HE may have cried in tune as a baby, Armaan Malik confesses, and he’s only half-joking. The 26-year-old singer is a third-generation musician, but it isn’t his genealogy that charted his course. “As a child, I had this idea that I might do Marine Biology — something related to the Earth and the oceans — but the truth is that I’ve been gravitating towards music all my life,” he says.
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Grandson of prolific music director Sardar Malik and son to composer Daboo, Armaan has been raised on a steady diet of Indian classical and Hindi film music. “My brother Amaal and I always rebelled against the obvious choice, which was to become a composer duo, because we wanted to create our own identity,” he explains. To illustrate his point, Armaan recounts signing up for Sa Re Ga Ma Pa — aged 9 — without listing his last name. “I wanted to be judged for my talent and not for my background,” he says. It wasn’t so much about the expectations that may have become the luggage of his lineage, as it was about battling the perception that he may have had it easy. “It has never been easy,” he says with disarming candour. “We’ve come up the hard way. I’ve seen my parents go from nothing to what we are today… this journey has had not a lot of ups and quite a lot of downs. My parents were clear about the uncertainty of this line of work — one day you are the guy everyone wants and the next day, you’re not. They recognised the passion that Amaal and I have for music, but they didn’t want us to enter the industry without a strong educational foundation. My mum was literally the person who’d take me from tuitions to music classes — back and forth constantly — and so I can’t say we were ever discouraged from getting into music, but we knew the reality of it.”
Armaan was in school in Mumbai when Boston’s Berklee College of Music held auditions on his campus and bashfully admits they were “quite blown away” with his singing skills. “They offered me a scholarship for a summer programme, but I was underage for it. Graciously, they agreed to hold a place for me, which I was only able to claim two years later — once I’d completed my Grade 10 examinations.” Even though much of the course was subsidised by the scholarship, Armaan remembers the effort his parents made to pick up the rest of his expenses. “Going to Boston, studying there, living there for a few months… it’s not easy, especially on the financial side of things, and my family wasn’t doing that well at that point. Still, my father said: ‘We have to do it. If we don’t do this, it’s going to be that one thing that we missed out on doing for Armaan.’ To get that kind of support from my parents just made me tear up and when Berklee happened — in the summer of 2011 — it opened up a whole new world for me.”
A big believer in destiny, Armaan considers this a moment of providence. “At the age of 8, I was singing ghazals on national television. By 10, I had become a singer whom people were recognising from all corners of the country, because of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa. I was doing Indian classical music. At around this time, my brother gifted me an iPod Nano and that just changed everything! I started listening to a whole different world of music on my iPod — music from the Sixties to the music of the day. I was listening to everyone from Michael Jackson to Eminem, from John Mayer to Frank Sinatra, and that world — when I pressed play on that iPod — transported me to a very different place as a musician. I was like, ‘Wait, this exists? Why haven’t I heard this music before?’ When I heard those songs, I felt them resonate with me… I knew that this was the kind of musician I wanted to be.”
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Though he took the long winding route through Bollywood (churning out hits like Tere Mere, Chale Aana and Jab Tak) to get to a stage where he could release his first English single, Control, in 2020, this is a true manifestation of his dreams. “There was a phase when I was not putting out enough Hindi material and I didn’t know what my next project was going to be. I had already started working on my English songs, but I didn’t have a release date in place. I was in a very weird space — some of my Bollywood songs were getting replaced — and then a trip got planned to Los Angeles. I didn’t really plan it, it just happened. There were a lot of things that magically fell into place. We filmed the music video, I made it back home before the lockdown and when we released the song, it got so much love! Being the first song by any Indian artist to be featured on a Times Square billboard in the middle of a pandemic — I mean if that is not destiny, then I don’t know what is! I am very aware of signs and I let them guide me sometimes. The dream is to have more and more Indian artists being mentioned in the same breath as the legendary artists in the West. To be an Indian musician making a mark on the global pop scene: I want to be the artist who makes that happen and I won’t stop until that dream comes true.”
Another dream is to own a chain of restaurants someday, but that’s simmering on the back burner for now. “Apart from music, I am very passionate about food,” says Armaan, who is careful to balance his fitness goals, while allowing himself the occasional indulgence. “I won’t lie, I cheat on diets sometimes, but I am usually very disciplined when it comes to my goals. Everyone around me knows this: once I set my mind to something, I don’t deter from it. I’ll eat the same grilled chicken and rice for dinner every night, or go to the gym at the same time every day — I plan everything and work towards sticking by it.”
