HT Brunch Cover Story: Bringing back the honey

Published on Dec 11, 2021 09:21 PM IST

Music Special: In the three years since he returned to the music scene after an 18-month hiatus, Punjabi music star Honey Singh has altered his style in an attempt to hit the top of the charts again

Honey Singh’s advice to fellow artistes, especially new artistes, is: platform toh hai, aur bahut mazedaar bhi hai. Toh agar gaane badiya honge, toh platform ka mazaa aur bhi aayega; Styled by Rishabh Chadha and Varun Singhania; Black outfit custom-made by Sidrock, Shoes by VegNonVeg,Jewellery by Zillionaire; location courtesy: KOA Studio, New Delhi (Shivamm Paathak)
Honey Singh’s advice to fellow artistes, especially new artistes, is: platform toh hai, aur bahut mazedaar bhi hai. Toh agar gaane badiya honge, toh platform ka mazaa aur bhi aayega; Styled by Rishabh Chadha and Varun Singhania; Black outfit custom-made by Sidrock, Shoes by VegNonVeg,Jewellery by Zillionaire; location courtesy: KOA Studio, New Delhi (Shivamm Paathak)

Honey Singh has been mightily impressed by the changes in the world of professional music since he made a comeback to the industry in 2018, after spending nearly 18 months coping with alcoholism and bipolar disorder.

The singer, composer and music producer—popularly known as Yo Yo Honey Singh—who began his career in 2003 as a sessions and recording artiste, and then went on to become one of the world’s biggest names in Punjabi music and rap, with hits like Lak 28 Kudi Da with Diljit Dosanjh, Brown Rang, Lungi Dance and Chaar Botal Vodka, has had to alter his own music style to address these changes. But he is thrilled to grow as an artiste.

“My latest song, Boom Boom, is a contemporary and experimental song and not just a dance song,” Honey explains. “I have tried some new things with it. For example, the song doesn’t have any music, only beats, my voice and some crazy visuals. Technically, it is a ‘no scale song,’ something I think hasn’t been tried in India before.”

As an experiment, the song may not do as well as his music did before 2016. But the 38-year-old artiste believes he has every chance of returning to his top-ranked position in the Indian music scene, even though he has had a slew of new artistes to compete with since his hiatus.

A glimpse at Honey Singh’s career
A glimpse at Honey Singh’s career

Innovation express

In some ways, the love of music is a funny thing. As many of us who have grown up in multi-generational households have noticed, one generation’s beloved music tends to be poison to the earlier generation’s ears.

That’s because music and emotions are closely tied together. The music you love when you are in your late teens and early twenties—the time of your life when you’re at your most emotional—tends to become the music you prefer for the rest of your life, according to Frank T McAndrew, the Cornelia H. Dudley Professor of Psychology at Knox College, Illinois, USA.

So, when the music scene changes, it means older artistes must change too, if they want to attract younger, more enthusiastic audiences—precisely the audiences that allow artistes to sustain themselves. Getting a second chance at the top, via music that this young audience considers dated, will be impossible. Getting a second chance at the top with new music will be hard.

But Honey Singh is convinced he can do it.

“Whenever I make new music, the vibe needs to be very different from the previous song,” he says. “That has always been the case, even earlier. I’ve never worked with stereotypes. That’s why, when my song Angreji Beat became a hit and I was approached to make more songs like that, I didn’t. Similarly, when Lungi Dance, Blue Eyes, Sunny Sunny and Chaar Bottle Vodka became hits and I was asked to make similar songs, I didn’t. Lyrically and musically, I have to do something different with each song.”

Honey Singh says that his latest song, Boom Boom, is a contemporary and experimental song and not just a dance song (Shivamm Paathak)
Honey Singh says that his latest song, Boom Boom, is a contemporary and experimental song and not just a dance song (Shivamm Paathak)

The innovative aspect of his music aside, Honey needs to build a loyal fan base, which he claims will not be difficult given the way social media today supports the creative industries.

“I spend a lot of time on social media, especially Instagram and YouTube. And my advice to fellow artistes, especially new artistes, is that ‘platform toh hai, aur bahut mazedaar bhi hai. Toh agar gaane badiya honge, toh platform ka mazaa aur bhi aayega,’” says the musician. 

Sorry, not sorry

As confident as the artiste feels about getting his second chance, the music scene today is completely different from the way it was just five years ago, according to music critic Narendra Kusnur.

“In 2013, people like Raftaar and Badshah were just starting out, and were nowhere close to Honey Singh’s success. But the last three or four years have seen a growth in Indian hip-hop—the desi hip-hop as we say—especially since the film Gully Boy, which gave it a kind of mass awareness and made people like Divine popular,” says Kusnur. “Today, in terms of Indian and Punjabi rap, while people do identify with Honey Singh, there are so many new voices, new styles and subjects, that he definitely will have to work hard to get back the dominance he had six to seven years ago.”

Honey Singh’s top songs
Honey Singh’s top songs

The YouTube comments on Honey’s new song, Boom Boom, are mixed. Some people like the song. Some people want the old Honey back. While Honey is grateful to all of them, to those in the latter group his gratitude comes with a sorry, not sorry attitude. At this point in his refreshed career, he has his mind firmly set on his own growth.

“I know my fans expect a lot from me, but I have stopped stressing about it,” he says. “I made a comeback because I felt I owed it to them, but I always follow my heart more than my mind. I’m making music, not creating a product. I do it with my heart. It doesn’t follow a mechanical process.”

Criticism doesn’t worry him, he says. “If you are in a creative field, you have to be ready for criticism and take it positively,” he points out. Nor is he wary of possible competitors. In fact, these days, he’s bringing new young artistes like Hommie Dilliwala and Singhsta to the front.

But he’s excited by the new audience he is hoping to wow. He thinks they’re brilliant in the way they view life and the way they live it.

“The young audience is very amazing, very crazy, very modern and very updated about music of all kinds,” he says. “They enjoy music of different cultures and different languages. All they need is new music, new thoughts, beats and sound. If you can crack that, you can easily win their hearts. My sound and music remain updated thanks to this young audience.”

From HT Brunch, December 12, 2021

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