of the international music collective and record label 88rising, Indonesian-born Nicole Zefanya, also known as NIKI, has been writing songs long before her days headlining shows and taking on the Coachella stage earlier this year. In fact, many songs from her sophomore LP were written back in her high school years, unloading the drama of young love gone awry.

Revisiting and reworking songs written in her teens, NIKI is as intimate and revealing as ever, showcasing her blooming growth as an artist. The subject matter does not hold back on confessing her personal thoughts and memories, and for those who might have dealt with a little heartbreak of their own, many tracks can hit close to home. Packed with flashes of nostalgia, heartache, longing and the tragic reality of what could’ve been, NIKI treats this album like her diary — treating each song as a new entry into her notebook, venting about the trials and tribulations of love.

Kicking off the tracklist, the lead single “Before” sets the tone for the album, telling the story of what it feels like when things just aren’t the way they used to be anymore with the person you love (something that many of us can relate to). The track displays both the stripped-down, alt-pop sound that defines this project’s musical palette, as well as the first glimpse into the story behind the album. This opener alone showcases her detailed and vivid songwriting talent as NIKI illustrates the story of a visit with her ex and all the baggage and confusion that followed.

She continues to reflect on the drama and tension of her teen years on “High School in Jakarta,” filled with anecdotes of the emotional rollercoaster of the high school climate. One of the true gems of the tracklist, this song brightens the musical tone with a playful, lighthearted pop feel and an upbeat melody, despite the pensive connotations in her lyrics.

Themes of lost opportunities and broken promises tug at the heartstrings on tracks like “The Apartment We Won’t Share,” a heartbreaking tale of a lost future that could’ve been if things worked out. “The story we won’t tell is my greatest fantasy,” she sings. The track hones in on a folk-pop acoustic sound with a delicate guitar melody and soft vocals, which gives the song a much more intimate sensibility.

This heartfelt folk-pop influence also shines through on “Anaheim” and “On The Drive Home,” which beg to be played as you stare out the window on a long car drive. NIKI shares what it feels like to still love someone even when it’s too late to go back.

If NIKI is trying to tell her listeners one thing on this album, it’s that it can be very hard to move on from the person you love. “Backburner” and “Keeping Tabs” deliver that theme perfectly with intricate details and moments in her writing. She reflects that it’s easy to still keep the one you love in your mind after a breakup, even when you’re trying your best to move on.

But this story does have a happy ending. Or, rather, a hopeful one. “Take A Chance With Me,” the album finale, feels like a beam of sunshine after the rain — deciding to leave the past in the rearview and move forward with what the present has in store. Light ukulele plucks, warm horns, upbeat percussion and a sweet melody help to bring light to what is potentially a new love, a sign of new possibilities in her life.

“Nicole” is rooted in real, raw emotions — real stories of lost love that many people can relate to and potentially find comfort in. While expanding her sound even further, NIKI delivers some of her strongest material yet on this new project. So if you’re ever going through a little drama and heartbreak of your own, a plush pillow, a box of tissues and “Nicole” playing in your headphones could be all you need.

Evan Huntington is an Arts & Culture Reporter for the Daily Emerald with a focus in fashion. His interests include music, fashion & streetwear, sports, and general pop culture.