Asian artists hit the high notes with social media

Highlighting the lack of support for south Asian artists, record label bosses believe social media can allow upcoming musicians to gain audiences

(From left) Naveena,
Nami, Sasha, Yasmin, and Jaya of Girls
Like You

By:
Nadeem Badshah

TIKTOK can help make the next generation of British Asian musicians popular and the scene more ethnically diverse, according to leading industry figures.

Highlighting the lack of support for south Asian artists, record label bosses believe social media can allow upcoming musicians to gain audiences and therefore become mainstream.

New Asian band Girls Like You stayed at number one in the TikTok music charts for three weeks this summer with their debut single, Killer. The group, made up of Yasmin, Naveena, Nami, Jaya and Sasha, also had around two million views on the video app with their Bollywood twist on Cameroonian-American singer Libianca’s song People.

Vishal Patel, co-founder of independent label +91 Records that put the group together, said as a label that supports artists from a south Asian heritage with mainstream aspirations, TikTok was an important tool to help build and cultivate fan bases.

Patel told Eastern Eye: “One of our core focuses beyond creating music is being consistent on TikTok.

“This has paid off, because they [Girls Like You] have gained a lot of traction early – going viral with their cover songs and content, which has bought a lot of mainstream media attention, organically.

“The girls also regularly go live on TikTok and have built a really cool fan base in such a short time, which is only a positive for their upcoming music.

“There are a lot of challenges for south Asian artists, one being the lack of support in the music industry.

“We feel TikTok – as a platform – levels the playing field a little for south Asian artists looking for mainstream exposure. It allows you to build an audience and put your music out there for audiences from your community or culture and beyond to connect with if you utilise what the platform has to offer correctly.”

Patel added that TikTok could push artists to audiences that would normally be hard for them to access.

+91 Records also represents singer Celina Sharma who has more than 2.3 million social media followers. Her debut EP gained over five billion views on TikTok and more than 300 million organic streams off the back of going viral on the app. Other Asian TikTok sensations include Sabrina Bahsoon, known as Tube Girl. Her dance routines, filmed on the London Underground, has attracted 300,000 followers and more than 12 million likes.

Celina Sharma

A handful of south Asian artists have achieved mainstream success in recent years, including the producer Naughty Boy. Other acts with mainstream success in the 1990s and Noughties include Freddie Mercury with group Queen, Cornershop, Babylon Zoo, Panjabi MC, M.I.A. and Apache Indian. In 2009, Jay Sean became the first Indianorigin solo artist to achieve a number one single in the US with hit song Down.

Dr Jo Twist OBE is chief executive of the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), the trade association of the country’s music industry. She told Eastern Eye: “While UK rap, hip-hop and now Afrobeats artists increasingly find themselves in music’s mainstream, it’s notable that artists of south Asian heritage have enjoyed a much less pronounced presence in the official charts down the years.

“But there are signs this is changing, with social media playing its part in bringing new voices to the fore and connecting them with a wider audience.

“We also shouldn’t underestimate the role of BBC 1Xtra and Asian Network in helping to break down barriers.”

Twist added that the music industry was planning to open a specialist creative arts school in Bradford, Yorkshire, in 2026-2027, inspired by the BRIT School in Croydon, London. Supported by industry leaders such as Sony Music Entertainment UK, Universal Music UK and Warner Music UK, the free school will be open to more than 500 16-to-19-year-olds.

She said: “It’s our belief this can help to tap into the depth of diverse talent that we know is there and across other parts of the country.”

The Bradford-born singer Zayn Malik, a former member of group One Direction, was among those who expressed support for the school.

Susan Hinchcliffe, the leader of Bradford council, said: “There is a huge creative and cultural buzz around Bradford right now. We are preparing to be the UK’s city of culture in 2025 and will soon celebrate the opening of Bradford Live, a new 4,000-capacity live music venue in the old Odeon cinema.

“There is enormous talent in our young, energetic, diverse population and this can bring them lifechanging opportunities. It’s exciting to think about the future stars of music, art, film, TV and dance from our region. This school will help them to fulfil their dreams.”