Pop music, with a few exclusions, tends to be pesky music that gets stuck in your head when forced to do work. India in its 90s had this magnanimous arsenal of music videos featuring pop stars singing the cheesiest lyrics, awfully good-looking models, over-the-top and exaggerated theatrics. Marinated with memories, aren’t you? And for those who aren’t, be jealous. Listening to an Alisha Chinoy or an Anaida warranted you were hot and happening.
It is the first decade that we remember all the way through, the first decade we actively listened to music, the first time our personal history intersected with our interest in music. So, this will be more biased than normal. You have been warned. The remains of this pop-cultural era can be tough to dig past by just reading through. So, keep those headphones handy.
Here are few of the most popular pop acts, from way back when, in no particular order...
1. Daler Mehndi
Here’s where most North Americans familiarity with Indian pop begins and maybe even ends. 1998’s ‘Tunak Tunak’ is the only real viral sensation since, oh, roughly the existence of mosquitoes and it’s not hard to see why: who wouldn’t want to tap their feet to high-octane, untiring rhythms? This beefy gentleman dance battled clones of himself in various locations in this particular song. Trust me, no one complained. He came out with this video as a rebuttal to critics who slammed his popularity and attributed it to attractive women who featured in his prior videos.
History has it that a U.S newspaper dubbed him to be ‘bigger than the Beatles’. Now, it would be ridiculous of me to say anything more about him. Maybe, you should do a ‘balle balle’, yeah? Good for you!
See what this man can do to sane looking men? Don’t try it at home. I said no.
2. Baba Sehgal
This man gets an early mention on my list for he has a seriously first-rate name which is hard to pay attention to later. To be true, he deserves a page to himself for remaking Vanilla’s classic hit ‘Ice Ice Baby’. His song ‘Dil Dhadke’, where he is seen skirt-chasing sultry Pooja Bedi in a Salman Khan act, was apparently the first non-ghazal video to air on Doordarshan, which in those days qualified as a superpower (not kidding). He is also responsible for making me picture travelling in a red convertible. Why?
No, you can’t try this either. I know you’re too cool to stop acting like a pop star, but you have to control the urge.
And if you haven’t yet realized or known, he was the rap king of that era (I wish I was kidding here). I’ll kill my inner urge to mock him because he’s THAT funny. You better find him a good laugh.
Now, he is making nonsensical rhymes about saving the girl child. The lyrics.. you have to see for yourself.
3. Alisha Chinoy
This woman was a pint-sized wonder who skyrocketed to dizzying heights with her hypocritically named album ‘Made In India’. I don’t know a single woman of the 90s who doesn’t remember the fairy-tale format song, which featured a steamy hot Milind Soman, a cobra and a cheetah. She went on to win a Billboard award (yeah, she was THAT big) after her 5 million copies sale record.
Apart from that song, most seem to be the same tones rehashed again and again. I hate the fact that they called her India’s Madonna though because she never awakened the inner-pedo-demons of many hapless forty-something men, like Madonna used to. She was more like, okay, have a look:
4. Lucky Ali
If you weren’t a Lucky Ali fan, then my friend you are missing the crucial ‘romantic’ gene and should be put in a test tube and studied. At that time, his videos and music were nothing less than a whirlwind of fresh air. You could find him roaming like a nomad, searching for love in stunningly exotic locales in most of his videos which promised a passionate storyline. He struck gold with his number ‘O Sanam’ which remains of the most iconic songs till date.
The huskiness of his gorgeous voice was the type that could stir your otherwise frozen heart and make you want to lose yourself in the arms of your loved one. (stop the waterworks if you don’t have someone, there’s always ice-cream.)
5. Falguni Pathak
Okay, Gujjus. Calm the eff down. The queen of your tastes is here. This woman who closely resembles a snowball is what the Gujjus know as Santa Claus. She is also responsible for the ‘Dandia’ season in India which is the socially acceptable version of Sunburn to some fellow Indians. Apart from that, she has a melodious voice which can be easily confused with that of some bird singing in your neighborhood. (yeah, she be that sweet a voice).
Pretty much everyone listened and dance to her music. Teenage girls, girls in their 20s, some girls in their 30s, that guy that works at Westside, these are the type who adored her. As for me, I was busy doing all those dance steps in the mirror that went on to become signature moves. For all you men there, who have no interest in her, you might just develop some because of the fact that she casted Ayesha Takia in one of her videos.
Shantanu Mukherjee popularly known as Shaan started his indipop career with his sister Sagarika. At first blush, they seemed like a girl band thanks to Shaan’s long locks but the music they made together was catchy and upbeat like ‘Aisa Hota Hai’ and ‘Fifty Fifty’. Meanwhile, the remix trend started by Biddu was catching up and one cannot resist but talk about his ‘Roop Tera Mastana’ remix that went on to become a rage (remember the girl dropping the towel in the video? yeah, that was eye candy back then).
