Her vibrant personality matches her fun and witty pop music, so when Nikki Era chatted with me for this interview, it was like catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen in quite some time. Our conversation started with how much we love Nashville, how we develop accents for no reason at all just by being around a person who talks that way (posh British, country twang, etc.). If you haven’t heard of Era yet, you need her on your radar as her music is infectious and her lyrics are always in your head (much like her new single, “Fantasy Boy”).
She’s one of the nation’s top singer-songwriters, and her single “Won’t Stay Down,” that she collaborated with rapper, Zak Downtown, was handpicked as the feature song for season two of FOX’s music competition series, The Four: Battle for Stardom. She has also written hit songs for powerhouse companies, Disney Channel, Universal, and MTV, and wrote the hit single Jojo Siwa’s “D.R.E.A.M.” She also wrote Meg Donnelly’s “Smile,” and Dove Cameron and Sofia Carson’s song for Disney Channel’s original movie, Descendants 3.
She also was a contestant on season 16 of American Idol where Lionel Richie thanked her for “blessing” the judges! She recently penned Mickey Mouse’s 90th Birthday theme song and covered Aretha Franklin’s “Think” in the feature film What Men Want, starring Taraji P. Henson. What a year Era has seen so far, and she’s just getting started. Her recently released single, “Fantasy Boy,” which was released nearly two weeks ago, has already amassed over 1 million Spotify streams, a testament to her songwriting and her incredible voice.
Era and I chatted about her recent hit single, her time on American Idol and what “blessing” the judges meant to her, songwriting for other artists, creating her own music, and who her “fantasy boy” embodies.
I love the fact that you were heralded by Lionel Richie and Katy Perry as “blessing” them and the comparison of your voice to Barbra Streisand, which is an honor in itself. Can you describe the feeling you had when you were told those compliments by your peers and possibly your idols as well?
Nikki Era: So that was a pretty surreal moment for me. When I was in the room with them, I actually brought my best friend who is a really accomplished piano player. So, he came to that audition with me. At that point when I sang my song, I sang with him. I was like, “Okay.” The energy was going. They kind of stop and they don’t say anything right away. So, you’re like, “Ah, what’s going to happen?” And then Lionel Richie just looks at me and he’s like, “Wow, thank you for blessing us with that. Can you bless us with another one?” And I looked at my best friend and I almost fell on the floor. I was just thinking, “Is this happening right now?” And he was actually the one I was most excited to see; Lionel Richie.
That was so, so cool. So yeah, basically for me, I had gone in there and my mom had gotten me a Lionel Richie vintage tee prior. She says, “Lionel’s going to love you, I just know it.” When he said that it was really just like a validation for me of this journey that I’ve been on. To have him like it is one thing, but to have him phrase it that way was another. Then Katy Perry tells me, “She totally gives me the young Barbra Streisand vibe.” I couldn’t have really asked for better compliments. Growing up, doing musical theater, that’s very close to my heart. So, I love that they used Barbra Streisand. She’s a legend, and it was pretty surreal.
You’re also known for your hit songwriting for Disney, Universal, MTV, among probably several others who are actresses and recording artists alike. What led you to pursue your own musical career after doing all of the songwriting and behind the scenes work? What catapulted you to do what you’re doing now?
Nikki: Well, I’d say it was never really like a thought process, you know, it wasn’t something that I was like, “Okay, now is the time for this.” I think life leads you in various ways and around different directions. I just kept getting these amazing opportunities by working with my manager and the company that he founded, which is a music and television production house. He just kept throwing me these amazing opportunities. I was having so much fun that I got so swept up in creating for all of these different people and all these different settings. Like I said, my personality, I’m very all over the place. So, it’s hard for me to focus a lot of the time. I like so many things. I just have an insatiable desire to be everywhere and do everything. Sometimes it gets me in trouble but luckily, in this field, it was beneficial for me. He came with Descendants, and he came with all these various opportunities and I thought, “You know what? I’m going to throw myself into this songwriting thing 100 percent.”
I’d always grown up singing. I guess I can’t really say whether I wrote first or I sang first. I just came out performing and dancing around my living room and making everyone watch my shows. So, I think that it was always kind of simultaneous. It was just at various times of my life I put focus on one or the other. After a couple of years of writing and getting that out of my system and feeling accomplished and feeling like I’d really made my mark, or, at least, the beginning of my mark, I was thinking, “You know what? It’s really time for me, creatively, to focus on a project for myself, and to focus on what I would say and what my music sounds like and what my message is.” I think it ebbs and flows, and right now I’m in a really creative space for my own artist projects.
Why did you choose “Fantasy Boy” as your new single, and what does this song mean to you?
Nikki: When I finally sat down and got the itch to start creating my own art projects, so to speak, musical art projects, I was like, “Okay, so what do I want to say? What kind of pop music do I want to create?” I knew I wanted it to be pop. I was like, “What kind of pop do I want to make?” I’ve always been super inspired by vintage everything.
So, it felt pretty right to me and everybody else around me started reacting really positively to the record; on my team and my management, with the pretty big studio that we work out of so, there’s always creative people running around. Everyone was just like, “Oh my God. I heard “Fantasy Boy,” I love it.” And I was like, “Yay, me too.”
I love it. So, who is your “fantasy boy” right now, at the moment? Or, does it just embody a bunch of different guys?
Nikki: Honestly, it does embody a bunch of different guys. And it’s so funny because my boyfriend, every time I say that, he’s like, “Oh, thanks.” I’m like, “Well, obviously, you’re not my fantasy boy, you’re my real boy. I love you.”
But your fantasy boy really is … And I feel like because of what I said, going back and really appreciating ’80s, ’90s kind of films and music and everything if you think about that quintessential, probably people would say corny or cheesy ’80s movie. Where she gets the guy in the end and off they ride into the sunset. That was what I wanted to embody. I wanted to embody that really fun, light feeling of falling in love with this guy that you dream about.
For me, it’s definitely a bunch of different guys. My boyfriend’s in there somewhere. But he’s definitely somebody that everybody has a different version of. That’s what I want to get across.
Is an album on the horizon or are you just releasing singles for right now? What’s next for you?
Nikki: I’m definitely working on an album. Right now the album is the “Fantasy Boy” era, so to speak, so all the songs are going to stay in this world. I’m really looking at it like I said like I grew up doing musical theater. I love art, I love art projects. So, for me, I really want to embody this chapter. I really want to dive in and visually expand on it and make sure that everything I want to say is really all in there.
That’s kind of where I think the whole Nikki Era concept came from for me. When I was thinking, “Okay, who am I as an artist?” I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed into any one particular sound or one particular look. I was like, well, if I look at all of these projects as art projects and I focus within them for a certain period of time, I guess I have a bunch of different eras. So, right now, I’m in the “Fantasy Boy” era. So there will be an EP, not sure of the title yet but we’re looking…we’re working on it right now so it should be done over the next month or so. I’m really excited!
Keep up with all things Nikki Era on her Instagram.