Indian singer Armaan Malik, who dropped his career’s first English single ‘Control’ on March 20, has finally realised the dream that he has harboured since he was 16. But his father sat him down for a sobering chat and explained that India was all about Bollywood and he needed to conquer that space before looking to the West.
However, Malik’s goal was not to go international for the sake of it or to sing with a fake accent, he claims in an exclusive interview after the release of ‘Control’.
“It is to make people aware that Indian singers can also be of global stature. It is just that we have never been represented in that way before. I hope to change that thinking and mindset through my songs,” said Malik over the phone from Mumbai. The music video has crossed 14 million views since its release two weeks ago.
Malik, who has sung over 150 songs in his career, also holds the distinction of being the first Indian singer-songwriter to be featured on the Times Square Billboard in New York City, promoted by Spotify.
While Malik is on a winning streak, the coronavirus lockdown put a dampener to his plans. Due to the lockdown and countries shutting down their borders, his plan of taking a selfie with his own billboard in NYC was aborted.
“I wish I could be there on Times Square in New York and take a picture with myself and that billboard. But obviously during these times, it is important that you stay indoors and we just have to come together as humanity during this phase,” said Malik.
‘Control’ was recorded in Los Angeles with music producer Wayne Wilkins who has worked with Beyonce and Natasha Bedingfield …
Excerpts from our exclusive chat over the phone...
How are you coping as an artist in the times of self-isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic?
We have no choice. We had never expected anything like this to happen in our lifetime. Life, as we know it, has come to a standstill and I am just getting used to the new reality.
Were you disappointed that you couldn’t have a high-profile launch of your debut English single ‘Control’?
Honestly, the days of those glitzy launches are gone. The norm of releasing a new song with a huge audience has become passe now. If you have to make noise, then you have make some noise online. I have done what I could by sitting at home, over the telephone, email, FaceTime and Skype. The lockdown hasn’t stopped or hampered the promotion of my song. I am so happy that my new single ‘Control’ got so much love. It has crossed 14 million views already.
Have you always dreamt of singing in English?
I have strived to sing in as many languages as I can because as a singer, it adds to my versatility. In India, I am not restricted to Hindi songs alone. I sing in Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Bengali. But English music has been my childhood dream. But when I expressed that wish at 15, my dad sat me down and said: ‘Listen kid, India is Bollywood. So it is important that you belong here first and make a fan base in your home country. Sing in Hindi and regional languages first.’
At that time, I couldn’t fathom why my dad was discouraging me. But I wouldn’t be the Armaan Malik of today if I had not taken that decision and followed my dad’s advice. And here I am after 15 years of singing in Bollywood and in different languages, I am finally giving my childhood Armaan’s dream a go. For me, I had hidden it inside and told myself, ‘mere time aayega [my time will come]’. 2020 was the year that I had planned to releases my English single. It was in the planning stages for the last two years.
I have been taking multiple trips to Los Angeles to write songs with different producers and writers. I wanted to create my own music, my own sound and my own identity. But the toughest part was to keep my English single debut a secret with Arista Records, an offshoot of Sony Music Global. I am the kind of person who loves to discuss what’s new in my life. So I had this big secret in my heart and I was itching to tell the world.
You are massive on social media. How did that journey begin?
My journey began in 2015 when everyone suggested that Twitter is a cool app and that I should be on it. Then, came Instagram. I found all of these a cool platform to connect to fans and to be in touch with them. Twitter is the birth place of my fans who call themselves Armaanians.
My network is building day by day. We started small, but now I have 20 million fans across all my social media platforms. It is unbelievable to know that so many people love me and follow my music and like what I stand for.
Apart from music, my fans connect with the person I am. I write quotes and spread positivity on my page. I also have this Instagram page called Armaan Malik quotes. I write phrases that bring about positivity and that is the reason why it connects to so many of my fans. There’s no secret or agenda here.
Tell us about ‘Control’ and did you choose a song about a toxic, troubled relationship deliberately as such songs tend to be popular?
The guy is trapped in a controlling relationship and he still wants to be with that person. But he also wants to get out because it’s suffocating. She’s playing with him. But I never thought that break-up songs are working and therefore let me write something that talks about toxic relationships.
The truth is that I have seen toxic relationships around me among my friends. I have grown up with these people and I know what is going on in their personal lives. As an artist I like to draw a lot from what is happening around me. And I think that when you draw from real life, it connects further. This song is not something I picked off on a trend.
You have cultivated a wholesome, clean image. Even though you were in this music industry and showbiz as a young teenager, you never cut a troubled figure who lives a life of excess or dabbled in drugs and rock n roll …
I have always been disciplined in the way I was brought up. I was never a rebel. I have always been focused and I have always channelled my energy in the right way. Even when I found success early in my life, I didn’t go mad or forget people who helped me come up. Probably, it’s because I don’t take my own success too seriously. I just go on with my music. I have seen many musicians who go on a downward spiral after tasting success. But a lot of it has to do with your mental strength as an artist.
Do they get influenced by the people around them? I didn’t have friends during growing up. Ever since I was a nine year old I have either been into studies or into music. I have never been that teenager with a wild vibe who goes out partying. I have been serious all my life and it’s only in the last three years I have just let loose and had some fun in the traditional sense. Now at the age of 24, I am acting like a teenager. But I have never been reckless. I don’t have a dark side to me. My personality can never be dark even if I make dark music.
“I was not the kind of teenager who had posters of pop idols on my walls. I never fanboyed over someone specifically. But I have fanboyed over their musicality and the kind of artists they are. I used to look up to Michael Jackson, John Mayer, Bruno Mars and Michael Buble.”
Did you know?
It was Armaan Malik’s brother who introduced him to Western sounds and songs by filling his iPod with songs from international singers.
“But I have not modelled myself after them… While they were inspiring, they were just my building blocks as an artist. Today I am a mixture of all of that. My musical DNA is unique and can’t be replicated or taken from someone else. Listening to these artists have made me grow as a singer.”