An Exclusive with Rising Indian Pop Star Ananya Birla

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Ananya launches 3rd Single ‘Hold On’ and talks about her musical journey and inspiration

The 23 year old singer-songwriter from Mumbai, who went platinum in India at the end of last year with her second song ‘Meant To Be’, explores the pitfalls of love and relationships with this electro-pop track. Produced by Norwegian hitmaker Mood Melodies (Alan Walker, Alessia Cara, Zedd, Sia and Jessie J), the highly-anticipated single is Ananya’s third release since signing with Universal Music India.

Ananya, who has so far reached over 20 million views with her songs on YouTube/Vevo to date, said, “Hold On is inspired by all the people who have gone through a difficult relationship and kept their faith that things will turn out well, even if that faith can sometimes be misplaced. As with all my music, it is based on personal experience.” Ananya shares with The Iskandarian her musical journey, inspiration and aspirations.

How did music come about into your life and how has the journey been so far?

Music has always been a driving force in my life and a constant companion. I am so lucky to be able to wake up every day and do what I love now.

I took up my first instrument, the Santoor, when I was nine. I was entranced when I saw my mother playing it, and was desperate to learn. As a teenager, I wanted to play along to my favourite pop and rock musicians so I taught myself the guitar and piano using YouTube tutorials.

I joined a few bands in school and used to love performing at shows but it wasn’t until I was at university in the UK that I decided this was what I wanted to devote my life to. I had a tricky time adjusting to life in England, and music helped me to cope. Every weekend I would go to London and perform at or attend gigs all around town. It would always make me feel better. At that time, I felt a lot of pressure to follow a more traditional career path, but deep down I knew that music was what I wanted to devote myself to.

For me, making music isn’t just a job, but it’s a form of self-expression. For as long as I can remember I’ve been using music to get a better understanding of myself and who I am and song-writing in particular is really a cathartic process that helps me to process my emotions.

What was your reaction when you hit your first 1millionth view on YouTube?

Shock and delight! It’s still surreal to hear my music on the radio, so when we hit a million views on YouTube I was stunned.

It has been an amazing journey since. I have performed at Global Citizen on the same stage as Coldplay, worked with awesome people like Mood Melodies and Afrojack and worked in some incredibly exciting places around the world. The highlight was going platinum with my second single ‘Meant To Be’ at the end of last year. I believe that an Indian artiste could be really successful with an English-speaking record, and I think going Platinum proved that!

Tell us your top 3 dream producers you want to work with or have worked with

I really like to collaborate with good producers because they can take a song which is really personal to you and turn it into something relatable to a huge audience. You develop such close relationships with the producers you work with, therefore, it’s great to have someone who can be totally honest with you and tell you when things are working and when they aren’t.

I collaborated with Mood Melodies on my last two tracks and he is best known for songs like ‘Faded’ by Alan Walker, and ‘Issues’ by Julia Michaels. We have a great relationship and he is such a gentleman who has taught me so much. I love visiting Oslo to work with him. That being said, going from the heat of Mumbai to the snow of Norway can be a bit of a shock to the system (laughs)!

My dream producers would be Poo Bear, who has done some great work with Justin Bieber recently, and Jeff Bhasker who is behind some of my favourite tracks like ‘Run This Town’ by Jay-Z, ‘All of the Lights’ by Kanye West and of course ‘Uptown Funk’ by Mark Ronson. I’d also like to work with Benny Blanco who is an absolute musical genius. 

Listening to ‘Hold On’ sounds like there is a lot of personal experience delivered in the song, is there?

Definitely! All my songs are based on my own experiences or stories I hear which resonate with me. Music – especially song writing is a very personal thing for me.

Recently, I have seen relationships of people close to me being challenged because of social pressures like religion, sexuality, race and all sorts of things. With ‘Hold On’ I wanted to praise the brave couples who became stronger in the face of these types of challenges. 

I think authenticity is essential for good music. Two of my heroes, Kurt Cobain and Eminem, are totally different musically, but both present this rawness and vulnerability that helps them to resonate with all types of people across the world.

I love music for music’s sake but I also like the fact that music offers me the opportunity to reach and share an emotional experience with a wide audience. It is a universal language, which can connect with people regardless of nationality or background. 

I am delighted if someone hears one of my songs and can relate to the lyrics or the emotions I’m expressing and feel a bit better about something they are going through.

Tell us about the Afrojack remix of ‘Livin’ The Life’ which has garnered over 14 million views on YouTube

Making the remix with Afrojack was a bit surreal because I have always been a huge fan of him, so I was super excited when I found out that he wanted to work with me. It was a great experience as he’s super cool, confident and loves making music more than anything. 

We really wanted to make something that would appeal to audiences both in India and around the world and thanks to the internet, music is becoming increasingly global. Look at how well KPop is doing in the States, or the worldwide success of ‘Despacito’ and how Latin music has grown in popularity since its release. “Foreign” music is not really a thing anymore. It is all just music and we artistes should be embracing that.

Were your parents supportive of your musical ambitions?

My parents are incredibly supportive. They always encouraged my siblings and me to pursue the things we love, to always give 100% and to learn from the mistakes we were bound to make along the way! 

I am really close with my family and in particular work very closely with my mum on the mental health initiative, MPower Minds, which we established to address the mental health crisis in India where it is so difficult for people to get help. Around the world, people with mental health issues are ignored or discriminated against; and MPower sets out to support them by campaigning to stamp out the stigma and provide care.

Some wisdom to aspiring musicians

Always write from the heart and stay true to your values. Otherwise, people will see through inauthenticity.