Is Indie India becoming mainstream?
Indie music is a genre that encompasses anything outside the mainstream. In India, it’s adapted to mean any music that isn’t classical and doesn’t quite fit the Bollywood bill. This includes everything from English jazz to alternative soft rock performed in local dialects.
The genre is largely underrepresented worldwide. However, when President Obama included Prateek Kuhad’s cold/mess in his list of favourite songs in 2019, audiences globally tuned into Indie India. Perhaps the most popular subgenre involves melancholic yet simple melodies with a heavy focus on lyricism. These songs generally feature one key instrument — most commonly acoustic guitar or piano — laid under a repetitive but emotional vocal melody. But, why are young Indian audiences embracing simplicity and what does this mean for the existing music scene?
One key reason is intimacy. Indie artists like Anuv Jain and Kamakshi Khanna engage with their audiences on a much more intimate level than the megastars of Bollywood. Part of this has to do with where they are in their career — because they don’t appeal to the mainstream, they’re not booking out concerts at stadiums. Instead, they are often found at live music clubs where audiences of 100 or so can sing along and feel part of the performance. However, it’s more likely that the artist’s vulnerability plays the largest part in shaping the intimacy associated with this genre.
Their poignant lyricism speaks to a generation that appreciates emotion and vulnerability that can visualise the artists’ journeys as they listen to the music. Because the melodies are so stripped back, there is no choice for listeners but to focus on the lyrics — a conscious choice by most artists. Lyrics in this genre are often crafted as spoken poetry, and many artists frequently share poetry independent of music on their social media. Osho Jain, for example, says poetry is his “roots.” Other artists, like Anoushka Maskey, also used lockdowns in the pandemic to cultivate loyal audiences by sharing their own vulnerabilities online. In comparison to the available music, most of which is written for a movie plotline, then sung by a playback singer and lip-synced by an actor, indie music feels refreshingly real.
This genre of music is also the antithesis of most Bollywood hits stylistically. Conventionally, each Bollywood movie has a featured song, which has tended to be loud, heavily percussive and often romance-focused. Audiences are also accustomed to hearing reworked English music with Indian instruments. But, reflective of a changing taste, in the past decade, there has been a transition towards softer hits outside the sonic home of what one would traditionally associate with Bollywood. Songs like these have resonated the most with audiences that now lean towards indie India. Many music directors have also approached indie artists to work on their projects, as the success of a film’s soundtrack is a key part of the overall film’s success in India. Anumita Nadesan’s performance in Piharva is a clear example of how Indie artists have adapted to the mainstream while staying true to their own styles.
Melancholic Indie India is definitely on the rise, and the mainstream has started to take note. It seems to be a question of how long it’ll take for indie to become the mainstream.