The decade that went by was exciting and puzzling in equal measure. Exciting, because of the bevy of talent it brought to the fore and the new avenues that opened up. Puzzling, considering the numerous questions that we are left to stare upon and look to find answers to, as we stroll into another decade. Here is a look at some of the major trends.
The Old Block
Ilaiyaraaja is doing fewer films compared to his heydays (which itself is prolific compared to the discography of many of today’s composers – he still had 60+ film releases in the 2010’s across languages) with most of the top directors opting for more marketable names. But the septuagenarian has proved, with albums like Nandhalala (Mysskin), Azhagarsamiyin Kuthirai (Suseenthiran), Dhoni & Un Samayal Arayil (Prakash Raj), Neethaane En Ponvasantham (Gautham Menon), Megha (Karthik Rishi), Kutrame Thandanai (Manikandan) and the more recent Merkku Thodarcchi Malai (Lenin Bharathi), that he can still deliver top-notch stuff (the package includes great background scores) with the right synergies.
ARR has ventured into scripting, producing & directing his own films, and is in his own unique space, managing the domestic and international commitments. He is still the biggest draw when it comes to the saleability for the bigger projects. But one also feels that his success rate has slumped in the last few years with some of his more recent albums falling short of expectations. Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya, Enthiran & Raavanan (2010), Kadal (2012) and Maryan (2013) were some of his soundtracks that still linger on.
Harris Jayaraj, one of the biggest success stories of the 2000’s has been stuck in a time warp in the last few years. Post the success of albums like Engeyum Kaadhal (2010), Ko & 7am Arivu (2011) and Nanban (2012) Harris has been struggling to find form. His last big hit was Yennai Arindhaal (2015) that marked his reunion with Gautham Menon. There were a few hits here and there, but the magic was largely missing.
Yuvan Shankar Raja after a brief lull with some uninspiring work in the middle of the 2010’s. bounced back with some strong soundtracks at the fag end of the decade and is back in the reckoning with back to back hit soundtracks (Peranbu, Pyaar Prema Kaadhal, NGK, Nerkonda Paarvai, Super Deluxe, Hero). It is to his credit that he has managed to stay relevant keeping with the changing trends, considering he debuted way back in 1996.
Vidyasagar, the man behind some of the biggest hits of the 2000’s, started the decade with some strong hits (Ilaignan, Mandhira Punnagai & Kaavalan) but faded away into oblivion, at least from the Tamil music scene and has had only 7 releases since 2011. D.Imman, it is fair to say, has rightfully taken his place and has delivered some humongous hits. With the success of ‘Viswasam’ catapulting him to the big league (he is doing Rajnikanth’s next with Director Siva), he may be a force reckon with, in the next few years.
G.V.Prakash one feels is a victim of his acting pursuits with his last big hit album being Raja Rani (2013). Joshua Sridhar, of whom, one had massive expectations has literally vanished from the scene. Thaman.S and Devi Sri Prasad focussed their energies more on Telugu and have grown in strength. Much like Vidyasagar, Bharadwaj was largely absent from the scene. Veterans Ramesh Vinakayam & Sharreth had 1 stellar album each (Ramanujan & 180 respectively).
The Tamil industry also lost, among others, significant contributors in M.Karunanidhi, M.S.Viswanathan, T.K.Ramamoorthy, Dr.M.Balamurali Krishna, Swarnalatha, Malaysia Vasudevan, M.S.Rajeswari, Vaali and Na. Muthukumar.
The Talent Pile – Who’s next?
If the late 70’s and 80’s belonged to Ilaiyaraaja, A.R.Rahman came to the fore and made giant leaps in the 90’s and the 2000’s. M.S.Viswanathan was the torchbearer for Tamil music prior to that. Who’s next is the big question! There has been no dearth of talent but have they done enough to take over the baton from the old block yet?
Anirudh Ravichander, who debuted with ‘3’ (2011), has shed the ‘Kolaveri’ tag and has gone on from strength to strength and is one of the most sought after composers (and singer I must add) when it comes to big-ticket films. Off late he has also been enjoying a purple patch in Telugu as well, which should hold him in good stead.
