Welcome to The Drop, Refinery29's home for music video premieres. We want to shine the spotlight on women artists whose music inspires, excites, and (literally) moves us. This is where we'll champion their voices.
This might be the first you're hearing of Katlyn Nichol the Singer, but the rising star isn't new to this — she's true to this. Though recent roles in popular projects like BET's American Soul (as Simone Clarke) and ABC's Black-ish (as Olivia Lockhart) may have thrust the 22-year-old singer into the limelight, these high-profile gigs are far from her first foray into fame.
As it turns out, Nichol has been on the path to stardom since she was just a kid. Because she grew up in a musically-inclined family and was a permanent fixture in her local church's choir, it was only natural for Nichol to form a proclivity for performing onstage. And as her talent developed, she caught the eye of the Mary J. Blige; the R&B icon took notice of Nichol's distinct voice and signed the then 12-year-old to her Island Def Jam imprint without hesitation.
Almost 10 years later, Nichol's latest release "Liar" makes it crystal clear exactly what Blige saw in her even back then. The new single is a tasteful blend of old and new Afrobeats textures (you hear those rich highlife horns!) that sees the North Carolina native flexing her vocal chops as she sings about the demise of a relationship due to dishonesty and broken trust. Heartbreak shouldn't sound this good, but the accompanying music video, premiering right here on Refinery29, turns the breakup anthem on its head by making it smooth and sexy — just in time for hot girl summer. Missing your ex? Hit the dance floor and work out your feelings to the musical stylings of Katlyn Nichol.
Nichol bared it all during a recent phone call with Refinery29, sharing everything from the story of her early start in the music industry to the surprising source of inspiration for what could very well be the song of the summer.
Refinery29: What's Katlyn Nichol's origin story? How did you get your start in music?
Katlyn Nichol: "I feel like churches have been the stomping grounds for so many up-and-coming musicians throughout history, and I have a church background. But both of my parents are also musically inclined, so I feel like my love of music is inherited from them — my four older sisters are music lovers as well. Growing up, my dad is the one who coached me and helped me add what he calls the 'salt and pepper' to my vocals."
"People don't really know this, but I also got signed when I was younger. I was signed to Mary J.Blige's label when I was 12 and even went on a short little tour with Diggy and the OMG Girlz. That period made a huge impact on me, and I really appreciated that time because I learned a lot about the business and what it meant to make music. Mary and I still talk to this day; she's like my big sis and godmom, always willing to give advice."
Where would you say the inspiration for “Liar” come from?
"The lyrics were definitely inspired by my sisters. Having four older sisters, I've seen and heard a lot — they just rant and vent to me about everything — and some of the things that I've watched them experience have hurt me to the point where I was like, Seriously? This is how these fools are doing y'all? So I took what I've seen in their lives throughout the years and kind of free-styled in the studio. I have their permission, though; whenever they're venting, I always give them a heads-up that those experiences will be going into my music.
"Production and vibe-wise, the 2000s were such an amazing time to make music because of the variety of sounds and the energy each genre had. I wanted my music to replicate that same urgency and energy, so when I talked with my producers [including Sak Pase], I told them that I needed it to feel have the vibe of a 2000s song so I could be in a certain pocket."
The visuals for the video are super sexy and timely now that the world has opened up somewhat — we need to hear "Liar" in the club! How did you dream up such a stunning music video?
"With the music video, we wanted to play with different colours that would emphasize the song's different moods. We wanted to encapsulate that range of emotions that one might feel after finding that someone they love has lied to them: denial, rage, and then maybe even a little bit of lust as you slip back into your old ways despite knowing the truth."
"I also really just wanted to dance! I've always seen myself as a performer; I've never felt comfortable just standing onstage. So I asked my team to put me in some classes and get me a choreographer and some dancers so we could have that breakout moment in the club scenes. I worked with the amazing Charm La'Donna and Tiffany Simone, and everything came together perfectly."
June is Black Music Month — who are the Black artists who have inspired your sound and fostered your love for music?
"Beyoncé, of course! I'm Beyhive till I die. Y'all don't know how hard it is to get on a stage and sing and dance and [have] this Hey, I've arrived, I'm the queen! energy that she delivers every time. It's no easy feat, and for Beyoncé to maintain her artistry while doing all of that for as long as she's been working is truly inspirational."
"My Black Cinderella Brandy is also up there for me! Vocally, she's always sounded effortless to me, and growing up, I was constantly trying to copy her runs while singing with my sisters. Plus, Brandy was acting on projects like Moesha and Double Platinum while still popping out hit after hit, something that I'm also trying to do with my career."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.