There was a time that seems like ages ago when someone called Biddu hit the music scene, friend to all the aspiring pop stars of a generation gone (he was the hotshot music producer of the yesteryears who launched names like Nazia Hassan, Alisha Chinai etc) not since him has there been a music producer outside the scheme of bollywood. I am a 90s kid as many of you reading this would be too. I remember the time when Alisha Chinai crooned Made in India and made Milind Soman a house hold name. Yes, I still do remember most of the pop songs of that era and even alternate generes coming from the likes of Apache Indian. They fill me with a sense of belonging to that optimistic aspirational decade, when people were exploring new waters post liberalization. We probably don’t realize the no. of real pop culture icons that broke the mould during that period. So much so that there seems a dearth of real new Indian pop culture icons emerging. More in music than in any other field of work
The Indian pop industry which was thriving at one time died a slow death at the hands of Bollywood. Yes, the film industry killed the Indian pop star and nobody cried bloody murder. Except that it wasn’t so much of a murder as it was a suicide. One after another these brands (bands and the singers) sold out in the lure of commercial gains and the promise of instant fame on a gynormous scale. As a result of which the Indian pop scene is near dead today, that is, no offense to Ganesh Hegde and his ‘lets party’, but it doesn’t really have the charm that a Loveology had.
What led to the downfall, then?
One might ask that why when all across the world there co-exist different genres of music (Jazz, Blues, Pop, Metal, Punk to name a few), why couldn’t Indian pop survive in the presence of Bollywood music? Why does all the music have to be film music and if it is, is it a bad thing at all.
More importantly, why couldn’t Indian Pop sustain the advantage it enjoyed? It seemed like it had all the ingredients to move to the next level – popular talent, new sound, fresh faces, catchy tunes, youth oriented, and fun.
We’re breaking our reasons into inherent and external/environmental.
Inherent to the industry –
1. Lack of Stamina
A typical Indian pop star was too lazy to churn out hit album after hit album. They weren’t willing to evolve and surprise. Most ended up being one hit wonders. The audience gets bored of the same old sound and when there are alternatives available, the loyalty goes south.
Case in point, Baba Sehgal (remember ‘Thanda Thanda Paani’?) the first Indian rapper on the Indipop bandwagon. Extremely popular, with his songs regularly being played out on MTV India. Liberalization, to start with was to the benefit the likes of Baba as it exposed the audience to international acts with the similar sound, making his Punjabi accented Hindi non sensical rap most accessible. But after a decent run he failed to evolve.
Similar was the case with a Shweta Shetty who sounded the same in every song. Every song.
2. Lack of Mentors and depleted bench strength
Baba Sehgal could have inspired a new generation of Indian rap stars. He could have attempted to produce his own albums and do it for others. He probably should have understood where his talent and time ran out, but instead he decided to stretch his fortunes by doing trashy Bollywood films.
The fact that he got a lead in one of the films is testimony to his popularity and the quality (or the lack of it?) of cinema being produced at that time.
While Bollywood its closest competition was evolving the pop artists were suffering from self doubt and lack of commercial acumen. It allowed cannibalization and Indipop got literally absorbed piece meal into Bollywood. Had there been some leadership and organization it would’ve perhaps worked towards competing. It could have done it with it’s own inherent qualities, that of producing – fresher sounds, quality videos and sheer youthness, but instead your average indi pop star sold out to Bollywood.
Remember Shaan? (Video below) His popularity reached unmatched heights with his solo pop album. His last 3 pop albums, Tanha Dil, Aksar and Tishangi all sold over a million copies in India alone and then Shaan took the next logical step. He left for Bollywood at a time when his success was at its peak and only half heartedly churned out a few albums intermittently. He was also given the MTV Asia Music Award for best solo album for his album Tanha Dil in 2000. One of his songs from Tishangi was even used as a soundtrack for the Hollywood movie ,The chronicles of Narnia. Did he lose out on fans? Well, if you sell out, there are collateral damages. I think there lied the problem with most of these pop stars, they considered pop as a launch pad to get into Bollywood to make more money.
There were others such as Lucky Ali, Phalguni Patakh, Altaaf Raja who suffered a similar fate. Maybe it was the lure of a quick buck that Bollywood offered but I believe they miscalculated somewhere. They lost out as musical brands as Bollywood shackled them in category, a style, and they began to lose identity.
The youth today stands deprived of a mega pop brands that someone like Shaan could’ve been. Ok maybe we’re overstating his talents but you get the drift.
1. Absence of Radio
Media is another critical aspect. As tapes gave way to relatively expensive CDs, to pirated music available freely online, not only did making money on album sales start becoming more difficult but absence of a purely audio media to proliferate your music lead to successful music being the one that was packaged with videos of gyrating bollywood megastars.
Unlike today, then there was hardly a choice of radio stations in the country. All India Radio was what you had. Radio revolution came along with the new millennium but sadly after the death of Indipop. Radio has revolutionized the way youth listens to music these days, popular or otherwise. Now if you’re playing on radio stations regularly because you’ve composed a truly peppy beat, you’re a guaranteed hit. Had these choices been around when the youth was high on pop madness there’s no doubt it would’ve only contributed to the success of this genre.
