In a time where half the Earth’s population is daydreaming to escape, and the other half is denying it’s already October, Niki’s Moonchild couldn’t have graced us at a more perfect moment. As her first full studio album, Moonchild not only deviates from the music we’re used to hearing from Niki, but it represents a fresh chapter in her musical career—personal growth through experimentation.
Niki, born Nicole Zefanya to Indonesian parents, started her career opening for Taylor Swift when she was just 15 years old. Naturally, growing up with the music your parents listen to makes it seem like that’s the only genre that exists. Back then, all Niki knew was R&B and soft rock. It only makes sense that both her EPs—Zephyr in 2018 and Wanna Take This Downtown in 2019—draw heavily on the R&B from her childhood, filled with beautiful vocal runs, deep bass, and mellow drum lines. Now, in 2020, with the release of Moonchild last month, Niki proudly represents Indonesia with an indie album.
The opening track, “Wide Open (Foreword),” holds our hand and leads us into the lyrical and musical world of Moonchild. It’s a simple layer of instruments and vocals with a foreboding tone. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a magical forest, presumably on the moon. You’re lost and scared. There are creatures you’ve never seen before. But just as you’re about to sob, a soothing voice reassures you to “straighten up and keep an eye wide open.”
Tracks two through 10 guide us through Moonchild’s narrative arc, going from a weak to a blooming conscience. With touches of psychedelic-indie, “Switchblade” takes the advice of “Wide Open (Foreword),” opening our eyes and pushing us through that unfamiliar forest. In “Nightcrawlers,” we enter an otherworldly musical space, part indie, part Ariana Grande.
Elsewhere, Moonchild stretches genre boundaries with the groovy, jazz-inspired beat in “Selene,” the classic distorting voice modulator in “Tide,” and the piano-based ballads in “Pandemonium” and “Lose.” Other times, Niki returns to classic indie but with much lighter tones, like in “Plot Twist,” “If There’s Nothing Left…,” and “Drive On.”
In Moonchild, every song leaves you thinking about its message. The album also has entrancing qualities: the smooth transitions between tracks, the introspective lyrics, and the intertwined genres shifting one sound to another. Through a fantastical narrative journey where lyrics, music, and tone harmonize, Moonchild tells the story of someone who’s scared of what may happen and who uses this fear as motivation to keep moving forward. With this album, Niki seeks to twist what people understand as genres, and how these twists mirror our intrinsically fluid existence.
Moonchild is a test. It’s an experience, a symbol of what true art should be: unrestrained and ever-changing. For Niki, what better way to express her genre experimentation than with an album named Moonchild. Niki breaks so far out of her old music that she makes it to the moon and takes us with her.
This is what Moonchild is all about: slowly breaking free from our material and mental constructs and realizing that the world keeps spinning, and there’s no time to waste feeling trapped. So, imagine yourself floating in the ocean, giving way to its push and pulls. The soothing ripples rise into tidal waves, turning us and Niki towards a new chapter, one of personal growth and embracing the unknown.