Mohammed Ghibran who created a stir with his debut ‘Vaagai Sooda Vaa’ (2011) has managed to stay relevant over the years and has been Kamal Haasan’s in house composer for the last few years (Uttama Villan, Papanasam, Thoongavanam, Vishwaroopam 2). But the big-ticket film still eludes him and it will be interesting to see where he goes from here.
Santosh Narayanan has been steady since his Attakathi (2012) debut with an array of fine albums (Cuckoo, Madras, Irudhi Suttru & Gypsy) with the high point being ‘Kabali’ & ‘Kaala’. His association with Pa.Ranjith is something to look forward to as Ranjith looks to expand his horizons.
Sean Roldan, son of popular mridangam maestro Srimushnam.V.Raja Rao, debuted with the quirky ‘Vaayai Moodi Pesavum’ (2014) and has been picky about his projects focusing on quality over quantity. His work in Mundasupatti, Joker, Pa.Pandi (Dhanush’s directorial debut) and the more recent Mehandi Circus have been received well and hold a lot of promise.
Justin Prabhakaran had a fantastic closure to the 2010’s (he debuted with the 2014 film Pannaiyaarum Padminiyum) with back to back hits in Tamil (Monster, Naadodigal 2, Adutha Saattai) and a massive hit album in Telugu (Dear Comrade). This has been the most eventful year for him since debut and with his penchant for lilting melodies one does look forward to his upcoming offerings.
Govind Vasantha, founding member of the band ‘Thaikkudam Bridge’, made a splash with his compositions for ’96 (2018) and followed it up with hugely successful albums in Seethakaathi & Thambi. Though he debuted way back in 2015 (Oru Pakka Kathai) as Govind Menon, ’96 has truly been his trump card.
Darbuka Siva sprang to prominence with the massive hit ‘Enai Nokki Paayum Thotta’ thanks largely to ‘Maruvaarthai’. The fact that Gautham Menon saw potential in him and chose to collaborate with him speaks volumes of his talent and one sincerely hopes he reaches greater heights in the 2020’s.
Other composers who had prominent releases or hits or showed promise in the last decade include, Selva Ganesh, Karthik (Singer), K, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Girrish G, Vedanth Bharadwaj-Bindumalini, Hip Hop Thamizha, Leon James, Simon K King, Nivas K Prasanna, Vishal Chandrasekhar, Vivek-Mervin, Arrol Correlli & Tenma.
The Viral Bug
The word ‘viral’, at the onset of the 2010’s, meant only a visit to the Physician. But ‘Why This Kolaveri Di’ released in November 2011, changed the meaning of the word forever for Tamil film music. The song became a rage overnight and put Anirudh Ravichander (the composer, on his debut) and Dhanush (the singer) on the global map.
What started as an accidental leak is now a full-blown obsession, with every label and producer and composer wanting a share of the ‘views’ pie. X views in Y hours is the new buzzword with some artists even resorting to dubious means to fake views. With the social media buzz on the rise and hit or flop verdicts being delivered on the go, it would be interesting to see where this marketing trend goes in the 2020’s.
Single Yet Complicated
Similar to the trend in Bollywood, releasing singles is the fad and with each big-ticket film the boundaries are being pushed. Videos featuring the recording sessions, the making, the banter, etc., though staged at times, have a huge following. Lyric videos have made the songs more accessible and in many deserving cases, also brought the lyricists to the limelight. Music videos featuring the behind the scenes musicians, like the one below, is a good addition in giving well-deserved credit to the collaborators.
Recently, an already popular singer got a cover version (sung by another top singer), complete with a score performed by a philharmonic orchestra. Songs are released only as promotional material and do not even make it to the film in some cases. Even singles are getting their own teasers nowadays. the 2010’s saw the demise of the conventional soundtrack release before the film. With the new-age filmmakers opting for more realistic portrayals onscreen, the ensuing decade may prove to be a decisive one w.r.to usage or even presence of songs in movies.
