"I immediately knew it was an earworm" - Badshah on his latest hit, "Paagal"

With a name that means ‘King’ in English, it’s no surprise that Badshah rules the Indian music industry with his quirky lyrics and catchy tunes. From an independent artist to Bollywood‘s most sought-after rapper, Badshah‘s journey to the top was filled with years of hard work and unwavering discipline.

After topping charts with his massively successful party anthems, Badshah is now ready to add another feather to his cap as he makes his Bollywood debut with Khandaani Shafakhana. The singer-entrepreneur-actor goes OnRecord about his musical journey, remaking his own hits, celebrating the success of his latest track “Paagal“, and so much more.

You’ve been in this industry for more than a decade, what keeps you going as an artist? 

Making music is my thing, it’s what I do best. I do try to keep experimenting with my production and introduce more soundscapes to the audience beyond the conventional. The high of making music that is heard by millions across the world, and then getting to perform the same on stage to thousands of fans singing along is all I work towards. 

You’re making your big Bollywood debut with Khandaani Shafakhana. How was the filming experience? Did you find any similarity in recording a song and acting? 

It has been a fantastic, eye-opening, learning experience for me. I have been very lucky with the team that I got to work with. It just felt like a family amongst Sonakshi, Varun, Mrig Sir and Shilpi Ma’am who put me in a very comfortable space to make mistakes and constantly keep learning. Khandaani Shafakhaana is a great story with a message that needs to be told and I think the team has done a brilliant job on such an important topic. 

Making a song and acting have their own highs and challenges. I have been making music for the longest time so obviously, I am in much more sync with that experience but acting was a lot of fun too. I respect actors much more now because it is definitely not an easy job. 

You’ve had movie offers in the past that you rejected. What attracted you to the Khandaani Shafakhana script that convinced you to get on board?

When I heard the one-liner and then the script, I immediately wanted to be a part of it because it’s an extremely well-written story dealing with a very important and sensitive topic that needs to be picked up and discussed. Of course, the team was a great cushion for me because I knew I was going to be amongst some brilliant professionals who are also friends. My character is funny and I wanted to take it up as a challenge for myself. 

We loved your take on Jasbir Jassi’s “Koka” and that makes us ask, what goes in your mind when you’re reworking on an iconic track like this?  

It was an honor for me to be a part of the song. Although It has been produced by the very talented Tanishk Bagchi and only features my voice, I think what the remakes of these iconic classics do is help reintroduce these gems to the current generation who have missed out on all this gold from the past. 

On the other hand, how is this workflow different compared to the remake of one of your originals such as “Chull” or “Proper Patola”?

It’s a completely different process because the original was also made by me. So I literally have to reimagine the song according to the movie mood board but keep the original flavor intact. 

While the internet is divided on the reception of remake of old Bollywood and Punjabi songs. What’s your stand on this? 

Not just the internet, we as musicians would also love to present original music to our listeners. I understand that moviemakers try to take a safer way with remakes of songs that have originally also done really well. But it’s always the dream of any musician to make original music. I think the concept of remakes is a phase, and the music scene always has phases that last a few years and then change. It is important for us music makers to keep working on bringing new sounds and changing the landscape. 

Talking about your new music, you just released “Paagal,” and it has already become a fan favorite all across the world! Talk us through the idea behind this one and the production process too.   

Paagal” was one of the rare songs for me that took a lot of time. The music hook came to me and my arranger Aditya Dev in a matter of minutes. Then it just took me a while to write the song because the music hook was so strong and had an identity of its own. But I immediately knew it was an earworm and that it instantly gets you grooving. 

The music video making has been one of the best experiences of my life. The video director Marlon Pena is an absolute gem to work with, and he put together the best team possible, from the choreographer to the dancers, stylist to Rose, the model. We have worked very hard in putting the song together, and hope people keep loving it. 

Even though it sounds different from any of your tracks, yet it is easy to pinpoint, it’s a Badshah song. How would you describe your signature sound and what is the USP you bring to any project that you work on?

Lyrically, I always try to keep my songs light-hearted and conversational with quirks for listeners to relate to it and start singing along. Musically, I think my signature would be using lesser instruments and letting each sound breathe more. 

