With Neha Kakkar's 'Dilbar' topping YouTube Songs' survey, a round-up of Indian acts who've hit Billboard charts

Amit Gurbaxani

Jul,28 2018 12:51:13 IST

It’s relatively harmless in the overall context of fake news but it remains one of my pet peeves: incorrect reports about Indian artists hitting the Billboard charts. After repeatedly seeing such articles over the last few months, I’ve decided to clarify, for whoever is interested in this sort of thing, just how many acts have reached that hallowed US survey.

You might have read that composer-producer Tanishk Bagchi’s recreation of ‘Dilbar’ from the 1999 Hindi film Sirf Tum, sung by Neha Kakkar, Dhvani Bhanushali and Ikka, recently reached No.3 on the Billboard chart. However, the YouTube charts are not quite the same as the Billboard charts, which rank the top songs and albums in the US.

Understandably though, there’s a bit of confusion. YouTube publishes a global chart as well as country-specific charts for over 40 nations that list the most viewed artists, songs and videos across the world and in those territories. Now interestingly, Billboard runs YouTube’s global Top Songs chart, and not the US chart, on its website. Adding to the confusion is that there are some differences between the rankings of titles on YouTube’s own Top Songs chart and Billboard’s YouTube Songs chart. For example ‘Dilbar’ is actually at the top of YouTube’s global Top Songs chart, but falls to No.8 on Billboard’s version. This is probably because of the differences in their individual chart criteria and timelines (YouTube refreshes its charts every Sunday, Billboard every Wednesday).

You may have read that Dilbar recently reached No.3 on the Billboard chart. However, the YouTube charts are not quite the same as the Billboard charts. YouTube screengrab

You may have read that Dilbar recently reached No.3 on the Billboard chart. However, the YouTube charts are not quite the same as the Billboard charts. YouTube screengrab

Like I wrote a couple of months ago, plenty of Indian songs have appeared on YouTube’s global charts; last week, these included ‘Laung Laachi’ by Mannat Noor, ‘Tera Ghata’ by Gajendra Verma and ‘Prada’ by Jass Manak, which were on both YouTube’s 100-position countdown and Billboard’s 25-tune tally. But as any chart aficionado will tell you, only two Billboard charts really matter: the all-genre 200 albums and Hot 100 songs lists. For the record, it’s the country-specific version of the YouTube Top Songs chart, which sadly does not feature any Indian tracks, that gets factored into the Hot 100 survey. (Video streams do not count towards the 200 albums chart.)

These intricacies aside, the somewhat inaccurate news reports about Indian acts indicate that the six-decades old Billboard charts carry a certain cache that the much younger YouTube charts have yet to acquire.

Whether this has got to do with the influence the US continues to hold over global pop culture tastes is open to debate but even K-Pop phenomenon BTS once stated that hitting the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the 200 Albums, both US-based achievements, are among their goals (both of which they’ve subsequently achieved). Even artists in the UK talk about “breaking the US”, which remains the largest music market in the world.

Speaking of the UK, a much larger contingent of artists of Indian origin have scored Top 10 hits on that country’s main singles chart, including Apache Indian (‘Boom Shack-A-Lack’, No.5, 1993), Babylon Zoo (‘Spaceman’, No.1, 1996), White Town (‘Your Woman’, No.1, 1997), Cornershop (‘Brimful of Asha’, No.1, 1997) and Punjabi MC (‘Mundian To Bach Ke’, No.5, 1998). The British-Indian with the most UK top 10 hits is Jay Sean, who has four and also holds the honour of being the only desi to hit No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100, with the single ‘Down’ featuring Lil Wayne. ‘Down’ hit No.3 in the UK, a ranking matched by AR Rahman’s ‘Jai Ho (You Are My Destiny)’ featuring the Pussycat Dolls.  

Going back to the US, the Billboard charts are now considered important enough by the public at large that there’s a question on Quora asking ‘Can an Indian make his way into the Billboard charts?’ As one of the replies rightly pointed out Punjabi singer Babbu Maan got to the top 10 of the World Music Albums list in 2013.

