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COVER STORY: SOCIAL MEDIA 2.0 | THE BIG EXPLOSION IN SHORT VIDEOS

Badshah mentors a new league of digital creators at leading app Josh’s CreatorThon in the Maldives

Anurag Tagat May 10, 2021

“As soon as you see a five or six-minute song, are listeners going to press play?” says hip-hopper Badshah. Photo: Courtesy of Josh CreatorThon

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In this year of 2021, with the new normal still desperately awaited by many for their own reasons, musicians perhaps stuck to doing what they know best – writing, recording and releasing songs. In a pre-pandemic time, touring, merch and brand deals were also quite sought after, but digital reach remained a constant thorn, pricking artists whenever they had everything else down right – production, collaborations, hell, even solid songwriting.

The ultimate sweet spot and luxury afforded to artists, then, would be to never have to even think about those thorns. Over the last six years or so, Badshah reached that level, arriving to become a darling of major record labels, Bollywood and millions of listeners around the globe. The success of songs such as “DJ Waley Babu” (2015) and “Kar Gayi Chull” (formally released in 2016 for Hindi movie Kapoor & Sons) arrived on the back of honing his skills since 2006 as a musician.

Following a major stint with fellow Punjabi hip-hop artist Yo Yo Honey Singh in Mafia Mundeer, Badshah went solo by 2012. While the success of party-ready anthems like “Kala Chashma” (from Baar Baar Dekho’s soundtrack 2016), “Tareefan” (Veere Di Wedding, 2018) and “Garmi” (Street Dancer 3D, 2019) catapulted Badshah to the top of Indian mainstream music consciousness, he also released his solo album O.N.E. (Original Never Ends) via Sony Music in 2018 and followed up with a self- released record called The Power of Dreams of a Kid in 2020. “When I went to the clubs, I’d only see them playing Akon and international music. I wanted to bring Indian music to the clubs,” he says over a phone call.

Assuming the position of becoming one of India’s most popular, most streamed and certainly highest paid musician, Badshah did have his fair share of firefighting to do, especially when it came to understanding the prickly digital world. When he released “Paagal” in 2019, he and Sony Music India celebrated what was apparently a global record of accruing 75 million YouTube views in one day, beating out artists like BTS and Ariana Grande. He later had to clarify an industry practice of paid ads were put in place to boost numbers.

THE SHORT VIDEO REVOLUTION

The genesis of every gain lies in a loss; for Indian short-video apps, social media giant TikTok’s departure signalled a massive boom. Since the first wave of app prohibitions on June 29th, 2020, the Government of India went on to ban a total of 220 Chinese apps, following border tensions with the East Asian country. While TikTok’s loss created a vacuum for India’s new wave of social media leaders — the everyday citizens who, equipped with a camera smartphone in 4G India, rose to creator status across diverse societal cross sections — its exit created an opportunity for homegrown players to set the stage. One such app was Josh.

Launching on September 9th, 2020, a mere two months after the TikTok ban, Josh entered an ecosystem of Indian short-video apps that is only growing more fertile by the minute. (According to a 2021 RedSeer report, time spent by users on short form video apps has reached 55 percent of the levels in June 2020, indicating a strong market opportunity for Indian platforms as they continue to mature in 2021.) While homegrown apps had previously failed to match or amass TikTok’s gargantuan 200M+ Indian user-base, the country’s social media landscape began to witness a drastic rise in numbers due to the absence of the Chinese app. By July, India’s 504M active Internet users were hungry for an app that could serve their creative and entertainment needs.

Reaching a promising 23M MAU (monthly active users) during its 45-day beta launch, Josh managed to permeate the social media market and grab an audience. This period also saw Josh’s meteoric rise in the Google Play Store’s charts, where it currently occupies a position in the top 3 social apps. As India’s newly-minted, established and amateur creators looked for the next new platform to unleash their artistry on, they found a ready launchpad through Josh.

Arriving officially in September 2020, the app then unveiled an expansive roster of leading content creators, including digital superstars Mr Faisu, Sameeksha Sud, Ruhi Singh and more. Licensed agreements with Indian music labels T-Series, Sony Music, Zee Music and Divo Music also enabled Josh to draw users to its platform in late 2020. As of February 2021, India’s legendary label Saregama too signed a music licensing deal with Josh.

