Video Premiere: NXKXTA – The Likes of You

(Re-)Introducing Nikita Andrianova, aka NXKXTA, who is releasing her third single “The Likes Of You” today with a captivating music video. Her debut visual album, “7”, is due early next year. Track-by-track, each song is dedicated to a specific topic and showcased via a thoughtful and well-produced music video.

KALTBLUT caught up with Nikita to discuss being in the creative industry for years and finally embarking on a music journey of her own. We delve into how she chose her rather dark aesthetic, dealing with gender stereotypes, the male gaze, mental health, and of course, her music.

KALTBLUT: How do you correctly pronounce your artist name, NXKXTA, and is there a deeper meaning behind it?

Nikita: It’s just ‘Nikita’ pronunciation-wise. Honestly, the idea behind changing the ‘I’s to ‘X’s was to make it easier to find online and to make it more distinctive – like a statement in itself. I like the fact that the Xs have a strong visual language. I play with that letter a lot when I do visuals, for example with my makeup, clothing or stage design. 

KALTBLUT: Your final graduation piece at Chelsea College of Art was the official music video for Bloom Twins song “Blue“; nine years ago. Why did it take you almost a decade to extend your artistic work to do your own music?

Nikita: That project was the first time where I combined music, moving images and storytelling. And it felt so right. I remember how nervous I was, but how alive I felt. My intuition was shouting at me: “This makes you happy! This is what you want!”

But then I ended up having a lot of bad experiences in the industry, unfortunately. I internalised the idea even further that I don’t have a voice, mentally, but also technically. 

I like my speaking voice. And people kept telling me that I should do something with it. But I always thought I couldn’t sing. It was like a mental block that I couldn’t get over. I didn’t know how to breathe correctly, and my deep-rooted fears didn’t allow for a radical level of vulnerability. That’s why I had the tendency to hide behind other artists while working as a creative in their shadow.

Yet I always wrote, secretly. I just love words. I’m obsessed with lyrics. But with English being my third language, I was convinced there’d be no way I was good enough. I never told people, I just locked my words away in stacks of diaries. Even when I dated musicians I was too embarrassed to fully share that side of me. I never thought I could step to the front and be like: “This is me! This is what I want to do!”

KALTBLUT: What changed your mind?

Nikita: Around 2018 I had a conversation with a friend in LA, also a musician. He said: ‘You’ve got a good voice, but it is like a muscle, it requires time, hard work and training.’ In truth, hard work never intimidated me, I just didn’t previously even consider it a real possibility. Now that it was suddenly on the cards, I decided to dive in and give it a go. My friend Will Vaughan invited me to his studio and we wrote and recorded a song in a couple of hours on the spot. Recording felt visceral, intense but so electrifying. We wrote “DRACULA”, my first release, together two sessions later. And then the lockdown happened.

KALTBLUT: How did that affect you and your plan to start your music journey?

Nikita: It broke me. It was tough because I had unlocked a dream, and it seemed like it would never become a reality now. It activated a gripping hyper-focus. I immersed myself in a bunch of music documentaries and master classes. Really went into a rabbit hole. I researched artists to such a cathartic extent. That’s how many of the fiery themes developed in my own lyrics because I discovered so many eery facts about the industry. In hindsight it was necessary in a way, it was kind of like I needed to break myself open to start rebuilding. However, it was not a very balanced way of doing that.

I gave up my apartment in London because it was financially impossible to pursue music otherwise. During that time, I found a vocal coach in Germany. The weekly sessions over time developed my vocals and expanded my range. There were a lot of tears, it was a really humbling experience. You must trust the process, sit with the discomfort, allow yourself to sound terrible and even lean into it. And eventually, there’s tangible progress.

KALTBLUT: What has been the biggest challenge in the process of becoming a musician for you so far?

Nikita: The most onerous challenge by far is shouldering the costs and workload alone and regularly feeling very isolated. There’s no set stairway to guarantee your success. Everybody has a different opinion on what you should do and there’s a lack of stability. To me, it feels like the old ways don’t work any longer but a system that doesn’t entirely exploit the artist hasn’t been developed yet. I would describe it as hiking in fog and praying that the path will reveal itself as you go.

