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‘I feed off fans’ energy’

Pop sensation Ananya Birla gets candid about her life, passion and struggle with mental health issues

A pop sensation, young entrepreneur, mental health awareness campaigner and songwriter – Ananya Birla dons many hats. All of 25, she has managed to carve a niche for herself, and holds the record for being the first Indian artist with an English single to go platinum, as per the Indian Music Industry (IMI) recognised criteria for certifications.

Daughter of Aditya Birla group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla, she has manged to create her own identity beyond her surname. In conversation with Patriot, she opens up about her journey into the world of music, what drives her, how she manages such diverse roles in her life and more. Excerpts:

Your journey as a pop sensation has been amazing. What has been the most defining moment in your career so far?

Thank you. It has been such an incredible journey and I’ve loved every second. This year has definitely been a highlight. My singles ‘Meant to Be’ and ‘Better’ both got acknowledged with a double platinum honour. Also, I released my debut EP ‘Fingerprint’, collaborated with some amazing and inspiring artists from around the world, and performed all over the country.

I enjoy performing more than anything else; the raw connection with my fans when they match my lyrics in the audience, is so powerful.  I feed off their energy and that makes the entire atmosphere so electric and magical, I can’t express it well enough in words.

You recently collaborated with Sean Kingston for the song ‘Day Goes By.’ Tell us a little about the experience.

I met Sean when he was on his India tour, and we hit it off almost instantly. I opened for his show in Goa and we had this great musical connection. So, when he suggested that we must get into studio together when in LA next, I was very excited!

Sean is such an amazing, positive guy to work with. ‘Day Goes By’ is for anyone who’s lost their mind in love. We both wanted to make something that captures that intoxicating feeling of love, and make it super fun – something that people could dance to. When we got into the studio it all came together so quickly and organically. Sean’s an amazing collaborator and there was always such a positive vibe. We had so much fun making it and you can really feel that in the sound.

When it comes to music, what is your source of inspiration and motivation?

I get inspired by so many different things — people, places, music but usually I’m motivated to write by my own experiences. When music has its roots in something real, it makes it feel so much more authentic and audiences can connect with it on a much deeper level. I write about personal stuff, things we all go through, like love, friendship, isolation, relationships.

Apart from music, you are also an entrepreneur and mental health awareness campaigner. How do you balance such diverse roles?

Everything I do is driven by personal passion and a desire to hopefully make a positive difference. I enjoy the diversity of my days. Sure, it can be time-consuming to be involved in so many different projects, but I really love everything I do — so none of them feels too much like work. I’m a big believer that everyone should be able to do whatever makes them feel most fulfilled. And for me, that is my music, business and using my platform to raise awareness around mental illness. It used to be tough, and it took a while for me to let go from daily micro managing; but now I have amazing teams in place so I can delegate when necessary.

Recently, World Mental Health Day was celebrated. You have been vocal about your battle with it. Tell us a little about your own experience and also about your initiative Mpower.

I struggled with anxiety and panic attacks when I was at University in the UK. I felt totally overwhelmed and sometimes just stopped functioning — simple routine things became difficult. I am fortunate that I got the help and support of those around me, when I most needed it.

In India, we have some of the highest rates of depression and suicide in the world, and there is still an awful stigma around mental illness. There just isn’t enough help available. I set up Mpower with my mum, because we wanted to address that and offer support to people, along with their families, who are struggling.

You come from one of India’s most renowned business families, but have managed to create your own identity beyond you surname. But naysayers would still say the journey would have been easy for you. Is there a constant pressure to prove that you’ve earned it through your own merit to the world?

There is definitely pressure, and people will always have presumptions about me because of my surname. I am aware of my blessings and the support that I had while growing up — like I had instruments and music lessons and was encouraged to follow my passions from a really young age. My parents have always been by my side and offered me advice along the way. Dad has always told me that there are no shortcuts, and Mom taught us kids to always do our best and leave the rest to God.

Since I moved away to college at 17, I started Svatantra Microfin. It has been upto me to put in the work and to prove that I could turn my passion in music into a career. There’s always going to be haters, it comes with the territory and I knew that when I decided to put myself out there, in the field of music and entertainment.  It drives me as much as the support I get from my fans, to do more, be better and to carry on making music that makes people smile.

Do you have any millennial vices like social media addiction or binge watching a show? Also, how do you like to spend your free time?

I’m obsessed with true crime documentaries. Particularly when I am on a long flight, I can get totally get caught up watching back-to-back episodes. When I take time off, my favourite thing to do is spend it with my family, friends and my dogs, Skaii and Snoopy.

Lastly, what are your upcoming projects?

I have loads of performances coming up. I’m touring in Delhi on the 16th, Bengaluru on the 19th, Chennai on the 20th and Ahmedabad on the 23rd. I’d love to see you all there. Then, I am off to London and LA to work on some new tracks that’ll be out at the end of the year.