“When I was launched as a Bollywood playback singer by Salman Khan in Jai Ho, it kicked off my career and also my fitness journey,” Armaan recounts. Salman encouraged the singer to be more than just a voice and the advice — received when Armaan was still in school — has served him well. Other stars have inspired his journey too: from Shah Rukh Khan to American singer-songwriter Charlie Puth. “I admire different things about different people,” says Armaan, listing Shah Rukh’s personality, Charlie Puth’s craft as a global music icon and Sonu Nigam’s skills a singer amongst his top inspirations. “Sonu Nigam is my guru in a very different way — I have learnt so much just by listening to him. I think there’s a little bit of Sonu Nigam embodied within me; his musicality is a part of me,” says Armaan. Michael Bublé and John Mayer round off this list, while Justin Bieber, Anne Marie and Arijit Singh make it to the singer’s wish list for future collaborations.
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Despite You topping charts and winning accolades around the world as we speak, Armaan remains remarkably grounded. Grit, determination, hard work and humility appear to define him, so much so that he often refers to himself in third person — almost as if he’s on the outside looking in at his successes with a fair smattering of wonder. With 11.3 million followers on Instagram and more on other platforms, there’s a universe of ‘Armaanians’ obsessed with the young singer. We laugh about a video he has just received that shows his face morphed into a marriage sequence with a fan. “It can be a bit crazy, but I am grateful for all the love,” he says. And there’s a real romance in his life as well, as our Valentine’s cover star confesses. He’ll keep her name under wraps for now, but he signs off with a smile: “Don’t ask for details, but I will happily tell you I’m in love.” Another beautiful ballad in the making, no doubt.
The ultimate jam session
Tune in as Armaan tells us about everything from his first time on stage to singing in 11 languages
ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE
I was four when I performed for the very first time. It was a school function. I wore a proper sipahi costume and sang Nanha Munna Rahi Hu. I remember it vividly.
PLAYING IT BY EAR
My father was hellbent on Amaal and I learning music properly, so that we would never be lost in a room full of musicians. It was important to him because he and my uncle are ear-trained, even though my grandfather had learnt classical music.
THE CALL OF THE PIPER
Music may be in my blood, but the kind of musician I want to be, that’s a very individual calling.
IF MUSIC BE THE FOOD OF LOVE
I spent most of my childhood with my grandfather. We come from a family of composers and he didn’t want me to be nudged in that direction because he believed I was a true-blue singer. He expressed this to everyone in the family (laughs).
MUSIC TO ALL EARS
I speak English, Hindi and a little bit of Telugu, but have sung in 11 languages. I like experimenting and I want to be challenged musically. I don’t want to be slotted as just one type of singer. In the next few years, I might do a track or two in Arabic and Spanish as well.
Armaan's art of living
The singer shares tales of love, loss and the pursuit of happiness
I am a constantly glass-half-or-more-full kind of guy. I don’t think I have ever experienced anything professionally that I didn’t believe I could recover from.
The one thing that has really hurt me deeply is the loss of my grandmother. Her passing is something I wasn’t able to process. Even today, when I’m alone at night, I might cry about it. I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t cry at all, but for her, the tears just flow. Sometimes I even say ‘I miss you dadi’ on Twitter — maybe just tweeting in the air, thinking it’ll reach her you know.
CHALK AND CHEESE
My brother and I are complete opposites. I like to have a system in place and follow a plan. His idea of meeting in the studio at 4 pm means maybe 6 or 7 pm. Matching our schedules is a nightmare (laughs).
I follow football more than cricket. I am a huge Bayern Munich fan. I own their jerseys and the works. I also love the German national football team. Going to see a game is definitely on my wish list. I play FIFA on the PlayStation and that makes me happy!
I used to do a lot of drawing and painting as a kid. I have lost touch now, but I love art. I follow Tanaka Tatsuya on Instagram. When I see the art that he puts up on his own his account, it gives me peace — even if he’s portraying something that might have aggression, the work still reveals a certain kind of calm. The way people feel about songs, I feel like that about art.
HITTING A HIGH NOTE
If I had to pick two people whose career choices and success I am grateful for, I’d say A.R. Rahman and Priyanka Chopra.
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My day doesn’t officially start until about 3 pm. The morning is spent working out, doing riyaz and meditating. My resolution for the year is simple: I’d like to make time to do more of what makes me happy.
Styling: Eshaa Amiin
Location courtesy: Renaissance Mumbai Convention Centre Hotel
Hair: Arun Kumar Sharma
Make-up: Baba Chaursiya
Artist PR: Tree-Shul Media Solutions