Feather Weight

Yowling her bluesy pop all over MTV and shaking her raging fireball hair like she owns the joint, Nikka Costa could easily be mistaken for a female Carrot Top who cries like Macy Gray, or a tiny R&B Nicole Kidman in CHiPS shades and ripped rock-metal tees. One part rock, one part soul-funk, and close to an overdose of sass, the daughter of the late producer Don Costa (and the godchild of Frank Sinatra, with whom the elder Costa worked) has only recently achieved long-overdue success in the U.S. Her exposure began when a Tommy Hilfiger television ad featuring Costa's "Like a Feather" made music-biz execs scamper to uncover who was behind those scorching vocals. Virgin Records proved to be the fastest-fingered, snagging Costa from Australian imprint Cheeba Sound and releasing her first-ever U.S. full-length, Everybody Got Their Something.

Costa's own unrelenting "something" is planted in her thick, rootsy singing style, which sounds wonderfully womanly next to the female solo acts of today that go for the "little girl" guise. (See: Britney Spears's annoyingly naughty "Oops!...I Did It Again" and Mandy Moore's overdone pout in "Candy.") When Costa was five years old, she belted it out with Don Ho in Hawaii for a Christmas release her father was overseeing, and her performance then nearly exceeded Spears and Co.'s vocal maturity today.

Though the Tommy commercial could have axed Costa's chances with a more adult audience and branded her with the bubblegum seal of approval, it seems instead to have acted as a bridge between the VH1 and MTV generations. Though reluctant to be corralled in the same pen as today's pop princesses, the Stevie Wonder-lovin' Costa admits over the phone from her home base of L.A. that despite "some really shitty stuff out there," some post-millennial pop is tolerable. "I think 'N Sync are really good...and I like some of Jennifer Lopez's songs," she says. "But I know my music doesn't sound like [theirs]." Maybe not, but there sure are a lot of TRL aficionados that claim Costa as a favorite, even among boy bands, girl groups, and rap-metal fusion gods.

So where does Costa belong? Right over a tight weave of raw guitar riffs (think Zeppelin), bluesy melodies, a rare groove, and spry electronic beats. "Everybody Got Their Something" could present itself as the Pop 101 curriculum for a summer-school session of MTV-hungry pre-stars. If this is the new pop, bring it on.

 
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