Four months ago, Indian rapper Badshah celebrated the New Year with a packed concert at Dubai’s Meydan Grandstand.
Today, he is at home in Delhi as part of the world’s largest stay at home directive brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. For someone who is a self-confessed tour hound, how is he coping?
“Quite well, actually," he says. "Staying home with my family has been a blessing. I have been touring and working so much that this is the break that I never knew I needed.”
That said, while Badshah (real name Aditya Prateek Singh Sisodia) is at home, his latest single, Genda Phool, has gone straight to the top of his country's pop charts and has already amassed more than 169 million views on YouTube in only two weeks.
When it comes to online streaming numbers, the song was undoubtedly helped through its colourful video featuring Bollywood actress Jacqueline Fernandez. However, what really stands out is Genda Phool's effervescent use of traditional Indian instrumentation and melodies.
This is down to the track being inspired by the 1970s Bengali folk song Boroloker Bitilo, written by Ratan Kahar.
After years of melding western pop sensibilities into his work, particularly in his pop-rap hits Proper Patola and Tareefan, Badshah says his latest release is a part of a new creative direction that has him adding more indigenous flavours to his work.
“This is part of a new journey I am embarking on – it is like a Badshah 2.0,” he says. “I wanted to create a song that was fiery but at its very core, it is Indian. The fact that people responded to the song with so much love is really beautiful to see.”
Making Indian hip-hop commercial
Genda Phool's success also points to an artist comfortable in his own skin.
Badshah first emerged in 2006 as part of the group Mafia Mundeer, alongside fellow rapper Yo Yo Honey Singh. They split in 2012, the divergence of both their careers reflecting their artistic differences.
Where Singh was more enamoured by hip-hop’s street appeal (which resulted in future accusations of vulgarity and misogyny), Badshah was more interested in creating escapist pop.
Before long, he joined the Bollywood music machine and churned out hit anthems for blockbuster action films, including last year's Saaho and Dabangg 3. Badshah doesn't see his move to pop music as selling out. Even with the high-end production and catchy hooks of his songs, he insists that he is a hip-hop man at heart.
Furthermore, he views his success and clean-cut personality as playing a major role in the genre receiving wider acceptance.
“I think my pop stuff did help hip-hop grow in India,” he says. “You know, I think there is nothing wrong in hip-hop being commercialised. People think that it should remain underground, but I completely disagree. I mean, look at today’s pop stars. Who are they? They are rappers like Kanye West, Drake and Eminem.”
That time when Badshah made BTS fans mad
With Bollywood's global imprint only increasing, Badshah is well on his way to becoming an international star. Last year he made international headlines after the Paagal music video clocked up 74.8 million views on YouTube within 24 hours, shattering the record previously set by K-pop group BTS and their hit Boy with Luv.
The congratulations soon turned to controversy, however, when it was revealed that Paagal's giant streaming numbers were inflated after his label followed a common industry practice of purchasing online advertisements from Google and YouTube with the video embedded.
The resulting uproar resulted in YouTube announcing last September that its streaming charts will no longer include paid advertising views.
Badshah is unapologetic about Paagal's success. He views the machinations surrounding the song's promotion as something that has been a standard part of pop music for decades.
“If you go back in time, people have always spent money to increase the visibility of their product,” he says. “Money was spent to get your song heard on the radio. Then the same thing happened to get your song played on TV or to get a billboard of you on the street. What happened with me is the same thing that has been going on for years, only now it is online.”
That said, Badshah can’t hide his joy at putting a stop, even if it was temporarily, to the musical behemoth that is BTS.
“All I will say is that a lot of people were not happy with me,” he says. “But it’s cool – I don’t mind at all.”