Prince of Romance: Meet 25-year-old Bollywood playback singer Armaan Malik who has released new international singles
Armaan Malik has made a name for himself in Bollywood and globally with his soulful voice and uplifting tracks.
He is only 25 years old and yet, he has tackled it all, right from singing, songwriting, composing and making his music videos come to life with compelling narratives.
Having performed in over 200 shows and counting in India and internationally, with more than 150 songs in languages ranging from Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu amongst others, he has garnered the title ‘Prince of Romance’ from his fans.
At the age of 23, he became the youngest singer ever to be the coach of the Indian version of the leading internationally renowned reality show ‘The Voice’ where he judged and offered helpful advice and tips to aspiring singers and musicians across the country.
Some of his notable hits include 'Bol Do Na Zara', 'Main Hoon Hero Tera', 'Sab Tera' 'Wajah tum Ho.'
He has even lent his vocals for the Hindi version of American musical fantasy film ‘Aladdin’ as well as the songs for the much-loved classic ‘The Lion King.’
Armaan who attended a Summer Programme at the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston, Massachusetts in 2011, took a Pop/RnB vocal course that he believes played a huge part in helping him build a successful career as a vocalist.
Now he is turning heads not only with his Bollywood numbers but also with his recent original 2020 singles ‘Control’ and ‘Next 2 Me’ that were written, sung, and conceptualised purely by him.
Armaan who is now embarking on a new journey of writing, composing, and singing songs in English in collaboration with Arista Records (Sony Music Global) says,
“I’ve always wanted to take India to the world, and this has been my lifelong dream. There hasn’t been a precedent before and I want to be the first from my country to become a global musician in the truest sense.”
In an exclusive interview with YS Weekender, singer-songwriter Armaan Malik talks about his early musical influences, singing playback hits for the Bollywood music industry, and how he is currently venturing into composing full-fledged soulful English singles with RnB, pop melodies and beats.
YSW: Was music something that you have always been passionate about from a young age? How did you know that singing/songwriting was your one true calling?
AM: When I was 3 or 4 years old, my parents recognised that I had musical talent and immediately put me into music lessons.
It’s unreal how fast I started to learn music and singing. As far as I can recall, the very first memory that I can recollect with music was when I performed at my school's annual day.
I was genuinely scared that day but since then I’ve never faced that amount of nervousness because I always knew I wanted to become a professional singer.
I was four years old and I sang 'Nanha Munna Rahi Hoon'.
It was the very first time I got the courage to go on stage and sing but my professional journey began when I was 9, I started singing for advertisement jingles and dubbing for feature films. That’s where it all started for me!
At the age of 15 when I received a full-tuition scholarship and attended the Five-Week Summer Programme at Berklee College of Music, life kind of changed for me.
I realised that I didn’t want to just sing songs; I wanted to write, create melodies, produce my own music and develop my own sound.
This is when I figured singing/songwriting was my true calling!
YSW: Tell us about a musical memory or performance that you look back on fondly, from the 200+ shows you have performed across the world, and a favourite destination.
AM: I have played a lot of shows in a lot of different countries, but the most memorable one is definitely the show I played at SSE Arena, Wembley (London) on September 24, 2016.
That was my debut show in the UK, and to receive that amount of love and appreciation from the fans there was out of this world.
The fact that I also reached the 4th position on the top 10 acts of the SSE Live awards that year was unbelievable too.
What’s particularly special about that show is that I don’t remember anything from the show day. It all seems like a blur; I only remember performing to my best ability and wrapping up the show.
The entire experience was so magical. I don’t remember a thing, but it was just so beautiful to experience those moments.
YSW: Who were some of your early inspirations in the performing arts space?
AM: While growing up I used to listen to Sonu Nigam, John Mayer, Michael Bublé, Frank Sinatra, they were my initial artistic influences.
When I hit my teens, I inclined more towards Bruno Mars and Chris Brown. This is when I also realised that Pop/RnB was my calling and my personal choice of genre.
YSW: Who are they now, and how have your influences changed over the years?
AM: Among the current lot, my favourites are Charlie Puth, Ed Sheeran, and Lauv. I think they all have their distinct sound and I love that they are musically very hands-on, be it the writing or the production. You can hear them and feel their contribution to the song in every note or word they sing.