The Multi-Composer Conundrum
Back in 2002, when Director Vasanth roped in 5 composers for a song each in his film ‘Yai! Nee Romba Azhaga Irukka’, it was novel and was deemed to be an one-off attempt. Cut to the close of the 2010’s and multi – composer soundtracks are the toast of the music industry. From being a composer dominated industry it is evident that the music labels are the ones calling the shots. The southern industry to its credit still relies a lot on the age-old composer-director camaraderie and there is still a fair expectation when Maniratnam signs up Rahman or Selvaraghavan or Venkat Prabhu sign up Yuvan. But with the depleting revenues from music sales and songs being looked at only as promotional material, the next decade may have a telling impact on the trend of a composer forging a long-standing association with a director. We may have seen the last of combos like Gautham Menon – Harris Jeyaraj and Pa.Ranjith – Santhosh Narayanan. This trend is fast catching up in the neighboring industries and it would be interesting to see how long the Tamil industry resists.
The Swarm of Labels and the Stream of Platforms – A Global Phenomenon
One of the most significant developments of the past decade is the plethora of music labels that have made their presence felt. These labels especially the ones with a pan India presence are also influencing the kind of music that is being released. Bollywood is seeing the impact of this with remixes ruling the roost and original compositions taking a back seat. The multi-composer setup is also an outcome of the label’s influence on the music being produced. The good part is that they are willing to go to any extent to promote the song and in turn the film. But should that be at the cost of the quality of music itself? It will also be interesting to see how the homegrown labels hold up against the global biggies
The advent of smartphones and the availability of cheap data has resulted in the lapping up of streaming platforms. Exclusive releases are the order of the day. The listeners have access to thousands of curated playlists across languages and genres and with the entry of global biggies like Spotify and Amazon the streaming war is only going to heat up in the next few years. From the artist’s perspective, this has opened up newer avenues and markets. But the sad part is that despite being the 2nd largest population and the 7 largest economy in the world, only 1% of the Indian consumers are willing to pay for the stream. 76% of the listeners in India rip music from illegal sites. With a large population of the listeners in the 16 to 34 age group and an average of 19 hours in a week spent listening to music, piracy coupled with the reluctance to pay can potentially kill the music industry, unless addressed on a war footing.
The Tamil industry has had its benefits from this global phenomenon, with Youtube listing ‘Rowdy Baby’ from Maari 2, at #7 in the most viewed music videos of 2019, globally. Many of the Composers are more comfortable straddling to the other industries. Justin Prabhakaran, Anirudh, Ghibran, Gopi Sunder and Bindumalini are some of the composers who have a solid presence in more than one language. Post Bahubali, the market has opened up for pan India releases and Bollywood composers have started foraying into regional music. Amit Trivedi recently worked in Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy. Saaho resorted to the multi-composer template with Tanishk Bagchi, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Badshah & Guru Randhawa doing one track each. This trend is here to stay and creators need to find newer ways to balance the quality of their output without losing sight of the commercial viability and competition.
Talent Hunt and the Problem of Plenty
With the plethora of television channels came the multiple talent hunt shows that brought to the fore some great talents. This also meant the composers have a larger pool of singers to choose from. Similar to the composers, most of the singers who made their mark in the 2010’s have been adept at singing in multiple languages. There was a marked improvement in the effort put in by singers to learn the lyrics and articulate better when singing a language they don’t speak. On the flip side, with more and more composers and actors going behind the mic and the availability of technology like autotune and apps like Smule and Tik Tok becoming a rage, the listeners have a completely different challenge to deal with, at times. The growth of the concert & gig circuit that has an international demand now, there are singers who earn their livelihood only doing concert shows. Beyond anything else, the 2010’s was definitive in youngsters taking up music as a full-time career option, more than ever before. There is space for everyone in this global market and the same is visible in the spurt of innovative collaborations (Smule), non-film efforts (Yaar Bharathi? Kaadhalan Bharathi) , newer venues (Mottamadi Music) and formats (Unplugged, Acapella’s, cover versions) that have been on the rise and the effort and talent shows.
The Road Ahead
The 2010’s was one of the most eventful ever and the impact it left will have a telling effect for years to come. One hopes that composer, musician and singer rights and intellectual property gains a lot more significance and better legislature and execution prevails in the decade ahead. Artists and labels need to continue innovating in order to engage and expand the subscription base thereby exploring newer revenue sources at the same time milk the existing streams better. One hopes that with the growth in Technology some of the native music forms and literature get better exposure and artists and labels support, encourage such initiatives even if they are not as rewarding as film music. Despite the challenges, there is hope that the 2020’s will result in Tamil music making a significant mark in the global map riding on the great talent and creativity on view.