It’s all the buzz these days- Odisha girl Sriya Lenka making history as the first Indian K pop idol courtesy her recent induction to the renowned girl group Blackswan as its fifth member. And indeed it should be, all the hype that the 18 year old Indian has managed to generate by breaking through into what is inarguably one of the globally most dominant popular cultural expressions of today only establishes further the tremendous craze that the K pop scene has been accounting for since the turn of the millennium. With her Gen Z identity to back her up, Lenka encompasses indeed the true blue infectious spirit making her just the perfect match to gratify the country’s legion of K pop fans’ wholehearted keenness for an idol they can claim and celebrate as their very own.
In its own the K pop industry is one validating of its stature in continuance of quite some time now but specifically picking up pace over the past half a decade or so, so that it easily assumes today a place of prominence all over as one of the most ‘favorite’ of cultural phenomena. Penetrating deep into the psyche of a world audience not just vibing with the definite appeal and enigma of this mode of the artistic but also obsessing as much over the idols themselves, adoring them and cheering them on while going all gaga over every aspect of their image, from talent and skill of course to looks and personality as well is this spectacular revealing of the K pop identity that undoubtedly makes for an experience unlike any other encountered in this spectrum of flair and finesse.
For Sriya Lenka specifically, the embodying in exactness of the measure of what sums up the very K pop unfurling is even more stupendous. Within a mere couple of years, she had secured it all. From auditioning for the first time during the COVID 19 induced lockdown to grabbing the headlines when the pandemic isn’t really over yet, the story of Lenka is one as capturing of attention as the genre in which she is all geared up to make her mark. And yet, or perhaps more expectedly, Lenka’s journey is of course one of grit and determination that she dared to undertake even in the face of considerable challenges and struggles.
Trained in Indian classical dance as well as a myriad of other forms but an avid dancer for as long as she can remember, it is Sriya’s passion indeed for all things creative that spurred in her the ambition of setting out to be a part of the alluring world of K pop. Her interest in music as well as her enthusiasm for yoga only prodded her further to finally achieve what she terms as a ‘dream come true’. Devoid at time of the finances and resources but never for once left without the support of her family and friends and mentors and her own dedication as well and Sriya Lenka managed to eke out a path for herself that saw her emerge as one of the four finalists and the only Asian among the lot in the first round of the international auditions held by Blackswan’s music label DR Music in 2020.
As she touched down on South Korean land in its capital city of Seoul for an intense 5 month training programme, Sriya already had hundreds and thousands of excited K pop fans rooting for her back home. Aware indeed of the enormity of what she could possibly make happen, the young entertainer put her heart and soul in honing her skills across all aspects that command equal attention on the K pop platform. That itself by no means is an achievement any less special, given the immensely gruelling schedule that the K pop industry is known to swear by as its ideal in ultimate excellence that is what has made it the globally unique identity that it is today. But equally commendable should be Lenka’s endeavor in kickstarting this process of what leads her on closer to a dream she has been pursuing ever since having been introduced to the K pop charm by a friend with Exo’s ‘Growl’ on play.
Self learning across most renditions of ultimately what mattered through videos and online platforms is what has for the most part helped India’s first ever K pop idol shape and mould herself into inching closer to being one among the idols she looks up to. And while this distinction of being the first ever from the country to gain foothold in an industry not showing any signs of slowing definitely is a huge deal for Sriya Lenka and Indian K pop fans and enthusiasts alike, the teenage sensation isn’t exactly the first when it comes to charting out the Hallyu route from this part of the world.
Prior to Lenka even making forays into the auditioning stage of what would turn out to be a real dive into her dreams, it had been another teenage yet girl who managed to make waves with her Korean debut. Among the top three winners at the K-POP World festival 2016 in South Korea’s Changwon had been Priyanka Mazumdar from the north east Indian state of Assam as the first ever from the country to have achieved the feat. With the Excellent Vocal Award in her kitty, the prospects were bright enough for the young girl to venture into the mainstream K pop culture and she finally made her debut in 2019 with the Z- Girls Group through their first single What Are You Waiting For.
But for all claims of the ‘first ever’ from India to trailblaze the Korean cultural scene as idol resting most prominently upon Sriya Lenka and lesser knowingly on Priyanka, it hasn’t also been just a case of the ‘girl power’ carving a niche out for this part of the Asian identity in South Korea. Equally notable would be the feat of Uttar Pradesh lad Siddhant Arora who debuted about the same time as Priyanka with the Z- boys group but along a trail remarkably distinct. For unlike Priyanka and Sriya who made it to the limelight by applying for auditions and winning competitions, Sid instead was invited to audition for Z Boys driving on his by then already popular music videos on YouTube. Whatever that might be though, Arora too barged into this scene of the Korean craze in 2019 with the group’s first music video No Limits raking up a whopping 2.3 million views in a month.
Despite all such non hiding in plain sight of what had manifested as an Indian presence in the K pop realm in all definiteness of it by 2019, it still is this recent 2022 happening of Sriya Lenka emerging to become the newest addition to Blackswan alongside Brazilian Gabriela Dalcin that has commanded attention as being the Indian unfurling across the globally celebrated cultural phenomenon that is the Korean wave. And not without any validness as well. For while both Priyanka Mazumdar and Siddhant Arora had by virtue of talent and hard work made their respective debuts, their identity did not exactly align with the mainstream K pop reference. It instead had been the Z pop ‘alternative’ that they alluded to, at least in their international beginnings in the entertainment industry.
An initiative inspired from the K- pop industry, Z pop essentially concentrated on creating a multi ethnic pop group that would operate on the same stage of the cultural as its parent but present itself as a more inclusive, worldwide entity pursuing global representation. That itself does not make Z pop any less pertaining to the mass fame of the Hallyu wave but as being a venture strictly resisting from having any Korean national as its member it is not considered the ‘truest’ form of the K pop expression. And that explains perhaps why despite having not one but two Indian youngsters making it matter with their respective Z pop affiliations it still is Lenka’s induction into the more popular K pop icon of the recently rebranded Blackswan that has made her covet reputation as being the first ever Indian gaining recognition in this definitive arena of world entertainment.
Dwelling thus on this new found identity that has seen entire K pop fans of the country erupt in joy both in anticipation of having an idol to root for from amongst themselves as well as perhaps daring to see for themselves that dream in breaking into the Korean craze and Sriya Lenka’s feat is one unparalleled indeed. As one of the new members of a group iconic enough in its origin dating back to well over a decade, having started out as Rania in 2011 to becoming BP Rania some years later and ultimately assuming its now popular expression as the Blackswans in 2020 with members each harbouring the pride of different national identities, this for sure is one of the most distinct K pop experiences to partake of for a debutante like Sriya Lenka having no such similar past professional portfolio whatsoever. And to make it completely on her own merit and dedication while dealing also with a host of associated challenges, whether it be of money and means or the incongruency of many a cultural factors like language and region et al is what for sure makes this proud youngster from India stand out as being the first in a field that entices all but embraces only the best from the lot.
To the beginning of her journey and the successful continuation of it, here’s wishing our very own idol much luck and of course all the love in that signature Korean finger heart style.