In the quest for accurate reportage, I’ve compiled by chart, all the Indian artists that have ranked on a Billboard survey. The publication does not mention an act’s country of origin in its charts so the data is not searchable. I’m sure I’ve missed out a few but after putting together the information, I’ve concluded that if an Indian artist has won a Grammy, then they’re likely to have hit a Billboard chart. For instance, composer-producer Ricky Kej’s Grammy-winning Winds of Samsara, recorded with flautist Wouter Kellerman, peaked at No.1 on the New Age Albums in 2014. Here are his counterparts:

Hot 100

AR Rahman is the only Indian artist to have reached the Top 20 of Billboard’s most popular chart. The Pussycat Dolls-featuring remix of Rahman’s ‘Jai Ho!’ from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack, named ‘You Are My Destiny’ in brackets, peaked at No.15 in 2009. That same week, ‘O…Saya’ from the OST, credited as a duet between MIA and Rahman, got to No.93. The parent album, incidentally, reached No.4 on the album chart. Long before Rahman, producer Biddu hit the singles chart with his instrumental disco project the Biddu Orchestra whose ‘Summer Of ’42’ warmed up to No.57 in 1975 and medley ‘I Could Have Danced All Night/Jump For Joy’ stepped up to No.72 in 1976. Although not credited as a lead artist, he also produced the No.1 ‘Kung Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas in 1974.

200 Albums

Sitar player Ravi Shankar tallied five entries on the prestigious album chart: In New York and West Meets East hit No.148 and No.161 respectively way back in 1967; At The Monterey International Pop Festival and In San Francisco reached No.43 and No.140 in 1968; and Shankar Family & Friends got to No.176 in 1975. In between he also peaked as high as No.2 with The Concert For Bangla Desh in 1969 though he wasn’t credited as a lead artist.

India was clearly groovy in the 1970s. The Biddu Orchestra’s self-titled effort hit No.170 in 1976 while Shakti, the fusion band helmed by British jazz guitarist-composer John McLaughlin that included table player Zakir Hussain, violin player L Shankar, ghatam player Vikku Vinayakram and mridangam player Ramnad Raghavan, reached No.194 with their self-titled debut in 1976 and No.168 with sophomore set A Handful of Beauty in 1977.

Also making his chart debut this decade was Western classical music conductor Zubin Mehta whose Gustav Hoist: The Planets orbited to No.175 in 1972 and Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind to No.130 in 1978. In the 1990s, Mehta hit No.35 with The Three Tenors In Concert in 1991 and No.4 with The 3 Tenors in Concert 1994 in 1994.  

AR Rahman was part of the supergroup SuperHeavy whose debut album flew to No.26 in 2011, and contained the single ‘Miracle Worker’, which worked itself to No.14 on the Triple A Songs (or Adult Alternative) chart that same year. Shankar’s daughter Anoushka Shankar’s Traces of You got to No.185 in 2013. Would it be fair to exclude half-sister Norah Jones from this list because she isn’t identified as Indian? Here’s the link of impressive chart history if you think it’s not. Though in that case, we might even have to include Queen.

Jazz Albums

Thanks to John McLaughlin, a number of Indian instrumentalists have graced Billboard’s jazz charts over the last few decades. Remember Shakti, which comprised McLaughlin, Hussain and Vinayakram along with “special guest” bansuri player Hariprasad Chaurasia, peaked at No.34 with their eponymous album in 1999. Though several Indian musicians such as Hussain, L Shankar and Trilok Gurtu have played sessions on McLaughlin’s releases, Floating Point, which reached No.25 in 2008, stands out for it was recorded by a rhythm section that included keyboardist Louiz Banks, percussionist Sivamani, and drummer Ranjit Barot and had appearances by saord player Debashish Bhattacharya, flautists Shashank Subramaniam and Naveen Kumar, vocalist Shankar Mahadevan, mandolin player U Rajesh, and sitar player Niladri Kumar.

