It is no secret how important representation is on a national and global level in the music industry. South Asian representation, especially in the mainstream music scene, is not very prominent. With that being said, many South Asian artists have the talent and musical ability to deserve a greater platform in the mainstream music industry. Be it soulful R&B tinged with South Asian percussion and production or unabashed hyper pop, South Asian musicians’ musical versatility goes far too unnoticed. Here are five of my favorite South Asian artists gracing the music world today.
Undoubtedly the most famous of the bunch, Charli XCX’s music has been unavoidable for the past decade. Bursting onto the scene with “I Love It” in late 2012, her techno, new wave and power-pop influences were on full display, instantly making her a name on the rise. She has remained a fixture in pop culture, boasting an unapologetic personality on social media while consistently making music that seamlessly fits into the trends of its times. “Vroom Vroom,” “Boys” and “Speed Drive” are just a few examples of Charli simultaneously making catchy pop hits and pulling in a variety of influences and samples to make her sound stand out from her pop peers.
While only coming onto the scene somewhat recently, Raveena has already proven that she belongs. She mixes a plethora of different musical styles into her sound, such as jazz, folk and Indian percussion into dreamy R&B. On top of her fusion of different sounds, she established herself as a queer icon upon the release of her 2018 single “Temptation” with lyrics like “Miss Temptation, I don’t think you know / You keep me waitin,’ know you like to take it slow” and “I tell you things I can’t tell my boyfriend / Sometimes he don’t understand.” As the years passed and she continued to release new music, she maintained her lush and intimate production while introducing a wide variety of collaborations to her catalog with artists like Vince Staples and Asha Puthli. She also takes much inspiration from Bollywood classics, which is especially evident on her 2022 release “Asha’s Awakening.” The entire album is centered around a character named Asha, who is a Punjabi princess living with aliens. On the track “Secret” featuring Vince Staples, Raveena seamlessly blends Indian woodwinds and percussion with an addictive, bouncy bass line. The album contains a plethora of tracks with R&B/Bollywood fusions, and her flawless execution of this style makes her stand out from her peers.
Joy Crookes is another example of an artist recently arriving on the scene but making a profound impact. She, like Raveena, combines exploratory R&B sounds with numerous other influences. Even though she only has one album, her music is detailed enough to listen to it over and over again while finding new things to like each time. The comparisons to Amy Winehouse are obvious, but where she differs from Winehouse is the source of her inspirations. As a British-Irish-Bangladeshi woman, the song “19th Floor” is a gorgeous tribute to who raised her and where she comes from. The track is densely coated in strings and contains both a spoken word passage between Crookes and her grandma as well as deeply poetic lyrics. It is the kind of song that transports you to another world while listening.
An artist with Indonesian heritage, NIKI takes her pop sound to newfound heights. In her 2021 breakthrough hit “Every Summertime,” NIKI displays her soothing falsetto in the midst of blues rock-inspired horn sections and punchy piano melodies. She masterfully created a concept album in 2020 titled “MOONCHILD,” which is divided into three parts, and in this case, three different phases of the moon all representing different stages of personal evolution. Each part of the album contains a different mood, primarily characterized by the production choices and lyrics. On her 2022 album “Nicole,” NIKI explores new songwriting territory, highlighted on the song “Oceans & Engines.” Using folky, acoustic instrumentation amplifies the emotions behind her words greatly, with lines like “Baby, don’t cry, we’ll be fine, you’re the one thing I swear I can’t outgrow.”
Dhruv, an R&B artist with roots in both India and Singapore, took a very unique path into the limelight. Having grown up in Singapore and having relatives in India, his childhood was filled with Bollywood music. His parents, even after his songs went viral on TikTok, still only listen to Hindi music. After moving to New York to pursue his R&B/pop dreams full time, it didn’t take long for his songs to blow up. “double take” is a standout track for him, and like Raveena, establishes him as a queer icon. He intricately winds through his complicated feelings for an ex-lover over minimalist production, making for an emotionally draining yet fulfilling listen.
Bollywood has influences all over the mainstream music scene, and a lot of those South Asian artists who contribute to that influence don’t get the praise that they deserve. Next time you are on the lookout for some new music, make sure to add these talented artists to your queue. You won’t regret it.