"Indian audiences are loving a more global sound"
Triple platinum singer-songwriter Ananya Birla from Mumbai has been lifting everyone up with her new single.
Fans are enjoying the catchy electro-pop track titled, Better. Getting off to a flyer, the song has had more than 10 million YouTube views since it released in mid-January, 2019.
Grammy nominated Mood Melodies (Jessie J, Alessia Cara, Noah Cyrus) are producers of this hit number. The track celebrates the positive people who pick you up and be there for you during some difficult times.
Tim Nackashi is director of the highly upbeat and colour video, which accompanies the song.
Better comes at a time when Birla has cemented her place as one of the rising music pop stars in the world.
Known in the music world as Ananya, she peaked the charts in India after releasing her successful debut single Livin’ the Life (2017).
She has also made it into notable playlists in South East Asia, UK and UAE, including the best of Apple 2018.
Appearing in GQ’s Most Influential Young Indians list, she is the first homegrown artist from India to achieve platinum status.
Ananya accomplished this amazing feat on three separate occasions with previous releases.
Performing alongside artists such as Axwell Ingrosso, Armin van Buuren and Alan Walker, Ananya debuted Better in front of a packed audience at Sunburn, Asia’s biggest electronic music festival.
DESIblitz presents an in-depth Q&A with the rising pop songstress Ananya about music, Better, mental health and much more:
When did you first realise you want to sing?
It all started after watching my mother playing the santoor when I was nine. I was totally entranced and so I started having lessons myself.
My santoor experience was super helpful when I began playing the guitar as a teenager, which I picked up with the help of YouTube tutorials.
The guitar was great because I could play along with my favourite artists, learn about music composition, and also start to get to grips with singing at the same time as playing an instrument – which was challenging at first.
By the time I went to Oxford, I was writing my own music and performing regularly.
I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life.
Every weekend, I would head to London to perform at random gigs and open-mic nights. I really found a sense of belonging when I was on stage.
I knew I didn’t want to follow a ‘conventional’ career path, but it took a while for me to become confident about saying so. Eventually my passion for making music became bigger than my fear of putting myself out there.
What kind of musical influences did you have as a child?
I really connected with the authenticity and powerful messages of artists like Eminem, Kurt Cobain, Sia and Amy Winehouse. Although I have a totally different style to them, they’ve all been massive inspirations for me.
They are each very distinct artists but linked because of their honesty and vulnerability. Audiences appreciate that and I believe it’s the key to good music, it’s definitely something I try to bring to all my songs.
Sia, in particular, is so powerful; she also worked with Mood Melodies, the amazing producer who I collaborated with on my last couple of singles.
“I also listened to a lot of Indian music growing up. The traditional stuff, Bollywood and more modern songs too.”
A.R Rahman is one of my absolute favourites, he is a total musical genius – I genuinely don’t believe there’s anything that he can’t do.
You play the guitar and santoor. How different are they?
They are really different to play (the santoor has 100 strings!).
However, all instruments share the same fundamental principles. And once you understand one instrument, picking up others is much easier than if you’re starting from scratch.
“The basic notes are the same, and you develop muscle memory in your fingers too.”
Understanding the complexities of Indian music from learning the santoor has also made writing songs now so much easier, particularly when it comes to developing a sound which will appeal both in India and internationally.
Can you describe your singing style?
My last few songs are upbeat, feel-good tracks that sit in the electro-pop space. All my songs are personal to me and generally based on my own experiences.
I know that my fans value music which comes from the heart, we all relate to a song so much better when the story and the emotions behind it are real.
I usually talk about themes that are universally relatable too like love, loss, friendship; things we all experience which influences our lives.
“I am definitely still growing as an artist and would never want to pigeon-hole myself.”
I want to experiment with different genres, and collaborate with people from across the industry, whether they’re in dance, hip hop, or with local artists back in India.
Tell us how ‘Better’ happened?
Better celebrates the people who lift you up and make you better.
Last year really opened my eyes to the amazing people I’m lucky enough to have in my life who encourage me to be stronger. This song is for them.
I’m so happy people have been so positive about it both back home and around the world. It has already reached over ten million views on YouTube and hit major playlists as well.
The success of the song really shows how music is becoming so much more international.
Indian audiences are loving a more global sound, whilst the rest of the world is craving a taste of the unique culture of places like India.
I hope that the positive response to my music encourages other young musicians in India to be less afraid of taking chances and ‘thinking globally’ when they are creating.
There is so much undiscovered talent back home that deserves to be heard on a wider stage.
