Niykee Heaton is on a mission to “change the world.”
Sure, she’s already garnered millions of social media followers through stunning photos, cool cover songs, and a deep connection with fans, but she’s not content with just that. It’s not that she’s mad at any of it; she’s just focused on much more.
Heaton’s journey en route to this goal is filled with days like today. It’s a Wednesday in May, and she’s sitting on a chair in Vevo’s Los Angeles office with a guitar in her hands. Clad in a body-hugging all black outfit and a chic Dior head wrap, Niykee is performing a couple of songs for the company’s employees. One of those tracks is “Bad Intentions,” her breakout single and the most popular cut on her Spotify page, where she racks up more than 1,292,600 listeners a month. The song’s Migos-assisted remix off this year’s The Bedroom Tour Playlist is also the soundtrack to her next big music video.
“I’ve always viewed that song as my own classic, so I didn’t want to do anything that was corny or a flavor-of-the-week-type video,” she explains. “I always imagined it being like a movie in itself, even without the visuals. So I wrote the treatment based off the story that plays in my head when I listen to it. It’s pretty much about having a hidden agenda, some ulterior motives that may include love, or a relationship. It’s the dark side of love.”
She describes the cinematic clip as “dark and sneaky,” adding that she plays a “badass” in it, a “powerful female.” It’s about “taking what you want because that’s what you need and doing everything possible to get there.” Plus, she adds, “I’m really excited for everyone to see me with all my guns.”
After performing for Vevo, Niykee hangs out with the staff. Two employees brought in their puppies—Sugar and Rufus—and they’re dominating the room with oohs and aahhs. Niykee’s beaming, kneeling down to play with them, picking them up, and trying to Snapchat with them, if they’d only stand still. But that’s about it for fun and games. She signs T-shirts for the company and we’re off to Snapchat’s headquarters in Venice.
Clouds are partly covering the sun today, but that doesn’t take away from the city’s charm. The rattling of a skateboard zooms by, graffiti seemingly adorns every wall, as bustling tourists head towards the sand and water. Here, in the middle of all of this, is a wooden door, engraved with a small, almost invisible ghost. That lets you know you’ve arrived to the home of the dog filter: Snapchat.
Niykee walks in with her “Dream Team.” Today, that consists of her manager Lauren Pisciotta, her makeup artist Brittany Bear, assistant Taylor Pisciotta, and reps from Capitol Records. We each sign in to Snap’s security system and take a selfie for the day’s ID badge, before heading to the roof for a meeting about Snap’s features.
It’s fitting that we’re here because saying Niykee is big on social media is an understatement. She’s got more than 2 million followers on Instagram, 1.7 million on Facebook, and half a mill on Twitter. Her Snap stories, a blend of bedroom rants and food runs, only help feed her growing fanbase, who are often looking for ways to connect with their “fearless leader.”
Those fans make up the die-hard collective Naturyl Born Killers or NBK. To show how important this movement is to her, Niykee’s got “NBK” and “our fearless leader” tattooed on her hands. Today, she marvels at what this fanbase has become.
“NBK started out as a brand because I needed some sort of identity for me and my team, but that kind of evolved into something that I never knew was going to happen,” she says. “It ended up representing the idea that you could be whoever you want to be no matter who that looks like or what that sounds like. There are no boundaries. There are no barriers.”
This is important for Niykee because she wasn’t always this confident in her skin. Born Nicolet Aleta Heaton on December 4, 1994, the singer “didn’t always have it good growing up.”
“I wasn’t the pretty girl,” she explains. “I had to struggle with all these things too. I feel like me telling my story gives them hope and strength and it’s amazing that I could do that for them.”
The singer’s personal struggles include a tumultuous family life. Her older sister died when Niykee was just 12 after a long battle with cancer. Her parents were alcoholics and her older brother eventually became addicted to drugs. Getting through all of this wasn’t easy, but music helped.
“When I was a lot younger, I feel like what helped me the most was Bob Dylan because that was my sister’s favorite,” she says. “After she passed, the song that would get me through a lot of tough times was ‘Evangeline’ by Matthew Sweet because that was her favorite song.
“But to be completely honest,” she continues, “the thing that helped me the most through the hardest times was writing my own music. I feel like I couldn’t find anyone or look up to anyone who knew what I was going through so no one could empathize with me. I felt completely alone. Being able to express myself, the way I feel, and the pain that I was going through was my outlet so it was kind of my own music that saved me.”
The work doesn’t end there. After Snapchat and lunch at a nearby café, Niykee’s off to REVOLT’s Hollywood studio. There, she’ll be co-hosting “REVOLT Live” with DJ Damage. But before that, she’s sitting in a backstage green room with the Dream Team, going over their schedule for the next few weeks. After she gets mic’d and prepped, it’s time for the show to begin.
Niykee’s own career is ready for the next step too. “I would love to put out another mini project before my album, just something for the summer, maybe like five or six songs to keep my fans engaged,” she says, “just to give them something fun. [The Bedroom Tour Playlist] was a collection, but it was very meaningful so I’d love to put out something that’s more fun and playful, just like a mini project and then definitely build towards the album.”
This is important because Niykee wants her debut album to have purpose. “I don’t want to rush it,” she explains. “I want it to be an actual masterpiece…I want my first album to be legendary…I just want to be proud of my work 20 years from now so that when I have my children, I can still play them these songs and they’ll know them because they’re legendary hits and they’re songs that they’re proud of and I’m proud of.
“It’s just a matter of making good music and not just corny pop bullshit that is fed to modern society and is literally shoved down their throat and they have to accept it. I just want to make shit that’s gonna change the world and that’s gonna be around forever.”
—Words and photos by Andres Tardio