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Zoya: Brown girl of pop

Updated: Aug 11, 2020

We're all familiar with the queens of pop through the ages. Whether you're more Britney or Gaga, one thing has remained the same for many years- a severe lack of diversity in the music industry. And although we are seeing more and more black artists being belatedly recognised for their influence and achievements in this industry, there still seems to be slow movement when it comes to Asian representation.

Zoya's entrance into the pop scene could not be more important. With her new album, Zoya hopes to tell a new narrative, all whilst repping her Indian heritage, as well as her Californian roots. After conquering the festival scene in India, she is hoping to take her music worldwide to connect with women with a powerful message: one of self love.

We were lucky enough to ask her a few questions on her music and her career so far!

What is your experience of being an asian woman in the music industry?

Growing up in Southern California I always felt that this whole music thing wasn’t possible for me because I was an Indian girl. The reality is we get bombarded with images growing up, especially in pop music, about what it is to be beautiful. As an adolescent, I kept making excuses in my head of why I’m not pretty enough, not like the girls in magazines, and honestly not “white” enough. 

Then the table’s turned after graduating from Berklee College of Music. One day in 2015, A.R. Rahman shared about me and my music on Facebook and, overnight, India opened it’s doors to me. So I took a one-way ticket to India and went to go check out what was brewing in the “indie” scene there. (“Indie” meaning Non-Bollywood, which is as we all know Bollywood is the majority of the music industry in India.) A one month trip turned into four years, I got signed, and started touring the country. All of a sudden I was surrounded by people that looked like me and if anything I was still “different” because I was the American girl. But somehow, that was an advantage? It all still made no sense. 

It wasn't until towards the end of my four year stint in India, that it hit me so hard like a ton of bricks: There has never been an Indian pop artist in global music. At that time, global pop culture was just showing signs of evolution in the sense that there was actors and comedians like Mindy Kaling, Priyanka Chopra, Lilly Singh, and Hasan Minaj on big screens, billboards and magazines all around the world. Recognising this made all of the emotional turmoil I felt growing up suddenly become the purpose of everything I was doing. So, I made the hardest choice of my life to come back to America, to try my best to become that girl I always wanted to be, while spreading awareness of the lack of Indian and South Asian faces in global pop music and pop culture. 

Why do you think it's so important that we have representation of asian women in music? Just as important it is to change inequality in politics or live in a nation where race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity is accepted and considered equal. There is a lot of politics involved in music. To break the system in all forms of entertainment is important because all voices and races should be considered beautiful, influential, and “normal” to watch on a movie screen or hear sing a pop song. Celebrities and artists are, if not the most, influential source on the planet to young girls and boys growing up around the world. Coming from a girl who grew up with the burden it held on my body and mind, I know it from experience.

What story are you trying to tell with your music, and especially with your new album Bad Girls Dream? “Bad Girls Dream” takes a lot of inspiration from Sleeping Beauty. Sleeping beauty themes are littered throughout the artwork, the lyrics and production. The main moral and songwriting concepts revolve around the three wishes Aurora gets: The gift of beauty, the gift of song, and the last gift: she can only wake up and live her dream if she get's "true loves kiss". To me, true loves kiss means self-validation, self-love, and finally accepting all three sides of myself so I can wake up and ultimately live my dream. 

What is your favourite song on your new album and why? Bad Girls Dream ft Jack Harlow is one of my favourites to listen to when I want to have a good time and bring out the “bad girl” in me. Jack Harlow’s verse is so fire and he is one of my favourite rappers out there. But, “Worth It” is the timeless one. “Worth It” is the song I’d been waiting to write my whole life. It still gives me the chills. Both of these songs were produced by Mark Nilan Jr. (Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born), so getting to work with him was a dream and as a songwriter, I feel like you can hear the growth I was going through. What advice would you give to other asian aspiring women artists?  Be yourself. That’s it. Simple, yet the hardest thing to do in this industry. If you unlock that, the world is yours. You’ll stop doing this for “them” you will start living your artistry for “you”.


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