YSW: Your brother Amaal Malik is a renowned Bollywood film music composer and your father Daboo Malik too has tackled music, directing, screenwriting and even acting. How have they influenced you, and would you say that playback singing was something that was in your genes?
AM: My brother, Amaal has been a very big influence in my life. He was the one to introduce me to world-music and the different genres that exist out there.
Yes, I have learned Indian classical music from my teachers and gurus, but I think my true training and musical influences come from my brother. He truly helped shape my musicality.
I don’t think I would want to be anything apart from being a singer. It was a natural decision. I believe this is my calling and it was so strong I wouldn’t be able to negate it. I’ve never felt any pressure at all.
I had a very clear vision of establishing my own unique identity.
When you belong to a family steeped in musical excellence, everyone around you expects you to follow the same path and obviously have everything laid out for you along the way.
I knew I wanted to make it on my own mettle and not use my family name to further my career.
At the age of 9, I even submitted my audition to a popular Indian singing reality show called SaReGaMaPa Lil’ Champs with only my first name – Armaan.
I made it to the top 10 of that show too. I only did this because I wanted to know deep inside if I could chart my own journey the way I wanted to and not looked at differently just because my family is a renowned musical family.
YSW: What happened post the reality show?
AM: The journey after the reality show was exciting. I started singing for a lot of advertisement jingles and voice-overs for various famous brands in different Indian languages.
Through this process, I interacted with some really talented composers and music producers, who later on went on to give me my Bollywood playback-singing breaks in films like Bhootnath, Taare Zameen Par, etc. (as a child singer).
For about four years I was singing for almost all the children’s movies that were being made in the industry and then a few years down the line when I was 18, I started my proper career as a full-fledged playback singer.
With each passing song, my audience grew more and more. I was being recognised on various platforms.
Even though Bollywood (Film-Music) is the centrepiece of the Indian music industry, I started doing non-film music where I featured in my own music videos and through this parallel process, people not only knew my voice but also got acquainted with the face and the persona of me as an artist.
YSW: What are some of the key learnings you have taken from your family with regards to music? And how have you incorporated this in your own musical journey?
AM: I think one of the key things I have learned from my family is persistence and dedication towards my craft.
I remember my dad gave me this piece of advice very early on: “Always remember that music is the most important piece of your music career and that everything else is secondary. If you take the music away, everything will fall apart.”
I was too young to understand the meaning of what he told me, but now after all these years, I understand it very clearly. It’s the one learning that I will never forget for the rest of my life.
YSW: At 23 years of age you became the youngest coach to be seen on the popular Indian TV show ‘The Voice India.’ What was the feeling like to be recognised for your unique talent, and be able to judge upcoming young stars?
AM: It feels surreal to be on that stage and coach a group of young talented singers that remind me of who I was a few years back.
I have been a contestant on one show and a coach/judge on another, so I have a good understanding of both the spectrums.
What made me feel even more special was that I could share my journey with those contestants and make them feel comfortable about everything they were experiencing at the time. It truly felt amazing!
YSW: You were even the youngest singer of Indian origin to sing at the SSE Arena at Wembley and were the ‘Best Upcoming Singer’ from India that year. How did it feel to achieve this recognition and praise, and how do you manage to remain so down to earth and Intune with your music?
AM: I feel overwhelmed when I look back at all these amazing achievements and sometimes pinch myself because I can’t believe that these things have come true.
The only reason I haven’t let this success go to my head is because of my upbringing.
My parents have trained me very early on about this industry and have drilled this particular fact in my head that: You can be a huge success today and a failure tomorrow. So, don’t let either of these things get to your head. Stay humble, stay sane and just work hard.
YSW: What would you describe your musical style as?
AM: Well, I’m mostly known for romantic and emotional ballads in the Bollywood music industry, but the music that I naturally create is in the Pop/R&B space. groovy, vocal-led, with lush chordal arrangements.
My recent English releases ‘Control’ and ‘Next 2 me’ are clear examples of that.
YSW: You have sung playback in a number of Bollywood films, as well as for films in other languages, what has the experience of singing for films been like so far?
AM: It’s been awesome! Getting to sing songs across languages and genres has been a great learning experience for me.
The reason I can sing all kinds of stuff thrown at me is because of the experience of having sung for all these varied films!
