To his Bollywood fans, Armaan Malik is known as the prince of romance.
But with more than two billion global streams, 17 million followers on social media, and a musical résumé that could rival the likes of Justin Bieber or Ariana Grande, the 25-year-old singer-songwriter might just as easily be called India’s prince of pop.
Born into a family of Bollywood composers, Malik’s journey to stardom began as a child listening to the records his famous father, Daboo Malik, would play at home.
“My dad always used to play music around the house,” he explains. “I lived in a music madhouse! If we weren’t banging on the dining table trying to make a beat, we were walking around with a recorder, recording tunes.”
Deciding early on that he didn’t want to follow family tradition by becoming a composer, Malik opted instead to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter.
“I don’t think I was cut out to do composing,” he admits. “That’s not my thing. I became the first singer in the family instead.”
Malik began performing at the age of eight, and was given his first taste of fame a year later when he appeared as a contestant on the Indian talent show Sa Re Ga Ma Pa L’il Champs. Similar to shows such as American Idol and The Voice, Malik finished in eighth place – and realised he still had a lot of work to do.
“I learned that I needed to be a better singer, for sure,” he says.
He also acknowledges his lack of confidence on stage at that time. “When you’re singing in front of a studio audience it’s a different ball game altogether,” he explains. “I was only nine and I hadn’t experienced that before.
“But after that show I was a much more confident performer. I became very open and could face people in an audience, and that whole stage fright thing went away.”
At 18, Malik made his debut as a playback singer – recording songs which are later mimed by actors in films. The song Tumko Toh Aana Hi Tha, which featured in the Hindi-language film Jai Ho, was composed by his brother Amaal and performed by Armaan. It propelled him into the limelight.
“That was my breakthrough,” Malik says. “That’s when my journey began and my career as a professional singer started.”
He has since performed in more than 200 shows around the world and is the youngest singer of Indian origin to have performed at London’s Wembley Arena.
And remarkably, he can perform songs in almost a dozen different languages – even though he actually only speaks two: Hindi and English.
So how does someone who only speaks two languages manage to sing in more than 10?
“I don’t know,” he says.
“It started when I was a jingle singer around the age of nine. A producer asked me if I could try doing the same thing I just did, but in another language. They played it to me and because my ears are very sharp I heard how they were pronouncing it – and then I just reproduced it.”
Some of Malik’s biggest releases include the Hindi songs Bol Do Na Zara, live show favourite Main Hoon Hero Tera and the Telugu song Butta Bomma, which currently has 465 million views on YouTube.
Firmly entrenched in Bollywood culture, Malik nonetheless regards English music as his true passion.
Growing up, he listened to the likes of Bruno Mars, Michael Bublé, Frank Sinatra, Chris Brown and many other English-speaking artists. But he cites US singer-songwriter John Mayer as key to shaping his artistry.
“I think he’s the complete artist,” Malik says. “I saw a video of him performing his song Neon, where he had no band, no supporting musicians – it was just him, on a guitar, and that’s it. He killed it.
“It made me say, ‘Wow, I want to be an artist that is so complete in himself and there’s nothing else required to produce music and just put it out.'”
UK artist Jay Sean, a pioneer of Bhangra-R&B fusion, is another figure who has made a huge impact on Malik.
“I’ve followed his career since he was in the Rishi Rich Project,” he says. “Being one of the first Indian origin artists to break into the Western mainstream music scene was very inspiring for so many people.”
In 2011, Malik received a scholarship to attend the summer programme at Berklee College of Music in Boston, which he completed with honours. It marked a turning point.
“When I got back from Berklee, I told my dad I really wanted to pursue English music and put out a pop record,” he says.
Initially his father was against the idea, telling Malik there was not a big market for English music in India.
“He told me to concentrate on Indian music and Bollywood for a few years – create a fan base here, become a big artist in India and then use it to leverage a career in English music.”
Taking his father’s advice, Malik developed that loyal fan base (they call themselves the Armaanians) and has now transitioned into the world of global pop music.
Signed to Arista Records, he released his first three English-language songs this year, including the recent infectious “earworm” How Many, which begs the question – how many chances should you give a failing relationship?
In addition to his music, Malik has also had success as a voice actor.
In 2019, he voiced Aladdin in the Hindi-dubbed version of Disney’s live-action remake. In the same year, he provided the singing voice of Simba in the Hindi version of The Lion King.
He also lent his voice to BBC Radio 1’s adaptation of Slumdog Millionaire, as Salim.
Looking ahead, Malik is eyeing up some high-profile collaborations with the likes of Charlie Puth, Anne-Marie and DJ Zedd.
He wants fans to see his versatility – and the full scope of his musicality.
“I’ve always yearned to be an artist who puts out his own music, where the artist himself is contributing to the lyrics, to the sound and to the production,” he says.
“So with my English pop music and the music that’s going to follow in 2021, that’s my main aim. I want my music to be an extension of me and I want the fans to see that side of me.”