Popping Up: Nikki Williams

Sam Lansky | February 13, 2013 6:00 am

Popping Up is our recurring look at new artists making noise on the music landscape. Because, hey — Madonna and Britney were once unknown, too.

It was hard to ignore the talent on display in Nikki Williams‘ debut single “Kill, Fuck, Marry,” which appeared out of nowhere late last year: Jaw-droppingly self-possessed, a Sia-penned power ballad with majestic vocals, a brilliant lyrical conceit and a haunting, lushly shot music video to boot.

But the South African songstress isn’t just a one-trick pony: Her next single, “Glowing,” is a sterling slice of house-inspired dance-pop with a soaring belter of a chorus and a pummeling beat. It’s a fitting track for Williams, who is outspoken, witty and just tortured enough to be able to deliver a heartbreaking vocal. Now signed to Island Def Jam/Chameleon Records, the chanteuse is readying her debut album with a roster of A-list collaborators — and it’s shaping up to be one of the most hotly anticipated releases of the new year.

FULL NAME: Nikki Williams

AGE: 23

HOMETOWN: South Africa

SOUNDS LIKE: The tormented noir-pop of Lana Del Rey with a little bit of Kelly Clarkson‘s rage

RAW SOURCE MATERIAL: “I always knew that I wanted to be an artist, without a doubt,” Williams says. But the fuel for her album was a lot of hard-earned life experience: “I have been through so many messed-up relationships. I’m the queen of that. [Kill, Fuck, Marry] just resonated with my soul.”

MAJOR INFLUENCES:“I am in love with Alanis Morissette,” Williams says. “She’s super girl-power, angry, angst, but she sings so beautiful, and she’s a lover. I used to listen to her Jagged Little Pill record when I was young.” But ’90s pop-rock aside, her roots go back even further: She also mentioned Elvis Presley and Joan Jett.

A LITTLE MORE PERSONAL: As she’s been putting together her album, Williams says that it’s emerged as a real story. “The whole record is the story of the last year and a half, and all of the crazy stuff that I’ve done, and all of the crazy stuff that I’ve been through. It’s like writing in a diary for the whole world to see.”

Are you feeling Nikki Williams? Tell us in the comments below, or on Twitter and Facebook.