From your first release ever to “Paagal,” how do think your sound has evolved over the years?

It has definitely evolved with my increased exposure to newer global sounds, having worked with so many talented producers from across the world and having the responsibility that my music now travels much wider across countries than when I just started. 

When you try out something new, do you ever get bothered by the fact that some of your fans won’t like the change in sound and would want to hear something similar to your old stuff? How do you deal with this dilemma? 

No. I make it a point to work on a new sound every time. Good music will always catch one’s ears and make an impact. So no dilemma there!

Do you like to create music that your fans like or to satisfy your appetite? 

It’s both. I make music and then listen to it as a listener in the car the next morning. If the listener in me likes the music, I go ahead. 

One peculiar thing that we’ve noticed about you as a vocalist is that you sing and rap flawlessly in multiple languages. While some artists stay away from performing in a regional language like Haryanvi, you’ve embraced it like a boss and brought it to the mainstream. Did you ever anticipate the impact you’ve made in the industry with this move?  

It makes me feel proud. When I started rapping, I used to write in English, it was from the international influences that I was listening to at that point. But once I got the match, I realized that it’s calculated wordplay and can also be done in Hindi. That is when I decided that I want to write in Hindi and represent my languages. Haryanvi is my mother tongue, Punjabi is what I grew up on. So all three of these languages come very naturally to me and I am proud that I have taken the culture and represented on a bigger platform. My raps in Bengali, Tamil, and Telugu were, of course, professional demands that I took up as challenges to be able to connect with regional audiences. 

While the number of streams is one of the ways of measuring the success of a track, what according to you is the definition of a hit track?

A hit track is what people are playing in their cars or at house parties. 

What are the ingredients of a typical Badshah track? 

Fun. Something that makes you smile and wants to get up and dance

In the past few years, electronic music has quickly picked up the pace in South Asian countries like India. Do you listen to EDM? If yes, who is one DJ/producer you’d want to collaborate with and why? 

I have collaborated with Major Lazer in the past. I think they are the OG’s of electronic dance music and I am happy I got the opportunity to get into the studio with them. I also love DJ Snake, he is extremely talented.

Coming down to your entrepreneurial ventures, you recently launched a chain of restro bars called, Dragonfly Experience. How did this concept come about? 

It’s actually completely the doing of Mr. Priyank Sukhija. I think he is a thorough individual who understands the hospitality industry really well. He has worked very hard and made a stupendous mark in the industry. He shared the concept of Dragonfly with me that was bringing together style, dining, and vibe, and I completely connected to it because these are the three things that matter to me when I personally go out. 

What motivated you to enter the hospitality business and how is Dragonfly Experience different from any other party-spot around the country?  

I have always loved the hospitality industry. I love food and I love how food is transformed into an experience by these geniuses. Dragonfly Experience is not a club. It’s a place where you can come, make your own vibe and have your own experience. Also, the food and cocktail menu is to die for. It has been designed with a lot of skill and taste and love, and that shows up in what is presented to you on the table. 

How does it showcase Badshah’s signature style and what is your contribution to the whole partnership?  

It’s all Priyank’s and his team’s hard work. My contribution has only been towards the food tasting!

That’s not it though, you’ve got a production company, Afterhours and run India’s first Urban Punjabi music channel, Aaho. All your ventures are very different from each other, how do all of this tie back to Badshah, the artist?  

It all connects back to one love of mine – storytelling. Initially, it was my music that I was talking through with my audience. But with this digital boom and the advent of all these newer platforms, there are new avenues of telling stories. I want to be able to create content and tell stories through all these newer mediums. 

And, how do you juggle between these projects? Do you feel that your music has been affected in any way because of these avenues? 

Not really. I have a great team attending to these projects. I do want to give more time to each of these projects, which I hope to by the end of this year. 

Wrapping up this interview with something that’s a part of your lifestyle, ‘Swag.’ What is the meaning of ‘Swag’ for you?  

Originality. Being comfortable with who you are. Being Yourself. 

Dance along to Badshah‘s latest single “Paagal” only on JioSaavn.