A Close Look at India’s Love for International Pop

Did you know there was once a Danish band that was more popular in India than in Denmark? The group Michael Learns to Rock shot to fame with singles like “The Actor” and “That’s Why You Go Away” in the ’90s. At the height of their success, they made tour stops in the Indian cities of Bengaluru and Chennai. The band was so well received that they amassed an enormous cult following across the country for years to come. 

“They got into cabs and went to the airport in Copenhagen—living the normal life. And when they landed in India, there was a huge entourage that greeted them with garlands, and limousines carried them to their hotels,” Padmanabhan Nurani, Spotify’s Head of Artists and Label Marketing India, tells For the Record. 

It’s just a mere glimpse of how the country’s music fans have long embraced local and global artists. 

Home to countless Bollywood stars, along with raga virtuosos, indie talent, and more, India has been a vibrant hub for international music and a top tour destination for world-class acts like Led Zeppelin and Bruce Springsteen. Sneha Singh, Head of Music Culture and Editorial India, credits the rich diversity of the country’s music landscape for this broad acceptance of global sounds.

“Because we have so many languages, it’s just ingrained in us to take in and to respect each other’s cultures,” Singh tells For the Record. “Acceptance is fairly easy and this means we listen to all kinds of music.”

The robust and rich content on Spotify India ranges from locally curated favorites like Top Hits Hindi and Punjabi 101 to global playlists like Today’s Top Hits and New Music Friday. Now, with the recent addition of the Warner Music Group catalog in India, listeners are also streaming the latest tracks from global stars such as Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, and Cardi B, and rock fans have access to entire discographies of Coldplay, Linkin Park, and The Doors, among others.

In the first two weeks of the catalog’s availability in India, Ed Sheeran and Dua Lipa were the top two most-searched Warner Music artists, respectively. The most-searched-for tracks wereDance Monkey by Australian songwriter Tones And I, followed by Roddy Ricch’s infectious hip-hop anthem “The Box.” 

Nurani says it’s no surprise that Ed Sheeran comes up tops for the nation of 1.3 billion people. Sheeran has performed in India twice. In 2017 he greeted his audience with a respectful “namaste” (“hello” in Hindi) before performing dressed in a blue silk kurta, the traditional shirt worn across South Asia. TheShape of Youstar’s choice of wardrobe made national headlines, and the song played on the radio for the next two years. 

Like Sheeran, Dua Lipa is also a regular in India and shows her appreciation for local culture whenever she performs there. Before playing in Mumbai last year, Dua Lipa took some time to meet with Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan and even picked up a few of his dance moves. Khan’s post to Instagram fed a local media frenzy online and delighted fans everywhere—such is the interest in “Bollywood meets Hollywood.”

To editorial expert Singh, these cross-cultural collaborations are all a natural expression of how pop culture works in this diverse, music-savvy country. “We have borrowed from the West, and the other way around,” she says. “Music has always been about inspiration and evolving it for the listener’s ears.”

Looking for a deep dive into Indian pop? Start with Spotify’s Hot Hits India playlist and keep going with New Music Friday India and This Is Arjit Singh.