Famous for revolutionising the Punjabi hip-hop scene in India, Hirdesh Singh, popularly known as Yo Yo Honey Singh, started his journey as a music producer in Punjab. With the deep desire to take sounds from his hometown to every nook and corner of India, the artiste has delivered generation-defining hits and singles devoted to mainstream Bollywood movies and beyond. After his five-year-long hiatus, the artiste is back to doing what he loves most, but this time with the hopes of giving the audience a brand-new music revolution. In a conversation with Khaleej Times, the singing sensation, who was recently in Dubai, opens up about his struggles, the ever-evolving game of music streaming, his advice to the next-gen and his future plans of collaborating with talent in the city.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

Q) You’ve been in the city for five days. How has your Dubai experience been so far?

Dubai is like home for me. I've been coming here since 2008, when everything was just getting started. I was just a music director in Punjab at the time. I even shot my first solo music video in 2011, for Brown Rang, which then went on to be a global hit and gave me a chance to open up the doors for Punjabi music to the world. They’ve developed a whole new world out here. Wherever I go, Amsterdam or Los Angeles, everyone is just talking about Dubai. I’m also shooting my upcoming music video here next month and I'm dancing in it. It's going to blow your mind.

Q) You recently collaborated with Middle Eastern artist Tahmina Arsalan for a song called Ashk. How has the region’s music inspired you as a singer?

I have a huge fascination towards Arabic and Farsi music. I'm a big fan of Maya Diab; hopefully we will collaborate soon. We're in talks. Not even Jennifer Lopez or Shakira, she's the Madonna of Arabic music. Tahmina is my friend, we’ve been wanting to collaborate for a long while. I thought why not do a fusion with Punjabi and Farsi music. They understand sadness with a lot of depth. It’s getting a good response. I'm a big fan of Emirati music. I want to collaborate with Muhammad Ramadan, Saad Lamjarred, who recently did Guli Mata.

Next year, the biggest collaboration album of this decade is coming, which is the sequel of my 12-year-old album International Villager, with a lot of Indian and international collaborations. It's a huge project, a 20-song album. Because I'm making music for International villager 2 after five years, Honey 3.0 is a music of different music producers, I'm just writing and singing. But after Honey 3.0 album launch, I got lots of feedback that we want your Yo Yo Honey Singh sound, we want your production; so I'm producing for International Villager 2. And it's a tough job and I'm going to give them a sound they've never heard before.

Your recent album was called Honey 3.0. Who is Honey 3.0?

It's my third version because when I started, I started as Honey Singh. Then, I became Yo Yo Honey Singh and then I disappeared for a bit because I got sick. Now, I'm back again but in a different version. I’m struggling to achieve the level, the prestige I had before. The struggle is still on. That’s why we came up with Honey 3.0. We’ve got mixed response. Some fans like it, some are saying it's not the same Yo Yo Honey Singh. So, I’m struggling with it. I’m struggling with myself. I'm exploring myself because I haven't made music for five years. I was sick at home, not watching any television, not listening to the radio, not in touch with what’s happening. And the world has moved on. I don't want to do the same thing I was doing in 2014, I want to find something new within me. I’m just reviving myself, travelling, meeting new people, new artistes, new energies, Gen-Zs. I want to understand Gen-Z.

The word ‘comeback’ usually has a lot of pressure denoted to it. How do you manage your own expectations and detach from the noise?

Very honestly, I don't want a comeback. I want a revolution. There's a difference. I was never gone. Yes, I was not out there in the market or in the public eye, but my songs were still playing on the radios, in the clubs. I just had an India tour, even though I've not had a hit song in years. The only hit I consider is Saiyaan Ji, which came out two years ago. In the past nine years, I've failed to deliver hit songs. But I'm still doing tours. Why? Because people want to listen to the old music. So, I never really went away. But this time, the struggle is to give them a revolution, not a comeback.

Gen-Zs love discovering new music through Instagram reels and TikTok videos. The way music is being consumed now is drastically different and a lot of artistes promote their music through social media. What’s your take on ‘trending music’ and ‘viral tracks’?

It’s good but as far as the music is concerned, tell me very honestly, if there’s any one song you remember that has been playing in the parties for a year. These songs come on reels. They are trending for two months, then they disappear. The artistes disappear. It's a big difference between a hit song and a superstar. You can have plenty of hit songs but you're not a superstar. You have just two hit songs and you can be a superstar, there's a big difference between the two.

So, what piece of advice would you like to give young artistes?

Brothers and sisters, please do not be a music-streaming artist. It will give you hits, it will give you the numbers, but it will not make you a superstar. Be a visual star. Make your visuals big. Then you can establish yourself and have longevity.

I recently requested one of my favourite artistes to make music videos because he is a huge streaming artist at the moment, a big revolution, but he doesn’t make music videos. His name is Shubh. He's like my younger brother. I told him I want to see him performing. I want to see him in massive music videos because he's a brand and I want to see him grow like that. Not just his sound and his voice, him as a personality as well. I'm a little old now, I’ve turned 40. I’ve been in this industry for 17 years, so this is my only suggestion to all the young artistes. Be a superstar, not just a streaming star.

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