9 Dec 2016

Becoming a pop star one playlist at a time

9:40 am on 9 December 2016

Going from mall music competitions to half-a-million Spotify plays, Nakita is on the road to fame.



Nakita Photo: Supplied

Nakita might not be a household name, but her forthcoming EPs will likely determine whether she continues on track to becoming a future Homegrown headliner, or just another fresh-faced singer that will briefly find success, only to fade out and have another take their place next summer. Meeting Nakita has me wanting to place bets on the former.

I first tried to interview Nakita back in May. I wanted to know who the person was behind the viral hit ‘Where Are You’, I wanted to know who curated her perfect Instagram and I wanted to know what it felt like to be teetering on the edge of something potentially quite massive.

I was shut down because she wasn’t speaking to the media until she finished high school. It seemed a fair argument. Sure enough, the week NCEA exams were wrapping up, an email appeared offering an interview.

The initial emails rejecting my desperate attempts at any kind of interview fascinated me. Pop culture has you believe being a teen sensation is a dream of held by most. We grow up seeing Disney and Nickelodeon stars transition from awkward tweens to VMA headliners, and hundreds of school-aged kids audition for The X Factor each year.

There’s a hunger for fame. So on a humid, rainy Friday night, I ask Nakita about whether it was a hard decision to make, school or music?

It seems there was no question.

“You put so much energy into it [school] and to be having that secret life we’re you’re doing all this other stuff, I kind of just wanted to finish the year on a real solid note,” she tells me, and I wonder to myself whether I could have been so rational at 18. Probably not.

Like a lot of New Zealand, Nakita grew up in a rural town close to the beach. In this case, Woodend Beach, at the local Christian camp, with two brothers, a mum, and a dad. Kiwi as.

Only she’s not like most of us. She attends two different youth groups, she got an exemption on her license to drive her brothers to school, and then there’s the nonchalance with which she tells me she built her parents a dining table after “looking it up online”. She could unironically shaka and I would think it was a cool and normal thing to do.

If her name sounds familiar, that’s because she’s been floating around local newspapers and talent shows for the past seven years. “I started taking music seriously when I was about 11 and started a band with my two brothers. We entered mall competitions and different events around Christchurch. It was from there it went a bit crazy.”

Crazy in this instance can be defined as winning your family a trip to Singapore at a talent show before you can even get behind the wheel of a car, going viral for an anti-bullying song you worked on with a bunch of fellow do-gooders before the world “viral” had become a worn out buzzword, and eventually having NZ heavyweights such as Dave Baxter (Avalanche City), Benny Tipene, and Leroy Clampitt (Justin Bieber’s ‘Company’) as credits on your soon-to-be-released debut EP.

Nakita’s music is for the most part, fun and youthful. It screams “Summer in New Zealand” in a way that would be relatable at 18 and is covered in a haze of nostalgia for anyone much older. It’s the first time you holidayed without your parents and has a wide-eyed optimism about it that you could only buy into coming from someone who hasn’t yet been turned cynical by the music industry.

Her forthcoming EP Foolish Ones was produced by Clampitt at his Pirongia studio - “a really simple town - one garage, one dairy and one school” - where the pair holed up for a fortnight nutting it out.

The collaboration grew out of a co-write that left Nakita in awe. “He produced the whole track as we were writing. It blew me away. From that point I was like ‘yeah, I think this guy’s gonna be the producer’.”

The feeling was obviously mutual, with Clampitt signing on to produce EP number two.

Foolish Ones’ first single “Where Are You” is about to hit 500,000 streams on Spotify, something that even Nakita admits is “pretty weird”. It’s made it onto Top 40 radio, music television, and the most sought after Spotify playlists.

That was always the aim, to go more international rather than just focus on New Zealand.

She tells me Spotify is the place to keep tabs on who’s listening, explaining a part of the website regular consumers such as myself will never access.

“It’s awesome. You can see which songs people are listening to, on which playlists, and where in the world those people are. My music’s been received well in Canada, the Netherlands and the US - rather than in New Zealand - which is cool. That was always the aim, to go more international rather than just focus on New Zealand.”

Her latest single ‘Addicted’ - a self-described “soft pop anthem” -  was the first she worked on with Clampitt, and is one she hopes people “will feel some emotion towards”. It’s a song to remind people not to focus on looking back and longing for the past. She begins using hand gestures and becoming more animated. She’s passionate about it. You can’t deny that.

It’s this passion and awareness that says, despite the teen star stereotypes, there’s nothing surface level about Nakitia. She’s incredibly conscious not only of herself, but her surroundings, something reflected in her music, masked beneath rolling pop melodies and catchy hooks.

Call me a bad critic, but there’s nothing I don’t like about her. I wanted so badly to find something to pick at or whine about, but I’ve got nil. Her vocals are smooth and effortless, her aesthetic will have you longing for a California summer, and she laughed when I asked what it’s like to have your song on the Glassons playlist. What comes next rides on how her music is received over the coming months, a decision that in 2016, no longer lies with the publicists and the execs, but with those of us behind the screens.

And for the record, she does run her own Instagram.