YSW: You are one of the only few artists who shows a passion to explore other arenas of music, having sung in International remakes of the 'Lion King' and 'Aladdin', and now singing your own English hits. What motivated you to step out of your comfort zone, and what has this transition been like?
AM: I love dabbling in different things. It keeps stuff interesting for me. I have been dubbing and doing voice-overs since the age of 9, so it’s not something new for me.
But yes, after having sung for Bollywood these past few years and then getting back into the studio to dub and sing for Disney classics like ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Aladdin’ has been a fabulous experience for me.
I am glad I am being able to switch things up and keep doing various things within the musical and vocal sphere.
YSW: Your recent singles ‘Control’ and ‘Next 2 me’ were refreshing new hits, with soulful beats that resonated with the youth of today. Do you plan to sing more songs in English and even come out with a full-fledged album in the future?
AM: It certainly does differ from the music I am known for, but it is certainly the music that has always been a part of my DNA. This is the kind of music that truly expresses my musicality.
A lot of new music is ready to release as subsequent singles and I just can't wait to bring those out for you all!
As of now, I haven’t really planned a full-length album, but I definitely see myself release a few singles and then drop an EP in the near future.
YSW: What is your songwriting/brainstorming process like?
AM: The only question that runs in my head while working on any new project is “Is this a great song?”
If it’s a great song, no matter which genre, which language and what vibe, I know that it will speak to people.
While working in the studio, I prepare myself mentally according to the song or mood I am supposed to write and sing. Every language, every genre has a different vibe, so I just need to be ready to make that switch happen in my head between different stuff.
Even if I wanted to share this formula with the world I couldn’t because it’s so hard to explain what goes on in my head at that moment while writing or singing a song.
YSW: You attended the summer programme at the Berklee School of Music in Boston and received full honours. Would you say that the skills you learnt helped you foray into the world of International music?
AM: I attended the short programme at Berklee College in the summer of 2011, for which I had received a full scholarship.
Berklee is a legendary musical institution and just being in that atmosphere around so many talented people from around the world, helped me garner so much knowledge.
After I identified that Pop/RnB was my thing, I pursued a Pop/RnB vocal course at Berklee, and that in a way laid the foundation for my singing skills that I employ today in my career as a vocalist.
YSW: What do you believe is the one thing that makes you stand out from other playback singers?
AM: In my opinion, one thing that really sets me apart is the fact that I don’t restrict my creativity. I let it flow in whichever direction it flows in.
Be it the various languages I sing in or the different genres, I’ve always tried new things and experimented. I believe that’s what has kept my identity unique.
YSW: Who are some of the individuals you have had the most fun collaborating with? And who would you most like to collaborate with in the future?
AM: In India I have really enjoyed collaborating with Salim-Sulaiman, Mithoon and Amit Trivedi.
When it comes to the non-film space I haven’t collaborated much yet with other artists, but I’d love to do a record with Diljit Dosanjh and Honey Singh.
Internationally, I would love to collaborate with Charlie Puth, Zedd, Lauv and Anne Marie in the near future.
They are my favourite contemporary artists.
YSW: What is your message to fans struggling to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic?
AM: It’s a very difficult time for everyone as we know, and I don’t feel it’s mandatory to learn something new because this quarantine period is not a productivity challenge.
If you can, it’s great to pick up a new skill or go back to an old hobby to engage your mind and body into something different. Please remember to stay home and stay safe, not only for yourself but for your loved ones too.
YSW: Your message to aspiring youth and singers wanting to make it big in the Bollywood industry, or even otherwise?
AM: Learn, learn and learn! Don’t stop learning. If you don’t get a break, go assist a composer or go on tours as a backing vocalist for another singer. What you can learn on the job is far more valuable than any other thing.
Also, be self-sufficient; learn an instrument, learn to produce and record your own vocals and music. Don’t depend on anyone else.
Today, you have to be a complete and independent artist. Knowledge is literally available everywhere; you have to just seek it.
YSW: What do you enjoy doing most on the weekend when you get some time off?
AM: Well, life has changed as we know it, and adapting to the “new normal” has been quite a task. I like just watching a TV show or movie to relax. I am also trying my best to make fitness and meditation a priority to help my overall well-being.
(Image Credits: Singer Armaan Malik)
Edited by Asha Chowdary