Presently, the app clocks in 90M+ MAU and 42M+ DAU (daily active users). Josh’s Seher Bedi (Head, Josh Studios) and Ravanan N (Executive Director & Head of Content) attribute the app’s growth to how users and creators have been approaching the short-video ecosystem in the TikTok ban’s aftermath. “Home-grown tech platforms have the capability to take on the challenge and deliver innovative, safe and long- term solutions for their creative and economic aspirations,” say Bedi and Ravanan.

The app heads maintain that Josh’s content strategy is carefully tiered to respond to the diverse content needs and habits of the short- video ecosystem. “Our creator portfolio spans 200+ leading creators and carefully picked micro creators to capture our creative diversity. Our AI/ML tech stack drives deep discoverability and personalization for users of the app,” say Bedi and Ravanan. Available in 10 languages, Josh also hopes to promote India’s rich heritage and culture.

With plans to scale their content capabilities through the recently set up in-house Josh Studio as well as the $200M+ the app received from investors (including Google and Microsoft), Josh is all set to build on the ground they’ve broken alongside homegrown apps in the Indian short-video ecosystem. The RedSeer report also concluded that India’s percentage of DAU is back to 65-70 percent of its TikTok era, largely driven by short-video apps’ onboarding of influencers, as well as their effort to provide a product that matches or exceeds the TikTok standard. Adding new users largely from tier 2 cities, Indian apps have also managed to regain 97 percent of unique active users from the numbers of June 2020. All this ensures that if TikTok ever makes a comeback, it’ll be subject to stiff competition as Indian short-video apps seem well on the way to becoming the go-to destination for content creators and consumers across the country.

Badshah with Josh’s diverse creators- Vejeeta, Kajal Tiwari, Parvati Nair, Michael Ajay, Vidya Virsh, Shivani Dhyani and Neikith (from left).

WHEN MEDIUM BECOMES THE MESSAGE

Badshah boasts millions of listeners across streaming platforms, multiple millions of followers on social media and most recently, brief video platform Josh. Officially onboarded as a creator on the app, Badshah was also a “headliner” at the recent CreatorThon on Josh – a three-day marathon set in Maldives, where a select number of influencers and creators joined the pop artist.

Despite this, Badshah is clear that none of this changes his opinion of social media. Like many across age groups, he admits that there’s still a lot he doesn’t understand about social platforms and engaging with followers or posting on them. “I guess we’re all susceptible to doom-scrolling as well. Sometimes I never leave my bed,” he says with a laugh. The one thing he does, however, understand about social media and brief-video platforms like Josh changing the game for artists is in acknowledging and catering to shorter attention spans. He connects it to music making as well. “If it’s a three minute song, people are going to listen to it and like it. But as soon as you see a five or six minute song, are they going to press play? It’s a very confusing space right now but I think the only thing I advise to anyone who comes to me for advice is just do what your heart says, just be honest with yourself. That’s it,” he says.

The latest in Badshah’s from- the-heart decisions range from an upcoming single called “Pani Pani” (he wants it to be the biggest song this year) but also two spontaneous song releases – “Astronaut” and “Distance” – which are clubbed under a theme called Aide-Memoire. Released on May 3rd, Badshah cuts loose on these surprise releases, raging at the so- called competition that he wants to brush off. “I woke up yesterday and wrote and recorded both the songs at home,” he said on Instagram. In Badshah’s world, consistency is important but clearly, a little disruption does well.

In an interview with Rolling Stone India, Badshah talks about doling out advice as a mentor, being part of CreatorThon for Josh, his shoe collection and more. Excerpts:

What is it like having to constantly think about a lot of things outside of just making the music for you?
It’s an extension of my personality. Everything I do feels like an extension of my personality. I don’t think much outside the music. I let my people think. Everything inside music, whether it’s the presentation, promotion, the way my song is to be presented and the artwork… everything, I think of it. The other businesses outside of music, I just choose the right people and they do it for me.

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A lot of musicians say that making music is the easier part now and figuring out how it will reach people is much more challenging. What kind of advice are you offering to younger artists on this front?
I think once you know what music you want to make, once you know your genre and your story, it all becomes really organic. How you want it to reach people is really important. You should be able to identify your audience and you have to work towards the presentation if you want to last long in the game. It’s more about who you are, plus the music that you make, rather than just the music that you make. My advice to them is to just make music from your heart.

You were at the Josh CreatorThon in Maldives. How did you prepare for it? You’ve been on competitions and advised contestants so how was this different? How much does the format help?
I think it was more informal and more one-on- one. That’s always easier for the creator because there are some things that they might not want to talk about in front of a lot of people. Then they can come up to you and tell you about whatever their problems are or their insecurities are, what kind of challenges they might be facing in their personal or professional lives. The atmosphere in that sense was amazing. I’m all for helping everyone to achieve their dreams.

The Josh CreatorThon put you in a mentor space. What was that like?
For me, it was a very satisfying experience.

“It’s more About who you are, rather than just the music that you make.” says Badshah

As someone who thrives in the digital world as a musician are there things that need figuring out for you even today?
A lot of people have a lot of clarity. Which is excellent but with clarity comes… complacence, I believe. That is something that they have to remove in order to become successful.

What do you do when you’re feeling complacent?
I get up and get back to work, get back to basics.

You have a new song coming up, “Pani Pani.” What can you tell me about it?
It’s going to be the biggest song of the year. That’s it. It’s going to be the banger that everyone’s been waiting for.

What kind of other projects are coming up?
I’ve been working on a few film projects. I’ve worked on this upcoming film called Radhe Shyam, which features [Telugu actor] Prabhas. I’ve done a song for that. I have another song coming out as well… but “Pani Pani” is the next big one.

You’re always big on shoes. What’s the count like right now in your collection?
Oh, I’ve lost count right now. I’ll be honest with you, it’s just become a bad habit now. (laughs). It’s (the collection) is so scattered, it’s not in one place, it’s so huge that you have to go to different places to see it. Some of it is in Delhi, some of it is in Chandigarh, and in Chandigarh itself it’s scattered.

Lastly, I wanted to ask about Mafia Mundeer, the crew you were a part of with Yo Yo Honey Singh. As someone who’s on a completely different level today, how do you look a back at that time?
When you’re doing stuff, you don’t know what you’re doing, right? You just like it and that’s why you’re doing it. Years later, you realize that you’ve fucking created a legacy. You created it. When you’re doing it, you’re doing what you love but when I look at it now, those years were probably the genesis of a foundation that is given birth to so many artists right now in the genre, in independent music, simply put. That was the time when… there was a time when independent music was killing it in the Nineties. Then there was a decline, because Bollywood took over everything. And then, suddenly, there was this revolution. That was it. That’s how I look at it. It was an evolution but at that point of time, it was just kids having fun.

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IN THE SPOTLIGHT: JOSH’S DIVERSE CREATORS

KAJAL TIWARI
ACTOR, DANCER ∙ 22 ∙ MUMBAI

Actor and dancer Kajal Tiwari.

What kind of change have you noticed about how you interact in the digital and social media realm over the last year? How has being on Josh changed that?
There’s a lot of difference between Josh and the other social apps. After joining Josh, I felt very confident about what I want to do. I wasn’t getting that much of a response in other apps as well, so on Josh I was more engaged and got more incentive to create more stuff. I got a lot of a followers on Josh and with a lot of response, which is rare. So things had changed quite a bit.

Every app usually seems to categorize creators into one box – you’re either a singer or an actor or just one talent but Josh doesn’t have those limitations. It’s different on there – it doesn’t ask for just one talent, but whatever you have and want to put out there, without limitations. It’s one of the best things, because then you can do more and better for your followers.

What was your CreatorThon experience like in Maldives?
I still don’t have the words to accurately describe it. It was my first trip where there was no force or targets to achieve. It felt like I had gone on my own. Other apps who sponsor trips often have conditions and targets, but Josh didn’t put down any of that. I was a bit scared going in at first, but the team was so comfortable that my mind just changed so much. I really enjoyed it, because there were no obligations apart from just enjoying yourself.

What did you feel you picked up by interact with other creators at the CreatorThon?
I learned a lot. They were all really great and showed so much love to each other. Everyone was from different fields, someone was a stuntman and another was a rapper. I got to learn about how the rap music space works and how Josh is giving them a platform. There were no levels between us, just special people with different talents. I got to learn a lot from Vejeeta and Michael.

VEJEETA
POP ARTIST ∙ 24 ∙ DELHI NCR AND KARNAL

Pop artist Vejeeta.

Musicians have often had a problem with reach when it comes to getting heard. Is it different for you with Josh?
I started during the lockdown, so it’s just been a year in the music space. Compared to the normal days, it’s definitely become tougher during the pandemic to release music. But the things I’ve experienced personally, like the short social platforms and the backing I have from Josh, I got to reach a lot of young people really fast. It’s like a superpower for artists who make music. It makes the song reach places you can never expect. That was the biggest push for an artist like me who’s new to this. Not everyone gets a push like this right from the beginning so I was really happy.

What was it like speaking with Badshah and the other creators?
It was a dream come true for me. I’m a pop artist and for us, it’s like more than a dream. I’ve only released two solo songs and Josh has given me such a big opportunity, I never imagined it. Who can think, ‘I’ll go to sleep tonight and tomorrow, I’ll get to meet Badshah’? That was my experience. After getting on Josh, I got two more song deals and I got to go to Maldives. What more can one ask for? I’ve seen a lot of different techniques and it’s helping me make myself better as an artist.

My dream is to be like Badshah. There’s no other thought there. I’m new to this so I want to get to that level. Josh gave me this opportunity to meet Badshah at the stage I’m at. He gave me an opportunity to ask about how to make it as big as him. He gave me three pieces of advice and it’s going to be at the back of my mind forever – to be patient, to keep working hard and never give up. It’s set in my mind now. I’ll keep my doing my stuff.

NEIKITHA
MODEL, ACTOR ∙ 22 ∙ MUMBAI

Model and actor Neikitha.

How long have you been actively taking on the role of a digital creator and influencer?
It’s been almost two years since I started, but I started on Josh three or four months ago. The advantage of being a digital creator is we can do anything from our homes. Before, you didn’t get a chance like this. Because of COVID-19, everyone is staying at home and that gives us a chance to interact with our fans and pretty much everybody, really.

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What was your experience like at the CreatorThon in Maldives?
The experience was amazing. It was a dream and we met a lot of different people from different streams. I didn’t think I’d get to go to Maldives this soon and because of Josh who took us along, they gave us such a good platform to showcase our talent.

I’m a big Badshah fangirl and I think it was a total surprise for everybody and even for me that Badshah was coming there. I was very grateful for it. I feel like all my dreams were in queue and all of a sudden, everything started getting ticked off, because of Josh. I knew I’d meet Badshah someday but I never thought it would be this soon.

What were your interactions with other creators like?
I learned a lot from all of them. Paro [Parvati Nair] is an amazing actress. No matter the situation, when she’s on set, she’s always smiling and spreading positivity. Michael is a big celebrity but he was so humble and treated everyone the same. Kajal was really energetic and Shivani was really good to be around, so beautiful and being ever present. Vidya was a very patient and mature person, just had a lot of great values, all of them.

Everyone was often asking about how to maintain a Josh profile and be active, I think I was able to help with that, since I have a lot of followers on Instagram. I told them to be consistent and keep posting and to make original content. Then, everyone loves you.

PARVATI NAIR
ACTOR ∙ 28 ∙ BENGALURU

Actor Parvati Nair.

As an actor and celebrity with a huge following to start with, what do you get out of being a creator on Josh?
I’m representing Kerala on Josh, I sort of play a brand ambassador’s part and the app goes with the profession, in that it’s connected to your acting and modeling. You are still working on something that’s aligned with the profession and will help. It’s been COVID years from 2020 and work has been slow. I did a couple of movies but now, trying to do the last part of patchwork, makers are struggling to get dates from people, because it’s COVID all over.

It was in 2020 that I even opened myself up to the thought of trying to something like this. Since content creation and short video apps are about acting skills at the end of the day, I realized it helps one’s creativity. Imagine you’re not at a shoot and acting in front of the camera for two or three months. You are still doing something creative on the app, so it also polishes your skills and it’s also about making new videos.

What was the CreatorThon like in Maldives?
For me, it was more like a vacation. There were more creators and less actors. There were also fewer people, due to COVID norms. I wouldn’t say I interacted with everyone but whatever I had was completely different. If you’re a creator and on the app and not actors, they probably had different things to do. Nobody wanted to miss being part of Rolling Stone either, the cover shoot brought everyone together as well. It was like a holiday for me.

What was it like interacting with Badshah?
We have this on video, where Badshah has promised me that he’ll make a song for me and have me in the video. He put this disclaimer that he didn’t know much about South India or that there were different languages. I told him, ‘Oh my god, I hear this so much! We’re so different and every language is so different’. I told him since he’s working with people from the South now, when is he going to work with me? He said, ‘Of course I should work with you!’