2.Restricted Revenue Generation opportunities
Back in the 90s, albums were sold in the form of tapes. The CDs, Blu-ray discs (or BD as it’s called) downloading songs from the internet, iTunes had not made their grand entrances yet. Just the romance of a plane old tape which contributed menially to the cash register. It might not be an excuse for not selling because cousins all over the world were selling exactly that. However, absence of avenues such as live show destinations and frankly the demand of the same also further restricted the Indian Pop stars as compare to the international touring artists. The absence of packaging these artists as brands and selling as social icons or youth brands was also absent. Even then, that avenue was miserably limited to bollywood and cricket stars. Times have changed though. So perhaps it’s a good time to revive the industry. Basis what parameters then.
Parameters to judge the popularity and success
Besides the reasons for failures we also have to look at the various parameters available to judge the popularity of a pop star. During that era there were hardly any, barring album sales. Around the world you have a gazillion tools to scrutinize your performance. You have Billboard charts (you do have Mirchi top 40 here as well. Radio Mirchi 98.3 FM comes out with this list every week, but the credibility due to lack of pedigree is not the same as say a US Billboard top 40), record sales, singles sales, song downloads, ringtone downloads, iTunes as direct indicators. Then there are parameters such as twitter followers, youtube views which are extremely powerful as lets say when Gaga decides to come out with a new single she reaches out to over 10 million views through merely her twitter account to build excitement and then perhaps releases an album.Why is India then still waiting to come up with something that records the pulse of listeners and churns out reports for them popstars? Who knows, really? Maybe the absence of competition in this field has led to the absence of parameters as well. Or is it far too inconvenient?
Either way, revival is inevitable at the atmosphere is just ripe . So let’s look at some of the strategies that Indipop can use and some mistakes that it can undo or at least not repeat in the future to bring back Indipop to its Biddu days. Made in India style
Successful musicians need to come together, aggregate their talents and resources and create healthy competition. It is important for the industry to achieve critical mass and self sustainability. The industry would need more Biddus collaborating and ambitious ones at that and they can choose more conducive familiar media to institute the revival.
Case in point:
The Dewarist. It’s new show that features inspiring musicians collaborating to create original music while traveling to locations across India.
The video clip above is the result of collaboration between Pakistani singer-songwriter duo Zeb & Haniya, and two veterans of Bollywood – composer Shantanu Moitra, and lyricist Swanand Kirkire. For Moitra and Kirkire this is a way to dissociate them from Bollywood for a while and create a new genre of music which is non filmy and caters to the young. The show is already a hit with a dedicated facebook fanpage and growing number of likes and fans. Collaboration is the key.
But are they planning to cut a Dewarist Album, we don’t know, they haven’t teased us with that piece yet.
2. Focus on the experience
If all people wanted was melodious music, pop would never have been born.
Pop has always been about the overall experience. Not saying the core product isn’t important but equally critical is the experience beyond music as stimulus.
It’s not a 2.5 hours 90 mm Bollywood extravaganza that you’re selling, but a 5 minute song and video routine, make it worth living. So it can go either way, but the cost is lower and with shorter attention spans 5 minutes is a big window of opportunity. Come up with video that’ll go viral, that is interesting to watch even before the release of the music album. A recent video that comes mind is ‘5 days of Facebook’. The video went viral cos it was cheeky, funny and shows a loser who remains a loser till the end. So it did connect to some core human sadistic emotions. In the process you end up liking the song as well. Brilliant move before releasing the song. We also noticed a mention of Costa coffee in the video, wonder if the producers deliberately product placed and would cash in.
3. Connect, Test
Go on city tours, create your websites, and build a fan base. Ever wondered why Independence rock or I-Rock was such a big hit without massive promotional strategies? One word, Fans. Yes, they publicize your content through word of mouth/ mouse if they believe in the quality of content that you’re serving. That’s how some of the rock band in India enjoyed the cult status and still do, to some extent (read, Pentagram, Parikrama, Zero, Bhayanak Maut, Junkyard Groove etc). They don’t churn out albums every year, nor are they regularly featured on radio stations or even TV for that matter (when was the last time you saw a Pentagram song on MTV or VH1?).No. Instead they go on tours. Live tours across cities, colleges. They put up live shows.They know the fans will show up. And they do. There lies their core strength of listeners. There’s no reason why pop can’t follow this strategy. Realise where your fans are and go say hello.
Even before releasing the album you can gauge in the success of your songs based on the number of times it has been played on the radio or youtube (relatively inexpensive and extremely popular). It’ll help you in deciding how to create enough hype and what works for the youth before you cut an album. It might help you build a case to find people in investing in your talent.
4. Take a chance
It is important to understand that there are risks bollywood cannot take, there are ways films must be made so therefore there are ways item numbers will have to sound and look. Indipop does not have that baggage which presents a big opportunity in how they can produce fresh content that the overexposed youth craves for. If anything Indipop has a precedence of doing ridiculous things like this (check out the video below)
C’mon!we say, TORA TORA Indipop.