New Music to Know: Niia Finds Her Voice With a Little Help from James Bond

By Shannon Carlin

The first time Niia Bertino felt comfortable in front of a crowd she was singing the theme to the 1999 James Bond film The World Is Not Enough in a dark Manhattan night club.

For years, the classically trained jazz singer who records under the mononym Niia (pronounced Neye-a), had been performing, but she never really felt a connection with her audience. Something that, as she admits, was probably her own fault.

“I’m going through something emotional and they’re all watching me, trying to understand what I’m feeling,” she says to Radio.com over the phone from Los Angeles. “And I don’t want them to know I’m thinking about my dog.”

But all that changed when she finally got up the courage to stage her own show—a pop-up performance of her favorite 007 themes sung by Shirley Bassey, Nancy Sinatra and Gladys Knight.

Halfway through the show, she started in on her stripped down take of Garbage’s “The World Is Not Enough”
and realized the crowd was with her, not against her, giving way to the performance anxiety that plagued her since she was a little girl. Years later, she would actually give a TED Talk on overcoming stage fright.

“For the first time I felt comfortable with my role of power,” she says. “Some artists love that power of swooping in and watching the crowd eat out of their hand. But for me, it’s a little scary and I think I realized we both can play the vulnerability card. Me as the artist, them as the audience.”

This dichotomy between power and vulnerability plays a substantial role on Niia’s latest single “Body” off her recently released debut EP, Generation Blue. On the sex-positive track, she takes a guy home and politely claims control of her wants and desires, singing, “We could be lovers, as long as you love my body right.”

“I think there’s this weird sad girl movement. I totally get it, I relate, but there’s not enough of the other side,” Niia says. “You can still be devious and sexy, but just call the shots yourself. I think it’s hard to be a girl these days and I can empathize with young girls growing up, it’s tough, but I want them to know, it’s okay to do what you want. Just make sure it’s what you want to do.”

With its PG-13 take on BDSM, the video is even drawing comparisons to Fifty Shades of Grey, which doesn’t surprise Niia one bit. Though, as she points out, she’s way more dominant than Anastasia Steele.

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