The financial strain is very severe, as well. I saved up and sacrificed a lot to do this. Instead of investing in something ‘sustainable’, I push everything I got into my music. Sounds great in an interview, but it doesn’t feel very cool when you do this in a post-covid world where nothing feels certain. We shouldn’t have to break our backs to pursue a music career. I’m very privileged that I can even do it in the first place and I’m 31, so I’ve been through the wringer as is. The paramount part is not losing hope.

KALTBLUT: Let’s dive a bit deeper into your music. How would you describe your sound?

Nikita: For me, the key points are storytelling, a cinematic feel and a dark, powerful and seductive energy. And I was exploring this over the genres of alternative indie rock, post-punk, punk-pop. Nowadays everything flows into one another anyway and there are so many new genres being invented as well.

For the whole album, I wanted to show that I’m not a one-trick pony. I didn’t want to be just an “intense rock girl” or a “Lana Del Rey vibe type, but darker”. People were trying to push me into a certain direction and were telling me it would be much better for marketing. But I don’t want to feel locked into a box. For me, it was more about a certain vibe. All seven songs have different energies, but they fit together as a body of work. And my focus is very much on the lyrics. We built a lot of the songs based on the lyrics and created the melody around the feeling and structure.

KALTBLUT: Why did you choose to release with your debut “7” what you call a “visual album”?

Nikita: I’ve wanted to shoot videos since I’ve done the Bloom Twins one. And I did, I have directed and creative directed. But it was always with severe restrictions. I was never able to fully express my ideas and wasn’t taken seriously a lot of the time. With this project, I finally had the opportunity to really develop each song. I didn’t want to have filler songs. This is why there are only seven because there’s only so much a new artist can do without completely breaking the bank, their back, and their brain. This is a 30-minute set, it works. It gives people enough to get an idea. But it also gives me space to develop everything properly.

KALTBLUT: Looking at what you’ve released so far as NXKXTA – songs, videos, online profiles – it seems like you have a very clear vision of who you want to be as an artist. How would you describe your aesthetics and why is it the way it is?

Nikita: Obviously, I am a very visual person. So, art is a big inspiration for me, illustration, film, also fashion; but not in the sense of trends, but more in a sense of the concept of it – fabric, textures, movement. From my studies and working in the creative industry I learned that as an artist it can be helpful to create deliberate restrictions. So, I sat down, and I brainstormed – of course because I’m a creative director.

I asked myself: What makes me feel passionate about doing music? How can I show it visually? I strongly decided on the colour scheme. I stripped back my clothing choices a while ago, wearing all black for at least six, or seven years. My wardrobe is mostly black with silver accessories. I still wear a bit of red, but it’s more performance pieces. I like the colour red in terms of all the toxic things it’s visually connected to, like the red light district. I use things that have connotations, so I can reframe and play with them. Everything I’m doing is quite thought-through. 

KALTBLUT: I get it. “Pretty privilege” is probably quite real and especially for women it’s still considered a courageous act to publicly show up ‘ugly’, whoever defines what that means. Nevertheless, do you think your rather rough and dark look sometimes is a kind of protection for the person behind the artist – for Nikita behind NXKXTA?

Nikita: I feel my most authentic when I’m my most eccentric. I guess Gen Z describes it as “main character energy”. It’s more about not hiding behind makeup or fashion but rather using it as a tool to really express yourself. Actually, I used to hide behind things more when I tried to be ‘pretty’.That felt much more like I was wearing a mask. When I am my crazy dressed-up self I feel my most authentic, because that is the time when I’m least trying to please anybody else. 

For a video, I can sometimes go into a character where it’s actual acting. But my persona as an artist is not about acting at its core. It’s more taking parts of my personality and turning it into art. I’m taking a part of me, which is not who I always am – the sexuality, the energy, the power – and going completely wild and weird. That makes me feel very happy and at ease. This is why, by now, I dress quite extreme in my day-to-day life too. 

KALTBLUT: In 2015 you have been featured as one of the faces of the KALTBLUT Models Of London series. Looking at this portrait now: What is the biggest change for you between your early 20s and early 30s?

Nikita: That was a beautiful photo shoot and captured a moment in time. I’m grateful for it and felt very safe. I have body dysmorphia and sometimes struggle in front of the camera. It will probably haunt me my entire life. But I’ve accepted it. That has probably been the biggest work of my 20s: Finding out where I’m traumatised and struggling and trying to do my best to deal with it instead of hiding it.