McLaughlin’s current band, the 4th Dimension, which includes Barot, peaked at No.27 with To The One in 2011, No.25 with Now Here This in 2012, No.14 with Black Light in 2015 and No.7 with Live at Ronnie Scott’s in 2017. Zakir Hussain’s album with saxophonist Charles Lloyd and drummer Eric Harland, Sangam, climbed to No.42 on this chart in 2006. And while people might debate whether it can be called jazz, santoor player Rahul Sharma and saxophonist Kenny G.’s album Namaste met the No.8 spot in 2012. The title track hit No.1 on Smooth Jazz Songs. Also worthy of inclusion in this category is The John McLaughlin Trio, one-third of which was percussionist Trilok  Gurtu; the group hit No.5 with Que Algeria in 1992 on the now-discontinued Contemporary Jazz Albums chart.

World Albums

Carnatic classical violinist L Shankar’s Pancha Nadai Pallavi, released under the name Shankar, peaked at No.9 in 1990 on this chart. Sitar player Ali Akbar Khan’s Journey got to No.5 in 1991 and his Garden of Dreams to No.7 in 1994. Mohan veena player Vishwa Mohan Bhatt’s Grammy-winning album with guitarist Ry Cooder, A Meeting By The River met the No.4 position in 1993. Zakir Hussain hit No.6 on this chart twice: with Zakir and the Rhythm Experience in 1993 and his Grammy-winning Global Drum Project, recorded with percussionist Mickey Hart, in 2007. He also beat a path to No.12 as part of Shakti’s The Best Of Shakti in 1994.

Four albums by Ravi Shankar made the World Albums chart top ten: Chants Of India peaked at No.3 in 1997, Collaborations at No.3 in 2010, Full Circle: Carnegie Hall 2000 at No.9 in 2001 and In Hollywood, 1971 at No.3 in 2016. Anoushka Shankar has scored the most entries of all Indian acts, with six top tens, including one chart topper. Rise rose to No.2 in 2005; Breathing Under Water, her collaborative album with percussionist Karsh Kale, swam to No.6 in 2007, Traveller journeyed to No.2 in 2012, Traces of You to No.1 in 2013, Home to No.3 in 2015 and Land of Gold to No.5 in 2016. Karsh Kale’s most recent solo album Up debuted and peaked at No.12 in 2016. Rahul Sharma and Kenny G’s Namaste, greeted the No.2 position in 2012, and, as mentioned above, Punjabi singer Babbu Maan’s Talaash (In Search of Soul) found its way to the No.9 spot in 2013, the same week Pritam’s soundtrack to Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, which peaked at No.5. was also in the top 15. A whole bunch of Bollywood soundtracks and some Tamil OSTs have appeared on this chart, from Rahman’s Rockstar (No.8) in 2011 to Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat (No.11) this year.

Classical Albums

By Classical, they mean Western Classical and it’s no surprise that Zubin Mehta has been a frequent visitor to this chart, scoring nine top 40 hits including five top tens between 1994 and 2016. Zakir Hussain’s collaboration with banjo player Bela Fleck, bassist Edgar Mayer and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, The Melody of Rhythm peaked at No.3 on the survey in 2009 and surprisingly, Anoushka Shankar’s Land of Gold got to No.3 in 2016.

Dance Club Songs

This chart, which ranks the most played tracks in nightclubs across the US, has helped a handful of Indian artists make the news. Priyanka Chopra’s Pitbull collaboration ‘Exotic’ peaked at No.12 in 2013; electronic music DJ-producer Aneesh Gera’s duet with British vocalist Lisa Williams, ‘Flashback Rewind’, at No.24 in 2015; and singer-composer Arko’s ‘Reeva’ at No.45 in 2017. Chopra also climbed the more broad-based Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart, which measures airplay, sales and streams. ‘Exotic’ got No.16 in 2013 and her remake of Bonnie Raitt’s ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ to No.28 in 2014.

Amit Gurbaxani is a Mumbai-based journalist who has been writing about music, specifically the country's independent scene, for nearly two decades. He tweets @TheGroovebox

Updated Date: Jul 29, 2018 13:51 PM