Introducing: India's rising pop artist Ananya on spurring change through her music and hustle

Introducing: India's rising pop artist Ananya on spurring change through her music and hustle

It has been a long while since Ananya Birla had a mundane day.

With years of experience in juggling business ventures, championing mental health, as well as building a career in music, Ananya had become the talk of the town. The 26-year-old founded her first business venture Svatantra Microfin when she was 17 and has graced the pages of Forbes India. Now, Ananya finds herself in the spotlight for a different reason - she is India's first pop star to be platinum-certified for an English song by the India Music Industry.

"The last few years have been a rollercoaster. Loads of ups and downs, but I’ve loved every second," she said.

Since she delved into her music career with her debut single 'Livin' The Life' in 2016, Ananya's influence on India's pop music scene had been felt as far as the United States, with the singer spearheading collaborations with American-Jamaican rapper Sean Kingston with 'Day Goes By' and supporting Wiz Khalifa in his world tour. Last year, she also performed at Sunburn, Asia's largest EDM festival.

With her latest electro-pop bop 'Let There Be Love' hitting the shores, Bandwagon spoke to Ananya about her journey as an entrepreneur and mental health advocate, as well as how her vision translates into her music career as an artist.

Hi Ananya! What have you been up to recently?

I’ve just released my latest song, ‘Let There Be Love’, so it has been a full-on few weeks! The song was inspired by everything that has been going on recently. I’ve been stuck in LA during the lockdown and the alone time forced me to do a lot of self-reflection and I wanted to share that journey.

For me, this is one of those times in life when you are forced to strip away everything that doesn’t matter and get back to what does. With ‘Let There Be Love’, I want to remind people that beautiful things can blossom out of challenging moments. At the end of the day, what matters is staying connected with loved ones, because love is all there really is. 

Tell us about how you first got into music.

Music was a huge part of my life growing up and for as long as I can remember, I was totally obsessed. I trained in Indian classical music when I was a kid and then taught myself the guitar when I was a bit older as I started to compose myself.

At school, I was in a few bands and used to love performing at shows, but it wasn’t until I was at university in the UK that I decided that this was what I wanted to devote my life to. I was so nervous back then about what people would think, but being in another country gave me the distance and perspective that I needed. I would sneak away between tuition days to London and I wrote and performed pretty regularly. I realised that music was what made me happiest, and one day I realised that life is too short and I needed to give it a shot at least.

How would you describe your musical style and what vibes do you want to convey with your music?

It’s pop with a touch of other influences mixed in. Like 'Blackout' had a bit of a hip hop vibe to it:

'Day Goes By' had a touch of reggaeton:

With the acoustic version of 'Circles', I really enjoyed adding in an Indian instrument.

For me, making good music is all about continuing to develop your sound and getting out of your comfort zone – whether that is experimenting with different genres and styles or collaborating with artists from other parts of the world.

The most important thing for me is authenticity. Music that comes from the heart just hits differently; you can connect with it on a totally different level. With my songs, I want to show people that they can break down barriers and stereotypes to achieve their dreams.  I also want to encourage them to be unapologetically themselves and stay true to what they believe in. 

Running a business alongside your music career, share with us what your typical day looks like and how you strike a balance between the two.

I feel lucky that I have never really had a ‘typical day’. Every day is so different and there is something really exciting about that. Everything I do is connected by a drive to do what I love and hopefully make a positive impact at the same time.  

There’s definitely a symbiotic relationship between business and creativity, and this is what fuels what I do. I'm an artist at heart, but I’m firmly rooted in the real world - so I know that creativity and business need to go hand-in-hand in order to make something sustainable.

What inspires your songwriting?

I am totally in awe of music’s ability to connect people, regardless of nationality, gender, sexuality, or background. My music is all based on my own experiences and while the themes are universal - love, heartbreak, isolation, friendship – the feelings in are all genuine. 

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I’m in the creative space now and I love it but I also miss being on stage and enjoying with you all! I hope everyone is alright and hanging in there .. #throwback #tourtimes

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Nothing makes me happier than when someone gets in touch and tells me they connected with one of my songs and that it helped them feel less alone going through whatever they might be experiencing. That is what this is all about for me because music was my best friend growing up, it always made me feel like I am not alone.

Tell us about your single ‘Meant To Be’, which was certified platinum by the Indian Music Industry.

Meant to Be’ was a really personal song for me. It’s about those relationships where even though everything seems right, for some reason life takes you in different directions. And the way that relationship lingers in your mind for months and years afterwards. I think the track really resonated with people and the response was amazing. 

Being the first local artist to go platinum singing in English in India felt like a huge achievement. Especially because back when I started, a lot of people suggested there wasn’t an audience for the kind of music I wanted to make and encouraged me to go in a different direction. It was a struggle to prove myself back then, but I was confident my audience would find me because I was making the kind of music that my friends and I had always listened to. I’m so glad I stayed true to myself, because as soon as I was totally confident about being myself, everything started coming together. There was no looking back ever since with 'Meant to Be' and 'Better' going double platinum and three other songs going platinum as well.

Share with us how India’s pop/electropop scene is like. Any recommendations for us to listen to?

There is so much undiscovered talent back home that deserves to be heard on a wider stage. I really 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. Nucleya is someone who is doing incredible things back home in India.

Listen to Ananya's latest single 'Let There Be Love' here: