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Zaeden’s Plan For 2022: Bending Genres, Breaking Formulas

Indian pop’s rising star is ready to dive head-first into his next adventure

Riddhi Chakraborty Apr 05, 2022

Photograph: Rohit Gupta for Rolling Stone India

Keeping up with Zaeden isn’t an easy task. It’s plenty of fun, but requires paying attention and being ready for absolutely anything. He’s unpredictable in the best possible way, shifting into new sounds faster than you can blink. Case in point: I reached out for a quick little catch-up back in January, and less than a month later the young pop star dropped a sleek new single out of nowhere, that too with a soundscape vastly different from anything he’s tried before. “I’m a listener before being an artist,” he’d told me, cheerful as ever, when we talked then. “I listen to all different kinds of styles of music and wish to do everything in my own way. I want to play around with a lot of different styles and sounds this year.” He’d refused to give me too many spoilers about his upcoming work, but given his penchant for surprising his fans with bold new sounds… we should’ve known.

The Afrobeat Hindi single, titled “Paas Aa,” is an example of the experimentation he’s embarked on post his pop debut in 2021 with his debut studio album Genesis 1:1. We’d discussed this before in our December 2021 cover story with the singer-songwriter, and he expands on that conversation now. “After Genesis 1:1, I really wanted to explore more genres,” he says when we connect in April for an update. “I’m a big fan of Wiz Kid, Burna Boy, Rema, Tems and a lot more Afrobeat artists. I just wanted to try that style out in Hindi, the Zaeden way!” he laughs. As he explained, “Paas Aa” is primarily built of Afrobeat with sprinkles of crisp Latin pop, and the overall breezy production was a refreshing start to 2022. “I’m really happy with the way this song turned out. It’s a very different sound for me as an artist to put out there.” 

We talk about the many interpretations different audiences have of an artist–fans, the media, fellow musicians and more–and how all this leads to changes in the way we perceive our own industry and the music itself. Do our reactions on the outside have an impact on what an artist works on next? “I can’t really talk on behalf of other artists, but for me personally, when I got done with Genesis 1:1… I just wanted to put out something I haven’t done before,” he says. “Once a project is finished and out there, I think that’s where the evolution starts. It always inspires and pushes you to try out new sounds and genres. It’s exactly what I’m trying to execute in my future projects. I’m also playing around with Punjabi sounds and words which is again something very new for me.”  

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He shares that he’s currently working on his first Punjabi EP– again, a huge 180 from anything he’s explored in the past. “The goal with every project is do to something new and fresh and just challenge myself,” Zaeden says. “That’s what I’ve always done throughout my career. After Genesis 1:1, I tried to change up the sound with ‘Paas Aa’ and after ‘Paas Aa’ I really want to experiment more and try out something in Punjabi. This could be amazing for me to reach out to a newer market.” The revelation came to him after the praise he received for his recent cover of Punjabi singer-songwriter The PropheC’s 2017 track, “Kina Chir.” “People just responded so well to that cover and that just motivated me to try out something original.”

It’s a risky move, but we’ve established that while praise, input, advice and constructive criticism are all extremely important to Zaeden, he needs to put his trust in himself and follow his instincts. It is, after all, what led to his tremendous rise in the first place. “It’s always great to be appreciated by people I look up to, my fans, and receive genuine feedback,” he says. “Shout-out to you guys for always supporting me and my music! The reactions and feedback always give me insight, but at the same time I always choose to do what I feel is right and focus on what I want to deliver to my fans to the best of my abilities.”  

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The connection with his fans is probably one of the biggest points of inspiration for Zaeden, and one of the best parts of his 2021 was being able to see them again in-person. The singer-songwriter ended the year with a series of long-overdue live shows in Bengaluru, Goa, Kolkata, Pune and more as part of the promotions for Genesis 1:1, and it was a great way to say hello to new era. “Being on stage after almost two years was unreal,” he says. “To be able to reconnect with my fans and feel that adrenaline rush made me realize how much I missed it. It’s one thing to look at numbers digitally, but to hear your fans sing each and every line of your songs is an experience that can’t be described in words.” He also got to perform “Pass Aa” live during the ‘Genesis 1:1 Tour’ to give his fans a sneak peek before the track’s release and he was thrilled by the reception. “By the second half of the song, people were already singing the chorus,” he recalls.

I ask about what else he’s got brewing and if he can give me a couple of hints about upcoming releases, but he gracefully avoids dropping any more spoilers. He does hint he has a few English releases coming but for now his focus is on his EP and the thrill of discovery that it presents. “I love this zone, whenever I’m in this challenging space,” he tells me as we wrap up. “It always leads to something special and hopefully that happens with this EP.”

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