India's Pop Diva: An Interview With Ananya Birla

The pop singer's always striving to be a better version of herself.

Pop star Ananya Birla recently burst into the limelight, becoming the first native artist to go platinum in India.

In fact, her last five singles all went platinum. Signed to Universal Music, her songs have amassed over 150 million streams. She's collaborated with Afrojack, Jim Beanz, and Mood Melodies, and she's performed at Global Citizen, Oktoberfest, and Sunburn, the largest music festival in Asia.

Since her new EP, Fingerprint, drops today, Popdust decided to sit down with Ananya and find out more about her trip to stardom.

Ananya Birla - Blackout (Lyric Video) ft. WurlD, Vector

How would you describe yourself?

An ambitious singer-songwriter always striving to be a better version of herself, unapologetically. I'm hugely lucky: I wake up every day and get to do the thing I love most in this world and to work with some of my favorite people. I hope that with every single moment, I continue to evolve, grow, and most importantly make good music that people can connect with.

What's your favorite song to belt out in the car or the shower?

A cheesy one for sure: "A Thousand Years" by Christina Perri.

Who is your favorite music artist?

That's super hard…At the moment I'm listening to a lot of Post Malone, Khalid, SZA, and Rita Ora. Growing up, Eminem was my favorite for sure–sometimes that surprises people. But he has this amazing rawness and vulnerability underneath all that front, which means his music can resonate with anyone, no matter where they are from. That is my ultimate goal whenever I step into the studio.

How did you get started in music? What's the backstory there?

Music was my first love, hands down–I grew up in a very musical household, and it's been an obsession for as long as I can remember. I picked up my first instrument, the santoor, when I was nine, and playing it was my favorite thing to do. Then, as a teenager, I taught myself the guitar on YouTube so I could compose to it.

By the time I got to uni in the UK, I was writing my own music and performing whenever and wherever I could–low-key bars, random open-mic nights, coffee shops–literally anywhere. Music was my constant, and it had become clear to me that I wanted to dedicate my life to it. In what was otherwise a pretty tough period of my life, being on stage really gave me a sense of belonging. Finding the confidence to turn my back on a "conventional" career took a while, but eventually, my passion for making music became bigger than my fear of putting myself out there.

What musicians influenced you the most?

I learned so much from Kurt Cobain and Eminem. They are really different artists, but they both showed that vulnerability can be a strength. That vulnerability is so important for connecting with people.

Your latest single features Sean Kingston. How did you connect with him?

Sean was touring in India, and I was asked if I could open for him at one of his shows. I was so excited because I had always been a big fan of his, ever since he did "Beautiful Girls" back in the day. We stayed in touch and agreed to catch up when I was next in LA. So, on my next trip, we spent a couple of days in the studio, and it all came together really nicely. He was great to work with, such an awesome guy–and we really vibe together in the studio.

Pop music is exploding in India. What changed to bring this about?

I've always believed that music is the ultimate global language. Just look at the way that K-pop and Latin music have blown up over the last few years. "Foreign music" isn't really a thing anymore. Digital platforms like Spotify have made it so much easier for people around the world to hear music they wouldn't have come across before.

In the past, domestic and film music really dominated the industry in India, but that's all changing. There are now these awesome independent artists coming up who are working on more international sounds, and audiences are really embracing them. I hope that the positive response I've been getting back home encourages other musicians in India to be less afraid of taking chances and to think internationally when they're working on new projects.

Is the music industry in India embracing female artists? Or does it still view them as interlopers?

Okay, so–there's obviously a long way to go. But in terms of visibility, at least, things have really changed for the better recently. International artists like Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, [and] Ariana Grande are all dominating the charts back home, and there are some great up-and-coming local female artists, too. It's beginning to become all about the music–if people like your music, they will appreciate you as an artist, no matter your gender.

You're an advocate for mental health, working with MPower. What's the goal of MPower?

I co-founded MPower to help stamp out stigma around mental illness and spread the message that it is okay not to be okay. People from every country and every social background suffer from their mental health. There is nothing shameful in seeking help for mental illnesses. Only if we alleviate the stigma associated with mental illness can we seek help and not exacerbate the illness by leaving it unaddressed. We're working towards fostering awareness and education, as well as providing expertise and care to those who need it most.

What's next for you, musically?

Things have been going really well in India, and my last 5 tracks have gone platinum, which has been amazing. Now I've got my eye on the international market. In the UK, I now have Island Records as my home label, and with them, we are going to be doing a lot more outside of India, both collaborations and live performances.

My debut EP is out on the 17th which is unbelievably exciting! It's called Fingerprint because it's like sharing part of my identity with the world. The whole thing is drawn straight from personal experience, and it's mostly about love–the beautiful bits and the challenges, too. Each song explores love from a different perspective and looks at the diversity of emotions that we experience in relationships, the good times, and the bad.

Follow Ananya Birla Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Randy Radic is a Left Coast author and writer. Author of numerous true crime books written under the pen-name of John Lee Brook. Former music contributor at Huff Post.

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