YouTube sensation Arjun Kanungo, speaks about busking in New York

YouTube heartthrob, Arjun Kanungo, wants you listen to him and he won't shy of working hard for it

Singer Arjun Kanungo realised his song, Baaki Baatein Peene Baad, was a hit when someone sent him a clip of it being played at a Ganesh visarjan. “And then, the other day, I was at Carter Road, and, you know those guys who drive on the road with music blaring in their cars? One of them was playing my song,” he laughs. The song, a collaboration with rapper Baadshah, hit the one million view mark on YouTube, just 10 days after its video released on September 24, 2015. Its catchy lyrics — ae nikke nikke shots (little shots) — make it an ideal club song. The video is glitzy, though familiar, with the usual pretty girls in a club. But Kanungo’s defence is, “We decided to go with the usual but do the best job of it.”

Singer Arjun Kanungo
Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi

His tall frame (he is 6 feet 4 inches) and boy-next-door-smile have helped catapult him to a teen heartthrob status. Listicles have been devoted to his smiles, abs and dress sense. But, it comes at a price. “Don't offer me bread. I can’t eat that,” he says, when offered a brun maska at the Brooke Bond Taj Mahal Tea House in Bandra where we meet him. He seems unaffected by the tags “drool-worthy”, “smouldering good looks”. “I don’t take them too seriously,” says the 26 year old, turning the conversation back to his video.

“We wanted to give Bollywood songs competition because, let’s face it, that’s what works these days. But, we also wanted to introduce people to a different genre of music. This song, for example, belongs to the Trap genre,” he says, sipping on tea. Trap is a technique that originated in the America of 1990s and is characterised by heavy drums and bass lines. The effect, in Baaki Baatein… is a beat-heavy song, with a smattering of Punjabi — a mix that makes Indians wave their hands in the air.

Kanungo’s own musical journey started, in the true sense, in America. In 2014, he studied acting at New York’s The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute. Though he already had a flourishing studio construction business in Mumbai, that he started when he was 18, hanging out with students of the Julliard School of Music in NYC made him shift track. “I started taking $400-an-hour classes with a music teacher. And, I was also busking at New York subways and the like. Playing in front of people you don’t know is a humbling experience. The challenge is to make a group walking by stop and look at you. If you do that, you’ve got it made.”

On the first night of his return, the Bandra resident recorded a cover version of the title track of Vishal Shekhar’s Bang Bang, and put it up on YouTube. “People told me, ‘we love what you did with it’. It was an epiphany.” That was last October.

A couple of covers down the line, Sony Music came calling and soon, Kanungo had signed a contract, which meant releasing 26 videos in a year, including four originals. “If there is one thing I can do well, and it’s work hard. We went to Sweden and recorded with producers there.

The next single, which is a ballad, will be out on October 23. Even that’s going to be really different.” Even his covers, uploaded on his YouTube channel, attract a lot of attention. Hasi, from Hamari Adhuri Kahani, has got 56,000 views. “I learned an important lesson last year. It’s not just about the music. It’s about how you put it out there. Without that, there is nothing you can achieve,” he says.

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