He makes amazing music and I’m always fond of talent and meeting talented people from across industries. It was a cool conversation.

MICHAEL AJAY
MODEL, PERSONAL TRAINER ∙ 26 ∙ BENGALURU

Model and personal trainer Michael Ajay.

How did you get drawn towards being a content creator?
Content creation is something that I was always interested in. I didn’t have the time or inclination to put too much into it before. It would be very sporadic. Once I got on MTV Roadies and I was the runner-up, a lot of people started looking me up and asking me for stuff. I thought I might as well combine the two and start creating content. I have enough resources and people around me and the platforms to help create the content I want.

What’s changed in your approach in the last year as well as in terms of joining Josh?
I think short form media is the future, with people’s attention span and stuff like that. Being able to tell a story within those 15 seconds to one minute is a pretty big thing, whatever message it is you want to convey. I think Josh is giving an awesome platform for people from different background to create content. In the end, it’s not about the equipment, it’s about the story you want to tell. I think Josh is doing a great job spotting creators as well.

How was the CreatorThon in Maldives and meeting Badshah?
The experience was absolutely great. We got a lot of mentorship and we were given a lot of creative freedom as well, so we got to do a lot of content creation on our own. All in all, it was amazing. The Josh team gave us a lot of info and backed us up and gave us everything we needed.

Badshah was way chiller than I expected him to be. It was super cool that way. It was like talking to someone really cool. Even I love rap and hip-hop in general and I’m a pretty huge fan of his music, so just getting to meet in person was awesome. He made everyone feel very comfortable and at home, so it was great.

VIDYA VIRSH
ACTOR, THEATER ARTIST ∙ 26 ∙ BENGALURU

Actor and theater artist Vidya Virsh

Being an actor, what has it been like taking on an additional role of digital creator?
Last September, I started using Josh and before that, I’ve always been on Instagram. I’ve done more than 1,500 videos on Josh and I’m posting every day on Instagram and I get followers on there who come via my work on Josh. As an actress, I would usually find it difficult to engage on social media before, but Josh has been a good thing. In the last one year, I’ve been happy to share so much through Josh and engage on the platform as well. I got to know that so many creators are booming on social media, especially actors who don’t have to be just on silver screen, but also showcase their talent on social media.

What was the experience at the CreatorThon like?
I’m an actress and I work in the South Indian industry. I got to meet people from different parts of the country. There’s a difference between an actor and a model, right? I have to mention Michael Ajay. I’m an actress but I didn’t know how to walk the ramp. We had a fashion show there and he thought me that. He was very helpful to so many. I met so many people and since learning is a never-ending process for me, everybody has their own uniqueness, so we have to pick it up and implement it for ourselves. I’m really thankful.

SHIVANI DHYANI
FASHION AND TRAVEL INFLUENCER ∙ 22 ∙ NEW DELHI

Fashion and travel influencer Shivani Dhyani.

You’re a journalism student and influencer. What has your journey been like in the digital space?
I’m a fashion and travel influencer who’s been doing this for the three or four years. I really liked making content and especially in the lockdown, I would feel great interacting with people.

Short videos are very trending nowadays. When I used to make travel content, there were lengthy vlogs. And then the fashion content would be shorter. When I began working with Josh, there’s 15 seconds and you can pick your song. It becomes very enjoyable for both creators and followers.

In the lockdown, we’re all prone to panicking. So engaging with people is a little bit easier, especially with short video apps, because people scroll and it’s only about 15 seconds or so. People are more inclined to check it out if it’s shorter, so it does increase engagement compared to other social media.

What was your CreatorThon experience like in Maldives?
It was amazing. Last year, I was thinking about going to Maldives but I didn’t because of the lockdown. I hadn’t traveled for nearly a year so I hadn’t made any vlogs either for that time. My followers were waiting for a new vlog when they got to know I was going to Maldives. It was like finally, we got travel content to share! I’m happy that Josh gave me this opportunity, not to just go to Maldives but also engage with other creators, make videos and get an opportunity to speak with someone like Badshah. I enjoyed it a lot.

What did you gain from it?
For me, there were a few creators who were dancers there. I’m not a good dancer, but I think I learned some good moves. I love dance actually, but I needed that push and this CreatorThon gave me that.

All photos courtesy of Josh
With inputs from Jessica Xalxo

 

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