Tell us about your battle with mental health?
University was full on – between my studies, running my businesses back in India, working on my music and trying to maintain a social life, I was totally burnt out. I also began to struggle with anxiety and panic attacks.
I was eventually lucky enough to get the help I needed, and now I know how to deal with these issues if I’m ever struggling.
A lot of it, for me, is about self-care, exercise, diet and also just making sure that you are taking enough time for yourself.
Everyone has different triggers and different needs: that might require therapy, medication, intervention in an unhealthy living situation, regardless I think everyone deserves to get those needs taken seriously.
“The consequences of just ‘sweeping it under the rug’ are awful.”
When I returned to India, the issues around addressing mental health became even more evident.
So many people are not able to get help because of the stigma, the lack of awareness and also because there are so few professionals.
There are less than 4000 psychiatrists here in India, for a country of nearly 1.4 billion people that is not good enough. As a result, depression and suicide rates continue to go up, particularly amongst young people.
My mum and I wanted to do something about it, so we set up Mpower to campaign and provide care for people living with mental health issues.
We put on two concerts in the last year which brought together tens of thousands of people to raise awareness for the cause, and it’s something I recently spoke about at One Young World in The Hague.
We are making good progress, but there is still such a long way to go.
Which producers have you worked with and how did you find it?
On my last few tracks, I worked with Mood Melodies. He is best known for the song ‘Faded’ with Alan Walker but has also worked on tracks with people like Jessie J and Alessia Cara.
We have a really good working relationship and totally get each other’s quirks and processes. He’s such a lovely guy as well.
I went to go and work with him in Oslo, Norway once.
It was beautiful, but the cold was a massive shock to the system coming in from Mumbai!
What is the most Desi thing about Ananya?
I miss the food back home so much whenever I am away.
Since Island Records UK started supporting me last year, I am spending more and more time in London, and although there are loads of Indian options, the food never really tastes the same as when I am in Mumbai.
“I love simple dishes, anything with paneer or a good dal makhani.”
I am a big fan of Priyanka Chopra. She transitions so seamlessly between working in the West and back in India, a true global icon!
Who would you like to collaborate with and why?
I love to collaborate, working with other people really helps you to get perspective on a song and take a simple idea to the next level.
In April, I’m releasing a track with Sean Kingston which is incredibly exciting. We met when we were performing at the same music festival in Goa and became good friends.
After he headed back to LA we were texting about something we might do together, and finally, we linked up to make the track.
It was such a great experience, he is incredibly fun with such a big heart. I love the song and can’t wait for everyone to hear it.
On my upcoming EP, I’ve also worked with a couple of hip-hop artists from Nigeria as well as some guys from back home in India.
It has a really diverse sound and hopefully, it will have something for everyone.
Going forward, the dream would be to do something with Eminem, he has always been a hero of mine.
But there are so many people I’d love to work with: Stormzy, Drake, Sam Smith, Kenrick Lamar, Dua Lipa… there is so much talent out there.
How hard/easy is it for artists to earn a living from music?
The internet and streaming platforms have made music much more accessible to audiences, but artists themselves aren’t necessarily seeing the fruits of their success or making money from the exposure their songs get.
It’s so hard to generalise because there isn’t one single definition of ‘artist’ – especially not these days. Some artists are making more money in digital sales, but less in concert tickets.
Others might be suffering because they now have to absorb costs which used to be covered by record labels.
“Others are flourishing in new markets that they wouldn’t have been able to reach 10 years ago.”
This is certainly an era of massive disruption, but my hope is that the industry levels-out into something more fair which enables artists from all backgrounds to have sustainable careers.
What do you like most? Performing or writing/recording?
All of it! I love songwriting. The catharsis of the process helps me to vocalise how I feel.
The recording is another of my favourite parts of the process. It’s usually a very intimate, creative experience with a small group of people working to push a song forward so you end up bonding with and learning a lot from each other.
I also really enjoy performing, whether it is in front of ten people or ten thousand.
Being on stage feels like an adrenaline rush for me.
A message for your fans and why they should download ‘Better’?
Better will definitely bring some good vibes to your day. In the UK, you can check it out on my Spotify, Apple or my YouTube channel.
Watch the video of Better here:
Despite the success of Better, Ananya will not rest on her laurels.
The year 2019 is set to be quite impactful for Ananya as she prepares for another new song in March with Jamaican singer Sean Kingston.
Fans of Ananya can also look forward to her first EP in April 2019.
Meanwhile, Better is available on Itunes here. Enjoy the track and lift yourself up.