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Hot Pants

Nikka Costa hangs the moon with punchy soul and low-riding trousers

Let's get this out of the way. Bear with us.

People: Please stop talking about Nikka Costa's pants. You sound ridiculous.

We tolerated it at first. Perhaps it deserves mention when a smoldering, five-foot-one soul diva with fire-engine-red hair emerges on the scene and coins a brand-new term: "ass cleavage." Most folks who attempt to wear their pants as low as Ms. Costa's find it impossible to function. Many red-blooded gentlemen who observe Ms. Costa in said pants find functioning equally difficult.

Costa isn't afraid to show cleavage topside or belowdecks.
Costa isn't afraid to show cleavage topside or belowdecks.

Certain slobbering men's magazines (Gear, FHM, et al.) have obsessed about this. Comparisons to plumbers have been made. Har, har.

"I don't really care," Costa remarks on the phone from her tour bus. "You can get all worked up about it, but at the end of the day, whatever. I think it's funny that it's a topic of conversation at all. It's really funny. Women have been talking about breast cleavage or showing their breast cleavage for years and years, and it's not really hype-worthy. Apparently my ass crack is."

Breast cleavage isn't hype-worthy? Discuss.

No -- don't. Enough. Take a cold shower and listen to the damn CD. Everybody Got Their Somethingis her "debut," in a sense, as a rockin', soulful, streetwise, R&B-obsessed hepcat. It's got all the tools for modern pop radio dominance, but with a more gung-ho attitude. She hoots and hollers like a mini-Aretha. She composes herself for a few prom-worthy romantic moments. Meanwhile, a smattering of surly rock breakdowns makes boyfriends feel less guilty and lame for stealing the disc from their girlfriends. Those same moments provide catharsis for the girlfriends upon breaking up with their fool boyfriends.

This is Costa's music. Not to be confused with (or obscured by) Costa's image, some conceptions of which we find objectionable. For instance:

Nikka Costa is just like Sean Lennon.

Nikka Costa is the goddaughter of some chump named Frank Sinatra. This stems from Costa's father being Don Costa, famed composer/arranger for Ol' Blue Eyes, Ol' Jazzercise (Tony Bennett) and Ol' Thunder Thighs (Barbra Streisand). Paul Anka, too.

Young Nikka (born in Tokyo, raised primarily in L.A.) was immediately thrust into a similarly glaring spotlight. She became an international teen rock and roll queen.

This has led to all sorts of "What did you do during your childhood?" moments, including her singing debut (duet with Don Ho, age five) and perhaps her hipster-cred peak (opened for the Police in Chile in front of 300,000 people, age ten).

Her dad died.

She retired at 12.

She followed a guy to Australia. Started a band. Tolerated the uncouth, beer-tossing Australian masses. Released a well-regarded indie disc, Butterfly Rocket. Toured abroad a bit. Played a gig opening for AC/DC.

"We supported them in Switzerland in front of 80,000 people in a football stadium," Costa recalls. "In between them and Krokus.

"That was a hard crowd."

AC/DC informed Costa that she had balls. Yes, balls.

Costa returned to the States, triumphant, with a record deal from Cheeba Sound. This, in turn, produced Everybody Got Their Something.

Now back all the way up. Some people hear about the Sinatra connection and assume Costa was handed a music career.

Costa doesn't care what they think.

"It's never been a concern," she says. "Musically, I'm so vastly different from [Don Costa's] stuff, it's only the media that keeps bringing it up -- not even in a comparative way, just a tie-in for a story. [Nonsense!] I think people see that, and I think people don't really care anymore."

Fair enough. Moving on.

Nikka Costa is just like Alanis Morissette.

Perhaps you've noticed the career-path similarity. Morissette, too, began life as a teen queen before dropping out, attaining valuable life experiences and reappearing as a Young Occasionally Fearsome Rock Chick.

Morissette recalls those teen pop years unfavorably. Her new single, "Hands Clean," supposedly recounts an illicit sexual act between her underage self and a morally flexible manager.

Does Costa remember her past pop life with such venom and anger?

No.

"I think it's a choice you make, as far as how you wanna look at your past," she says. "I don't really feel that regretting my past is good for me right now. I don't think it's good to harbor negative feelings. Maybe she had a harder time than me, I don't know."

Go ask Alanis.

Nikka Costa is just like Alicia Keys.

People hear the word "soul" these days and think the wackiest things. Grammy-endorsed folks like Keys and India.Arie and Nelly Furtado wear the label like a pair of ass-cleavage pants.

Let it be known that Costa's a bit harder than that.

She sounds like she could open for AC/DC, actually. Parts of Everybody make this abundantly clear. Costa surfs genres a bit more easily than most -- she recently toured as part of the SnoCore Icicle Ball, rockin' out with a troupe of distinctly hip-hop-flavored acts (Blackalicious, Spearhead, etc.).

"Maybe they wanted a chick," Costa muses.

Nikka Costa is just like Britney Spears.

We'll say one thing: Costa probably has more magazine fashion spreads than all her SnoCore brethren combined. Most press openly doubles as a chance to display her in a revealing outfit. Add to that her Tommy Hilfiger connection -- Everybody's "Like a Feather" appeared in one of Tommy's most successful ad campaigns -- and you're right back where you started, debating the image-versus-music question.

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