His other hits from that time include the very popular ‘Loveology’ which made him a wholesome treat for bubble-gummers and teenyboppers. The ones which stole most hearts are numbers like ‘Tanha Dil’ and ‘Bhool Ja’. It’s one of those songs that’ll transport you back to the moments when you first heard it.
7. Shweta Shetty
In the days when MTV was big on twanging, rapping, swivelling blondes and droopy VJs with `I-just-got-off-the-plane-from-London accents, Shweta Shetty bounded on to the music charts with her addictive `Johnny Joker' track and swinging curls. This dusky firebrand artist’s debut was as explosive as her personality and got her instant promotion into the league of popular artists of that generation. The hit maker then went on to collaborate with Bappi Lahiri and the result was ‘You Are My Chicken Fry’ (If you haven’t heard this, be rest assured you weren’t a very cool kid).
Her second album ‘Deewane Toh Deewane Hain’ came out in 1998; she stirred up the charts once again with the title track and a sexed up video, showcasing her in a skimpy outfit, flaunting those long legs.
8. Sonu Nigam
He was the only single man show for the longest time in terms of concerts and albums. His albums ‘Deewana’ and ‘Jaan’ were bumper hits, making him the most promising voice of those times. The Bollywood industry owns this man an enormous debt as he was the first indipop artist who made their big mark in playback singing. But one fine day the icon traded his brains for some extra fame and Jaani Dushman (remake) was born. Yes, believe it or not, this man had the audacity to try acting and his fans had to run far away from the theatres. But with a first name like that, we can understand his need to prove himself again and again.
Also, we demand an apology for messing up with Avicii’s ‘Levels’. We didn’t quite and never will, understand why you’d do such desperate things one after the other. It’s not cool, get it?
You know Hindrock? No? Well, these Delhi boys came up with their own version of rock music that incorporated various western elements and created some zangy, snippety-snap music. Dr. Palash Sen with his band produced some of the finest tunes and lyrics of this indi-pop age. Their songs had the freshness of the ghaats, flow of the rivers and soul of an average Indian. Their songs ‘Maeeri’ and ‘Dhoom Pichak Dhoom’ still remind us of the good old days when the lyrics used to be clean and the picture quality used to be crass.
To me, they were more than just a music band. There were like a vortex of freshness that created a much needed wave that gave Indians some real good music to lose themselves into. Here’s the best of the best:
10. Bombay Vikings
The group featuring Neeraj Shridhar as the lead voice was the one to kickstart the remake trend in Indian pop. Critics slammed him for ‘copy-pasting’ previous classics. However, he never just remixed them, but rather remade them. ‘Kya Soorat Hai’, ‘Hawa Mein Udta Jaaye’ and ‘Woh Chali’ are the most popular ones. Apparently, Lata Mangeshkar was so impressed with this Stockholm-return that she invited him to perform for her on her birthday.
Now that’s some serious appreciation.
In my money, he had the best possible music videos with the most gorgeous looking women and crisp visuals. Remember the video featuring the lady with the choco bar in the car?
Remember the bhangra video featuring a dance off between the gang of guys and gang of girls? Chances are that you remember this dapper sardar in black, wearing shades of the same color (perpetually). You might initially confuse him to be a bodyguard (a slimmer version) due to that look but his real job profile included creating fusion Bhangra - Bhangra with western influences that borrowed from reggae, rap and techno. Sukhbir has a graph taller than The Great Khali, which depicts the rate at which he churned out hits back then.
All Indian weddings owe him a lot. His hits like ‘Ishq tadpave’, ‘Gal ban gayi’ and ‘Sauda‘ are still crowd favorites at sangeet parties. His music was a rage on the streets of North India, in almost every car that wanted to show-off its batshit crazy speakers, every baraat and every other goddamn daaru party. Now, here’s re-presenting to you the song that warrants at least two (maybe four) replays. Trust me, it is awesome raised to the power of cocaine.
The 90s pop music taught us to think less, challenges us at nothing and basically makes us lesser people, if you notice the loopholes. Most of the artists have meandered off course and lost their way in the commercial jungle or are busy delivering songs for Bollywood biggies to lip-sync to. The best you can do is, feed your nostalgia and seek out that dusty cassette and, listen to the comfortably familiar whirr of hope.
Here’s hoping we brought back a wad of memories of your school/college lives. Though we’re barely scratched the pop scene here, we’re sure you are in for a YouTube adventure for the next few minutes. Youtube now, thanks us later.