Lady Gaga Romances India

The Wall Street Journal
Media & Marketing
JUNE 1, 2011

By
LEE HAWKINS

Lady Gaga talks to WSJ’s Lee Hawkins in an exclusive interview about her plans to break into Bollywood-crazed India. She also discusses the unique marketing concepts used to sell her album, “Born This Way,” which launched last week.

The “Fame Monster” is attacking India.

Lady Gaga and her team have launched a formal strategy to spread her brand in the booming, Bollywood-crazed India market. The team has tapped the founders of Desi Hits, a New York-based media company that produces and distributes entertainment content targeted at South Asians all over the world, to help build her brand, particularly in India but also in the large South Asian diaspora.

“The reason I’m going to India now is because I can,” said Lady Gaga, who has the nickname “Fame Monster” because of her candid admission of wanting to spread her music and name across the globe. “I didn’t have the money or the resources before to travel and bring all of my things with me and reach an entire new territory of fans.”

The push into India is part of the massive marketing and social-media machine the Lady Gaga team has created around the release of her third album, “Born This Way.” The campaign includes partnerships with companies including Starbucks Corp. and online giveaways of remixes, videos and tracks. It has inspired companies such as Amazon.com Inc. and Best Buy Co. to find creative ways to leverage the popularity of Gaga’s music to their benefit. For example, Amazon.com sold the album for just 99 cents to promote its new online music storage service, a move that led to such strong demand that Amazon’s servers were overloaded.

“She’s expanding her base,” said Troy Carter, Lady Gaga’s manager. “In the last album cycle we toured a lot of places in the world, but there were still some territories that we weren’t able to go and spend time and really work. India was one of those places.”

‘The reason I’m going to India now is because I can,’ says Lady Gaga. ‘I didn’t have the money before to travel and bring all of my things with me.’

GAGA

Lady Gaga is only the latest U.S. entertainer who have turned to Desihits to help crack the India market. Others include Britney Spears, 50 Cent, Akon and Enrique Iglesias. India is an appealing target for entertainers, as it has 700 million people under the age of 30.

Desi Hits, which also has offices in the U.K. and India, promotes artists’ music on Desihits.com, links them with influential producers and DJs, and helps de-mystify the commercial culture for the artists and their record labels.

Desi Hits co-founder Anjula Acharia-Bath said that unlike in the U.S., India’s mass music industry is largely driven by the film industry, so the hit songs of the day are predominantly from the mainstream movies. If an International artist wants to penetrate ‘mass’ pop culture, she said, navigating Bollywood is essential.

Ms. Acharia-Bath arranged for Lady Gaga’s hit single “Born This Way” to be remixed by two sets of producers: The Bollywood team of Salim and Sulaiman and Culture Shock, a Canada-based band and production team. Those two remixes were released last month and are available only as videos on YouTube and Desihits.com. This week, two more South Asian-influenced remixes of her song “Judas”—mixed by Salim and Sulaiman and another popular producer, Panjabi MC— were also released on Desihits.com.

Desihits.com attracts 1.5 million unique visitors a month, mainly youths and young adults. The website generates about a half million impressions of its content a day on Facebook, and reaches a total audience of 20 million people across the Web, mobile and television platforms each month.

Desi Hits, which is run by Ms. Acharia-Bath, her husband Ranj Bath, and Arun Sandhu, who is head of content, was founded in 2006. Mr. Bath, a former Intel marketing executive with a background as a DJ, came up with the idea for the company after he posted a podcast of mainstream songs remixed with a South Asian influence. He and Mr. Sandhu created more podcasts, which were downloaded more than 250,000 times over a four-month period and eventually helped attract funding for the launch of Desihits from outside investors.

The Bollywood take on ‘Born This Way’ earned positive reviews in both the U.S. and the U.K., and has also been played on mainstream radio channels in those countries. The key, Ms. Acharia-Bath said, is understanding what works in both markets. But taking extra steps to serve South Asia specifically could help solidify stronger allegiances from South Asian fans, she said.

The head of the South Asia-focused entertainment production and distribution company that is helping pop star Lady Gaga promote her brand in India says that the singer hasn’t yet reached her potential in South Asia.

“She’s not massive in our market yet. I’m talking about India,” said Anjula Acharia-Bath, co-founder and CEO of Desi Hits!, a New York City-based company. “She has resonance in the market. Would I say she’s huge? No.”

But a visit this year, as part of an overall strategy to cultivate the South Asian market, could change that.

“She’s planning a trip to India this year. She’ll probably be doing a bunch of TV and possibly some performances,” Ms. Acharia-Bath said.

Part of the strategy to improve Lady Gaga’s reach in India involves “Bollywoodizing” Lady Gaga’s music. Desi Hits! has helped the entertainer find top Bollywood music producers to remix her songs and promoted those versions.

“There certainly are “international” artists that come in to India and do very well within niche audiences that have not penetrated Bollywood, but if you really want to get to ‘the masses’ it’s certainly instrumental,” explained Ms. Acharia-Bath. “The biggest challenge in doing this is creating a product that works for India but that doesn’t challenge the artists’ integrity in other core markets.”

It’s rare for international stars to take special notice of Indian fans, so those who do could reap real rewards from the billion-plus country. Lady Gaga has already been interviewed on Desihits.com several times, and done “meet and greets” with South Asian fans.

“Much of the international TV content around U.S./U.K. artists in India today is regurgitated from the West. It’s rarely made for [the Indian audience] unless the artist travels to India, which is infrequent,” said Ms. Acharia-Bath. “It’s important that any artist who wants to penetrate India or the diaspora speaks to that audience and, at some level, ‘localizes’ their product.”

Ms. Acharia-Bath said Lady Gaga seemed eager to penetrate the South Asian market when the two met backstage after one of her shows at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. In her dressing room, Lady Gaga summoned Ms. Acharia-Bath over for a chat and Ms. Acharia-Bath introduced her to famed Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra.

“She said, ‘I really want to sing ‘Born This Way’ in Hindi.’ Most people say, ‘I want to sing my track in Indian,’ but she had taken time to learn about the culture and the language. She knows what she wants to do. She just wants to hit every audience with her music, and given that South Asia represents one-fifth of the world’s population, it’s an audience she wants to embrace.”


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