Indian pop star Ananya Birla, 22, runs two start-ups

Ananya Birla, during the launch (above) of her first international debut single, Livin' The Life, is signed to Universal Music Group India and has two singles under her belt.
Ananya Birla, during the launch (above) of her first international debut single, Livin' The Life, is signed to Universal Music Group India and has two singles under her belt.PHOTO: COURTESY OF ANANYA BIRLA

Up-and-coming Indian singer Ananya Birla also started an initiative that sets out to eliminate the stigma of mental health illnesses

8Q

She is only 22 years old, but Ananya Birla is already responsible for two successful start-up companies and one foundation.

The Oxford-educated Indian entrepreneur is behind Svatantra Microfinance, an organisation that provides support to female entrepreneurs in the Indian rural countryside to grow their own businesses, as well as CuroCarte, a global e-commerce platform that sources handmade, high-quality, luxury products curated from nine countries.

Then there is Mpower, a mental health initiative that works towards eliminating the stigma associated with mental health illnesses.

If the surname is familiar, it is because she is the daughter of one of the richest men in India, industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla, who is chairman of Aditya Birla Group, a conglomerate which owns companies in cement, telecommunications and textiles, among others.

But the young Birla, who is the eldest of three children, does not just want to be an entrepreneur. Instead, she has ventured down the path of music.

"I'm the sixth generation of the Birla family and no one has been in the entertainment realm and I was really scared to get into it," she tells The Straits Times while in Singapore for a Forbes Asia panel.

"And then in university, I used to gig in various pubs and it made me realise - if this makes me so happy and if I can take this up as a career path and wake up to this every morning, that would be a really blessed and happy life," she says.

"I took that plunge and I was lucky to have the support of everyone whom I love."

Along with being signed to Universal Music Group India, she already has two singles under her belt.

The first, Livin' The Life, was remixed by top Dutch DJ Afrojack and has more than 14 million views on YouTube. Her second single, an EDM pop number, Meant To Be, was released just three weeks ago and has already hit six million views.

Her music career, while in its nascent stage, is quickly gathering steam.

"As a universal language, music is the largest platform to reach out to as many people as you possibly can in this world," she says.

"I want to make amazing, relevant music that touches people all around the world."

1 What has been the most challenging aspect of being a pop star?

With all the love that you get, people want to hear new music immediately. So keeping up with their expectations is pressurising. You can't churn out a song or an album in a month, it takes time.

2 How far along are you for your debut album and who else have you worked with?

The album will be out next year, but I'm going to release the singles one by one this year.

Meant To Be was made with Norwegian producer Mood Melodies, who was also behind Faded by Alan Walker, and I think our creative energies really matched.

Recently, I was in Dubai and I also recorded with (electronic music duo) Hollaphonic, whose sound I absolutely love.

3 Do you write your own songs?

Yes. Each producer comes with his own songwriting team, but I'm quite adamant that I write the main lyrics. The themes centre on love, heartbreak and emotions that people feel, but might be afraid to talk about. They're about everything that everyone goes through, really.

4 Do you think you're getting the kind of opportunities you're getting because of your family connections?

In the music space, it actually goes against me. People think that I have it easy, but I don't and you'd have to shadow me for a day to understand how much effort goes into it.

Also, someone like Afrojack would not really care about my surname because he has a huge reputation at stake as well, so I don't think something like my surname would encourage him to do a song with me.

5 Mental health is also something you talk about a lot. Where did that passion stem from?

It's personal because my mum (philanthropist Neerja Birla) went through postpartum depression when I was born.

Statistics also say that by 2020, India, where we have just one psychiatrist for 430,000 people, will have the highest rate of suicides .

The stigma is terrible, with people concerned about "what will other people say?", but I say give yourself more importance than someone else's opinion.

6 You have other passions such as micro-financing and mental health, but what was the turning point when you decided music was for you?

Currently, music is my focus, but I have two different career paths.

Where the businesses are concerned, I've set everything up from scratch and once the team is in place, I take a more strategic role.

I don't think it was a conscious sort of shift. (The music) is what I love to do and I had to get into it because life is too short.

One thing that I stand by is that humility is when you can stand tall on your talents and still know that you have a greater purpose in life.

It's very important to completely believe in your talents no matter what anyone says.

7 At some point, are you going to make that call and choose between those two paths?

I'm not going to choose. I think, eventually, they will cross-pollinate.

It's funny, but since I got into music, my businesses have been flourishing more because people recognise my face and I build credibility. It's all about creating a brand for yourself.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

I would like to be remembered as someone who made the world a better place, who impacted people's lives in a positive manner and whose music is iconic.

I want to at least have one track out there which is iconic and doesn't die out, like a Michael Jackson or Amy Winehouse song.

I want to be remembered as someone who was very successful, but who used her success for the right reasons.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2017, with the headline 'Pop star, 22, who runs two start-ups'. Print Edition | Subscribe