September Music Spotlight: Universal Music Artist - Ananya Birla
We were thrilled to be introduced to the music of Ananya Birla! She's an inspirational rising pop-star that is using her platform to make a positive impact on the world!
After going platinum with her last two tracks Meant To Be and Hold On in India, she dropped her latest single, Circles this past summer, with Universal and Island Records UK. Ananya also signed with Universal India in 2016 and has worked with artists like Afrojack and Mood Melodies. She even shared the stage with Coldplay at Global Citizen and has gained over 30 million views on her Vevo!
In addition to her budding music career, she's also a mental health advocate. After battling her own mental health issues she co-founded MPower – a mental health initiative focused on dispelling the stigma associated with mental health illnesses.
We had the pleasure of getting to ask Ananya questions about her journey in music and her impactful philanthropic work.
When did you know you wanted a career in music?
Throughout all the highs and lows of my life music has been an amazing companion, but I was not always convinced I could make a career of it. It was a massive part of my childhood. I played the santoor when I was young, and then when I was a teenager, I fell in love with the angst-y and emotional music of artists like Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse so became set on learning the guitar to play along with them. By the time I got to college in the UK, I was writing my own music and performing pretty regularly. I played some sketchy gigs at super random bars around London, but even when I was in the strangest of venues playing to small crowds, I knew this was what I wanted to do. I felt more comfortable and at home on stage than anywhere else in the world.
Music wasn’t what I was expected to pursue, but it was what made me happiest and I knew that I needed to at least try. I think you reach a point where you realize that life is too short to be following someone else’s path. To be honest, I would play music even if nobody was listening. To be able to do it as a career and for other people to enjoy what I do is a massive blessing which I never take for granted.
Can you tell us about your experience being a mainstream South Asian artist? What were the biggest challenges you faced in the music industry?
For a long time, the music industry in India has been heavily influenced by Bollywood and other genres like pop, rock, electro, got a bit squeezed-out. I think India is becoming more open-minded. Going platinum with an English song with my last three singles shows that Indian audiences are increasingly willing to embrace something new and different, international styles and unfamiliar musical influences.
As a young woman in the music industry, particularly in India, there is this pressure to look and behave a certain way and to show a flawless version of reality. But that’s a pressure that so many women face – whether they are in the spotlight or simply scrolling through Instagram.
What inspires your art?
When I write, it is always authentic and emotionally driven. My songs are based on my own experiences or stories I hear which resonate with me. I am particularly inspired by love and stories of overcoming adversity.
My sound is still developing and is continually being influenced by the places I go and the amazing people I get to work with around the world. I just finished recording in Atlanta, and in my upcoming releases I’m playing with some different styles. Some of it is a little bit more acoustic, other songs experiment with some traditional Indian elements which has been very cool.
For me, the most important thing is to write songs which people will relate to, no matter where they are from in the world. That is why I like to touch on stuff we all go through like heartbreak, trying to fit in, loneliness that kind of stuff. It is truer than ever with my last two tracks Hold On and Circles.
Hold On was inspired by relationships of people close to me which have been challenged, whether it is because of race, sexuality or religion. I wanted to celebrate the people who hold on to love and overcome these pressures and to tell couples going through a difficult time to reject fear and confusion, and hold on to what they know is right for them.
With my latest song Circles, I wanted to say thank you to my best friend, who has been with me through everything. I also wanted to celebrate friendship which I don’t think gets enough love in music. A lot of musicians focus on romantic relationships as their inspiration, but I think friendship can be just as important and shape our lives just as much.
What artists would you want to collaborate with?
I am so lucky to have already worked with amazing people like Mood Melodies, Afrojack and Aya Tanimura who directed my last music video.
I really love to collaborate, working with other people takes you out of your comfort zone and helps you take a song to the next level where it becomes less about ‘you’ and more about an experience or feeling that many people can relate to.
There are so many people I’d love to work with like Zayn Malik, Sia, A.R. Rahman, and Rihanna! They are all amazing artists, super different but connected because of the way they can deliver such strong emotions in their music.
Can you tell us about your journey with Mpower and is there a story that has inspired your continued philanthropic work?
I battled against anxiety and panic attacks whilst I was at university in the UK and found it difficult to reach out for help. I felt that people would undermine my abilities if I admitted I needed help.
When I returned to Mumbai, I eventually got the help I needed to get mentally healthy. However, it became very clear how difficult it is for so many people with mental health issues to get help because of the stigma surrounding it and the lack of education and assistance available.
In India especially, mental health is a topic that is rarely discussed and when it is, it is often trivialized. Depression and suicide rates are on the rise and people are scared or unable to get help. There are only 3,000 psychiatrists to look after the 1.5 billion people back home and currently someone attempts suicide every 3 seconds. There is a crisis.
My mom and I felt a huge responsibility to do something about the problem, so we co-founded MPower. What started as a personal battle became much bigger than me.
I think it’s really important that people like me who have a public platform, use it in a positive way – on social media, in the media, in our work lives, everywhere. We have a responsibility to set an example and lead the way.
What were your favorite Bollywood films growing up?
Lagaan is my absolute favorite and, more recently, I really enjoyed Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Sports and fitness have always played a big role in my life and I find the dedication and teamwork of athletes inspiring.
We're excited to see Ananya's career continue to grow! She just released an acoustic version of her hit, Circles this week and we love it! We're here for the amazing work she's doing with shedding light on mental health issues and trying to help our brothers and sisters in India. We're looking forward to more content from Ananya and we think you should be too!
Check out videos to Ananya's recent hits below!
Ananya Birla - Circles Acoustic
Ananya Birla - Circles
Ananya Birla - Hold On
Ananya Birla - Meant To Be (Dance Video)