And I learned that the world doesn’t end when your 20s do, nor does your youth. I am 31 – and I will proudly say my age because in the music industry, women often are supposed to lie about it and be ‘forever young’. I fucking refuse to do that, quite frankly! And I will remind people that a lot of artists they admire, like Patti Smith, started rather late and there’s a reason. It takes time to develop as a person. Not everybody starts young. 

KALTBLUT: Today you are releasing your new single ‘The Likes of You’. In the lyrics you mention “A suitcase short of a handle” and in the music video, we see you with a broken suitcase – which you seemingly get rid of by the end of the video. What does it stand for?

Nikita: I adore idioms in any language. And I love Easter eggs, hiding references and things that have a double meaning. “The Likes of You” is about the Russian saying that’s called “the suitcase without a handle”, which basically is about hoarding an item that is already so broken, that it has lost its relevance, it’s just a burden now. And it’s used as a term for people as well. 

This song is more of a humorous and cheeky way of dealing with the topic of letting go. I wanted to show both perspectives here, the positive and negative: the intimacy and love that remains, but also the toughness of knowing when things have run their course. Whether we like it or not, in work, in relationships, or even in a family, things run their course.

And sometimes we hold on to something way longer than we should, and it becomes dysfunctional. It is about accepting that some people can be wonderful, but just a bit of a broken suitcase in your life. Not in general, maybe they’re a fully functional suitcase outside of it. And letting go is tough. In the lyrics it also says “I love to think of you” – and I still love to think of those relationships and people, because the love is not completely gone. And you don’t have to be mad at things that didn’t work out. 

KALTBLUT: Your second release ‘Verbal Venom” is probably the one with the generally most pressing topic in our highly digitised post-pandemic society. What is the message you wanted to deliver here?

Nikita: Since it’s written in metaphors a lot is open to interpretation. But the inspiration for me was mainly the power of words and how they can be toxic. Abuse can start with language and today it uncontrollably spreads digitally. The digital space is still very unregulated. I think maybe it would be different if your social media was always linked to you as a person. People don’t understand the level of abuse that’s going on due to anonymity online. It has cost so many people their lives, and has caused bullying, stalking and suicide. It was sold to us very well, like this little dream where suddenly we have the power. But that’s not the truth. Incel culture has been a big research topic I went into during the pandemic. I was shocked about how often that culture has transformed into shootings. First, it’s just a few guys exchanging banter online and suddenly this transforms into real-life actions through which people get killed. That’s ‘toxic masculinity’ at its peak.

KALTBLUT: What is your future vision for your artistic work? 

Nikita: Of course to write more original songs, but I‘d also love to specifically work on movie soundtracks. Maybe even create something for a project that’s entirely different from what I usually do. Also, I’m keen to travel more and collaborate with artists internationally and in different formats. What I love about the niche that I’m in is that we all find each other because we gravitate towards the same places. It’s such a small bubble internationally as well. It’s like a little family, but very spread out. I love the connection based on interests, arts and inspiring each other. The industry can be beautiful. The potential is there.

I would love to push forward more on different topics and give people hope and support. Even though my music is dark, it is actually about finding your strength. The message was never ‘be miserable and die’. The message was always quite empowering. I’m just curious and excited because there’s so much space to grow. I’m at the very beginning. I’m like a little plant, thinking one day I could be a tree.

Follow @nxkxta_music on Instagram to keep up with her upcoming releases and shows. She’ll be in Berlin on 18th August at @1_06berlin with @femmefataleberlin. Stream her music via her website here.

Photographer: @kimhardyphotography
Creative Direction, Styling + Makeup: Nikita Andrianova
Actor: Freddie Dadson
Assistant: Ivy C.Y. Chow

Brands featured:
Pritch London
Ilaria Lepore
Peoples Of All Nations
Frock-U Boutique
Vitaly Jewellery
Black Head Studio

Music Video:
Directed and edited by Kassandra Powell
Starring Freddie Dadson
Creative Direction, Concept & Styling by Nikita Andrianova
DOP & Grade by Erdvilas P. Abukevičius
Assistance by Ivy C.Y. Chow
Brands featured:
Pritch London, Ilaria Lepore, Peoples Of All Nations, Frock-U Boutique, Vitaly Jewellery, Black Head Studio

Written by Nikita Andrianova & Steven Graham Ansell
Produced and mixed by Steven Graham Ansell
Mastered by Katie Tavini