When you think of musicians collaborating to come up with new sounds of music, you are likely to imagine them jamming together in a swanky studio or even a grungy garage.
But the post-pandemic reality has upended that dream and has seen singers and music producers marching to a different tune.
Ask Indian pop and Bollywood singer Armaan Malik, who recently joined hands with Korean pop singer Eric Nam and music producer KSHMR to create their song ‘Echo’. The talented trio have never been in the same room together, but they are confident that ‘Echo’ will transcend those bumps.
“No one really expected an Indian pop singer, a K-Pop singer, and an EDM artist to collaborate together. This is the first time, but I hope it won’t be our last … We made this collaboration happen across three continents,” said Malik in an interview with Gulf News.
While Malik did his bit in Mumbai, Eric pulled his weight in South Korea and KSHMR worked furiously from Los Angeles.
“I have not even met Eric and we have only met on our laptop screen just the way you and I are doing the interview now. But I have met KSHMR once when I was in LA! And I have to tell you that technology has definitely played a huge role in our collaboration. The world has become a much smaller place and we have been able to connect better than ever,” said Malik.
While brainstorming and jamming together in the traditional sense did not birth ‘Echo’, they are confident that they have come up with a strong musical output. The pandemic has taught them how to upend the traditional rules of song-making and embrace technology.
“Being in the same room as your other artists is definitely is a huge part of our songwriting process because we tend to feed off each other’s energies … But now we have learnt with ‘Echo’ that all of us artists just need to be on the same page. Everyone should feel heard,” said Malik.
Despite collaborating with two other artists with two different music styles, Malik claims he felt completely in-sync with these two talents.
“All three of us just amalgamated in one song … We followed our instincts and sounds, and that’s the beauty of ‘Echo’. Even though we didn’t do it in person, I don’t think we missed anything. We connected to each other despite not meeting each other,” said Malik.
Malik, who has always been a K-Pop devotee, also believes that their union will give music lovers across the world something to celebrate. Just like how K-Pop phenomenon swept the world, he hopes 'Echo' will usher in an ‘I-pop [Indian-pop] meets K-Pop’ wave.
“I think I just coined that new phrase I-pop! I was in a flight bound for Dubai when I chanced upon a K-Pop group called Shinhwa … I was bored on that flight and thought of listening to new music. I just stumbled into them. And, I loved their music and from there on my love for K-Pop just grew fonder. I began delving into their videos which are just unbelievable. Their industry is all about music, glossy music videos, and pure artistry,” said Malik.
This singer, who has incredible clout and credibility as a Bollywood playback talent, has always been fascinated by what makes K-Pop such a worldwide phenomenon.
“K-Pop is not just about singing. It’s about your whole personality — it’s about how you carry yourself, probably a bit of dancing and how you look or dance… In India, lot of people are still not out of the Bollywood bubble,” said Malik.
His last sentence is a complaint voiced by several Indian musicians. The West have an army of pop-icons who are idolised and canonised, but Indians are still hung up on idolising actors and actresses in dazzling musicals who lip-sync the songs of these singers.
Stars are always the bride, while playback singers are usually relegated to playing bridesmaids who fade into the background. They often exist to play second-fiddle to glamorous actors in films that have at least half a dozen songs.
“Everyone is so consumed by that bubble, but in the last two years I have seen a bit of Indie pop and singles coming out. We are slowly going toward this movement that K-Pop had a few years back … Our Indian music market is bubbling with a lot of underground artists … India can be the next big market. There’s so much talent in our country that no one even knows about,” said Malik.
His observation about Bollywood dominating the entertainment scene isn’t unfair. When Malik, 25, told his colleagues about this collaboration, many asked him why he was retreating from the lucrative Bollywood music scene. He has sung over 150 songs and has more than 50 million followers across his social media platforms. But his decision to make music with other artists — independent of a movie franchise — was looked at with a mixture of admiration and scepticism.
Often, turning your back on Bollywood is considered detrimental to any established singer.
“But I think it’s a great step for me as an Indian artist. This is my first international collaboration and I am glad that Eric, KHMR and I got to work together. I love their music. I have been a huge fan of KSHMR ever since he was a part of the band The Cataracs. He has made quite a few huge hits such as ‘Like A G6’. And Eric Nam is a brilliant artist. Imagine three Asians artists coming together!,” said Malik,
A song that fight Asian hate:
The three even took the call to roll out their song Echo in May, a month which celebrates the AAPI [Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders] community globally. Their song is symbolic in many ways.
“We are so thrilled about it because the whole of May is dedicated towards Asians and what their culture is all about. Our song will offset the hate that’s going through right now across the world and highlight our Asian stories, our contributions to the community, and what we have been through,” said Malik.
If this young singer — with an army of fans who called themselves ‘Armaanians’ — had his way, he would celebrate Asians and their rich history and cultural heritage every month of the year.
“I feel like Asian artists have kind of not gotten their due! And as Asian artists, we need to champion this movement … Look at our collaboration. We made this song happen across three continents,” pointed out Malik.
Music scene after the pandemic:
Malik, who also contracted COVID-19 and battled the illness bravely, feels that the year 2021 will go down in music history as a ‘bizarre year’ fuelled by uncertainty, tragedy, and loss.
“It was a very gruesome time in India … It [COVID-19] has not gone away and it’s a long process. To be able to do a song in the midst of a pandemic where children not being able to meet their parents who passed away or vice versa has been very challenging. I was doing creative stuff with a heavy feeling. I used to wake up in the mornings wondering if I could ever write a piece of music again or will I be happy doing it. It was a confusing period of time in our lives … But managed to make some sane music during this time! I have such respect for creative people.”.
Malik, who wants to be India’s first pop idol not limited to Bollywood, claims he’s a man on a mission. He doesn’t ever want to be complacent or just belt out romantic Hindi songs for actors to mouth all his life.
“I want to take Indian musicians global... I never got to look up to another pop star from our own country because we never had one. So I always dreamt of being that idol for another Indian artist growing up in this country to look up to. I would like to see Indians up on the billboard charts, receiving the Grammys, receiving all the accolades that artists in the west have received. I think it is time for India to shine and I am going to do my best to make it happen.
“I want to take Indian musicians global... I never got to look up to another pop star from our own country because we never had one. So I always dreamt of being that idol for another Indian artist growing up in this country to look up to. I would like to see Indians up on the billboard charts, receiving the Grammys, receiving all the accolades that artists in the west have received. I think it is time for India to shine and I am going to do my best to make it happen."
“I call her Priyanka di [sister]. I have had quite a few conversations about all this with her and she has shared quite a few tips with me like what I should be doing. She told me it’s a process and it won’t happen overnight. You will have to work towards it,” said Armaan Malik, on how Chopra’s journey into the West helped him tackle that territory.