Fariha caught up with talented British Asian artist Arjun…
Desi girls were long deprived of a serenading hunk, so when Arjun came into our lives via YouTube, he became an overnight sensation. He is nothing less than a heartthrob, which was evident when I was lucky enough to witness his superb performance at the Battle Of Bollywood dance competition in the O2 London, along with a swarm of crazed, love-sick Arab girls screaming chants and declarations of love in his direction. He has acquired an impressive fanbase from all over the world, but not just for his smouldering good looks, also for his raw talent. When we got some precious time to interrogate him, it was somewhat like being on a mission for those screaming fans who were dying to be noticed by him. We just had to know more…
Did you fall into music by accident or was it something you had always wanted to do?
I was always into music. I was in bands in school and I used to DJ, but I never thought I would be able to make money from it. It was passion for me but I was very shy to sing. I used to play guitar, beat box and write songs but I would never sing on stage. I would always be at the back. But when I went to university, my friends forced me to enter talent shows and I won, so I started to think I could do this for a living. I thought about it, but I wasn’t sure how to do it. I did my degree as a backup plan, and my parents were very happy that I did it, as it’s something to fall back on if music failed. When I finished university, I started working at a label and that was my first experience in the music industry. YouTube was the key; it’s what changed my whole life. That one remix of Why This Kolaveri changed my whole life.
If YouTube hadn’t been your platform, how do you think you would have made it in the music industry?
I’m honestly not sure. It’s so much about luck and there are so many people out there who are talented. The thing about YouTube is that it’s a global platform so I can make a video in my bedroom and upload it and somebody in Malaysia or Australia or Canada can hear it, which is amazing. That’s why I think YouTube artists have such a widespread fan-base. I’m very fortunate that I’m able to tour the world. We have shows every weekend all over the world because of YouTube. Everyone now spends their time on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, so everything is online. I’ve embraced being a young person and for me, the key to marketing is embracing online media. If YouTube didn’t exist, I probably would have had to do more live shows first and then built a name for myself.
You were pretty much an overnight sensation with that song. How do you think that happened?
I think it’s because I had already built a decent following in the UK, which is why my video was able to go viral. The fans that I already had helped me to spread the song really fast. If that hadn’t happened, I might not have been a singer today. I might have been an architect or a wannabe cricketer.
It’s no secret that you have a lot of female fans all over the world. When did you start getting recognised and how did it feel?
It was obviously a strange feeling. My songs were released in the UK; I put out RnB songs like Stargazer, which did pretty well in the UK, even before I started doing the fusion songs. That’s when I started to build a UK fan base. But I think it started getting more international when I started doing remixes and fusion songs. Why This Kolaveri was the first one, and then I sang with T-Series and that’s kind of been my sound ever since – Hindi-fusion. The fan base is great! It’s humbling but I don’t take it too seriously. Every artist has female fans - it’s an honour.
You must get really weird messages, since social media platforms have made artists so easily accessible to their fans. Go on, tell us about the creepiest ones…
Snapchat is a little crazy! I don’t tend to check that many of them but I check my Tweets, as they aren’t as shady on Twitter! When it’s private, it’s a bit more shady I think. A lot of guys as well which creeps me out! I get a lot of attention especially from India on my Facebook - there are a lot of interesting characters! But it’s cool because it’s all love at the end of the day.
All your female fans are dying to know - are you single?!
I am right now. I’m just focusing on my music. (Hooray we silently shouted in our hearts!)
Have you always been into Bollywood films?
To be honest I haven’t. I was much more into RnB because I was brought up in a very Western background and my parents are very into their Western music. But all my friends are Indian. Most are Punjabis and Gujaratis. So from a young age I have personally been into Bollywood films, not so much the music but I watched the films. Musically, what I started doing was mostly RnB and I gained this Asian fan base. I fell in love with it slowly. It took a while, but now I’m a die-hard fan and I know every single Bollywood soundtrack that comes out and pretty much every single song. I’m signed to T-Series, which is a Bollywood label so it’s part of my job to know these things.
Have you got any filmi offers?
Surprisingly yes, but more acting than singing which is kind of strange for me because I’m not into acting so much. I’ve done four songs for South Indian films and one for a Bollywood song called Mohabbat. It’s a song from the film Creature 3D. That was a big song for me. I’ve actually been offered some great roles; one was a lead role in a very big film. But, I said no because I can’t speak Hindi and I had to take a year out for my tours. Being famous is great, but the whole reason I got into this was for my love of music, not just to be famous. They say Bollywood is the greatest way to become famous, but my passion is music, so I want to be famous for that. I’m not a very good actor anyway, so if I did a bad film, that would be the end of my music career! If it’s a small role where I had to play a singer that would be perfect, as I could sing in the film too.
Can you bust some Bollywood moves?
Dancing is not my forte! I’m more into urban dancing. There’s obviously a few standard Bollywood moves that everyone knows like ‘screwing the lightbulb’! At a party, I’m not the guy busting the Bollywood moves. My friends do that. I’m not a smooth Bollywood dancer!
When you’re not busy making girls all over the world swoon, what do you like to do?
It’s the Cricket World Cup right now and I’m a die-hard fan of cricket. I stay up until crazy hours to watch the World Cup and I also watch a lot of football. Another passion I have is art and architecture, as I was studying architecture at university. That was my initial passion and my parents thought I would be in more of a visual field rather than music. I’ve always been involved in graphic designing, styling and video production, I’m always involved in that. The rest are just normal things that everyone else is into - I love to go out and party of course!
We feel that British Asian fans are not as supportive as elsewhere. Jay Sean had to go to America to be famous and Hard Kaur. Why do you think that is?
British Asian fans are the ones who have given people Jay Sean, Hard Kaur and myself a foundation. Unfortunately, it’s not enough because the UK has a lot of artists in this industry. I feel like there’s not enough demand for this artist in the UK. There’s more demand in America, Canada and Australia because it’s new for them. In the UK, it’s been around for a while with Bhangra and Asian sounds. It’s partly that, but I think that its different because in India, it’s all about Bollywood and Indian music, whereas in the UK the youth are people who would have listened to Bhangra and stuff ten years ago, and now listen to Drake. They listen to more urban, or Western music. I feel like Asians have lost a little bit of that cultural pride.
Do you feel that through your fusion musical vibe, you’re keeping that cultural pride alive?
It wasn’t a conscious decision to do that, but I think it is the truest expression of me. We are a mixture of cultures because our parents are Asian, but our friends are all going clubbing and are very Western. We ourselves are a fusion of cultures and my music is exactly that. It’s for people who like Chris Brown and Usher, but also like Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Honey Singh. It’s about fusing the two worlds together. I think that’s why my songs are popular with Asian youth.
Having come to the UK at a very young age from Sri Lanka, did you ever struggle to balance both Asian and Western culture growing up?
I don’t think so. Not my generation, but maybe the next generation will. Kids who are going to school now might be losing it. When I was young, I was still a regular Asian. When I was in University, we used to go see Jay Sean, as it was a big scene for us. But I did a mini university tour around the UK and there’s still a lot of support. We’ve been all over the UK and we’ve had so much support, so maybe it’s reviving. I can feel a bit more energy in the UK and I’m doing more and more shows here. Growing up my friends were mostly Indian so being around them, I managed to keep my culture, because they are all obsessed with Bollywood and Bhangra. We’ve also retained that, since we stay very close to our parents and their culture has rubbed off on us. Their values affect us and encourage us to maintain and respect family values. I think it’s just the music industry that’s maybe slowly drifting away, but our values are the same.