She was just 13 years old when she went flying across Sydney's ANZ Stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games. One year on, she was challenging for the No.1 position on the ARIA chart with her single 'Strawberry Kisses'. Three years, three albums and six singles later, Nikki Webster was dropped by Gotham Records in BMG's merger with Sony Music and she disappeared from the Australian music scene.
But after a five year break from the industry, the now 22 year old is back with a new single, 'Devilicious' and she's been surprised to discover that despite her absence, 'Nikki Webster' is still considered radio poison.
"Everybody knows about the stigma that’s attached to the name of Nikki Webster, but no-one can actually explain why. That’s what I find funny. They all say ‘what’s it like being the punchline of everyone’s jokes and going through the whole tall poppy syndrome?’ and I’m like ‘that’s okay, but why do you do it?’ and they’re like ‘Er, I don’t know’."
She's at a loss to explain why, after five years, the stigma still exists.
"‘Cause they’re just following suit, I don’t know. I have no idea – see, no-one knows! It’s ‘cause they can and I just put it down to jealousy – that’s someone’s succeeding and pushing themselves to follow their dreams," she said.
But although music directors actively turn their noses up at the thought of playing a Nikki Webster track on radio, the singer has experienced great support from the on-air talent.
"Everyone on air as in Kyle and Jackie O, Merrick and Rosso – everybody like that is really behind me and it’s just incredible to have their support. But getting it played is a different thing and everybody’s hands are tied in one way or another.
"I go back to when I released ‘Strawberry Kisses’ – you know it was No.2 for eight weeks on the ARIA charts and you’d listen to the countdown and they’d just somehow miss it – it’d be like ‘And number two is Nikki Webster, now going onto No.1’. Somehow it was missed so they didn’t have to play it. So I didn’t expect radio play, but then I didn’t expect support from on-air people and to have that is exceptional. That’s all I care about – all I want to do is impress those guys.
"I guess another hard thing with the comeback is that it’s been four or five years – the music industry’s completely different and I’m also an independent now, I’m not with a major label, so there’s a lot of walls you have to jump over. But the main thing is that the people that I need to get the music out to are hearing it and loving it. The feedback I’m getting is great – and that’s all I can ask for a first single in five years."
However - it's not everyone that's unhappy to see the return of Nikki Webster - she's been discovering that the support has most certainly been forthcoming from the gay community.
"That’s been ongoing. That’s something that I guess has hit me since I was 13 and it’s been ongoing. They’re the ones that are always there and they’ll wait. They’ll wait as long as they have to. The feedback I’ve been getting is great and I can’t wait to hit the clubs and actually perform it. You know, ‘cause other than doing it on TV, I haven’t performed it in front of an audience and I’m really missing that," she said.
Nikki's back catalogue, including singles 'Strawberry Kisses', 'Dancing In The Street' and 'Something More Beautiful', polarised many within the music industry, who deemed it too youth-focussed to ever succeed commercially, but the singer says she looks back fondly on her earlier efforts.
"I still love performing those songs – you know they’re great. For the age I was - I was a teenager and I think they were perfect. Ross Fraser and I did a great job with all the albums and I don’t regret any one of those songs on there. I teach them to my kids at the dance school and they love them, so that’s just the second or third generation that I’m going ‘these albums were great – these albums were so ahead of their time'. It was like Miley Cyrus or High School Musical four or five years ago, so I just think ‘fuck, I was ahead of the time, I wish I was sixteen now’."
'Devilicious' is the singer's first single in almost five years - a Mike Rizzo produced dance-pOp offering that drags Nikki's signature sound into the now. It debuted in the ARIA top 100 last week with almost 500 physical singles sales in New South Wales alone.
"It’s good to be back and it’s good to have music – I think that’s the main thing. I’ve been around during the past four years doing bits and pieces but to actually have music out and to be able to talk about it is fantastic and it certainly makes me complete and happy," she says. BUT...
"It’s also horrible. All I want to do is release music and then it gets to the point where it’s all about debuting and releasing and all that stress and I’m like ‘why do I put myself through it?’, because it’s tough, you know – you have such a short amount of time to prove yourself and I guess the songs have such short life expectancy in the shops and on the radio. You can put your heart and soul into a song and it can be old news within a week."
The new single is accompanied by a video resplendent with a myriad of young, flesh-flashing dancers that looks like it had a small fortune spent on it.
"Yeah, I’m kinda broke!," she laughs, "I guess I wanted to showcase as much Australian talent as I could because I do want to take this track overseas. So I wanted to include as many incredible dancers as I could and also I think there’s a certain standard that’s expected from me in terms of professionalism. I had a lot of pressure to live up to but I also wanted to have some fun and do it my way."
Nikki's future plans will also see her taking the entire 'Devilicious' project, including the forthcoming album, overseas.
"Definitely I want to try and hit the Europe market with some of the other tracks as well and see where that goes and I guess having Peter Rafelson and Mike Rizzo on board with 'Devilicious', they’ve got quite a bit of pull in the American clubs, so they’re right behind it and they’ll push it as much as they need to, so we’ll see. He’s (Rizzo) always number one on the Billboard charts."
It's then we begin our push to find our more information about the next single and the album. Here's where Nikki gets a bit defensive! Here's exactly how the conversation went;
auspOp : Talk about the new album – you’ve obviously got that in the pipeline…?
Nikki : Yes.
auspOp : Have you got a working title for it yet?
Nikki : No I don’t. No I’m the kind of chick that just wants to get 'Devilicious' out, then I’ll focus on the second single and then I’ll contemplate the album. You know I’m just step by step. I guess being an independent I can do that. I don’t have the label breathing down my neck.
auspOp : So obviously the plans for the second single are already in the bag?
Nikki : Yes! Absolutely!
auspOp : And when will that drop?
Nikki : Oh dear, pressure!? Soon! I’m not sure. I guess we’ll see how Devilicious goes and definitely I want to give it it’s due course and head it up with the second single which is another track I absolutely love.
auspOp : Have we got a name for that yet?
Nikki : Oh yeah, but I’m not gonna give it away! I’ll get into trouble! Nup! Nup! I’ll tell you later!
auspOp : So when will we see a release for the album? August? September?
Nikki : Look at you! Fishing! Soon! It’ll be soon. Definitely in 2009. The fans are like ‘where’s the next single? Where’s the album?’ I’m like ‘can’t you just like the one song for a little bit?’
So while we wait patiently for the as-yet-untitled single No.2 and the as-yet-untitled and as-yet-scheduled new album, we make do with 'Devilicious', a solid new dance/pOp offering from a young Australian performer that mainstream radio, sadly, continues to ignore.
Nikki's single 'Devilicious' is available digitally and on two track physical single now.
Her new (as yet untitled) album is due before the end of the year.
Visit here next Monday for your chance to win copies of 'Devilicious'.