It’s been a month since Hitesh Sharma (popularly known as Tesher) and Jason Derulo released their much talked about video for ‘Jalebi Baby’
. 50 million views later, Campaign India
caught up with Tesher to understand how the brand integrations with Zomato and Lyft came about, what it was like to work with pop superstar Derulo, and the role of social media for young creators like him.
Read edited excerpts and watch a video of the chat:
‘Jalebi Baby’ was only a lyrics video earlier. You released the track with an official video complete with brand integrations of Lyft and Zomato. Was the video conceptualised for these brands or vice versa, and more importantly, did it have anything to do with Zomato's IPO?
Oftentimes, you have brands coming in wanting to be a part of music videos. Zomato and Lyft were two that wanted to come on board for this one and it was great! We wanted to ensure that these brand integrations made sense and don’t take away from what we are doing. What was pitched to both, Lyft and Zomato, made sense without any intrusions in the actual video.
The video came about after my record ‘Jalebi Baby’ blew up and went viral. Jason (Derulo) said he loved my record and wanted to be a part of it, so we created the song first. Then came the time for the video; I just showed up on set and was told about the Zomato bit and I thought it was cool.
Where and how did Derulo hear the song before he contacted you?
It was on Shazam. The song was hitting number one in markets like Turkey, UAE, Algeria and Egypt, and was finding its way up in the Middle East to North Africa and into Europe, even. Jason, as any musician should, was looking at what’s hot internationally and wanted to collaborate. He loved ‘Jalebi Baby’ when he heard it. Then, he not only wanted to bring the record to the USA but also the mainstream in a big way.
Wasn’t the song was being shared a lot on TikTok and Instagram Reels before that? What’s your advice to young creators in the country who are looking at your route to success?
Yes, it was being played a lot on platforms like TikTok and that’s the reason why people were ‘Shazaming’ it!
As for advice, I’d say be authentic and don’t try being like anyone else. Be as weird and wild as you can be. It’s the most stereotypical thing that I could say but it’s true. ‘Jalebi Baby’ is a song based on a salsa melody with reggaeton elements, is inspired by Bollywood but has Arabic drums in it. It’s also in English with a bit of Hindi and some Punjabi, and doesn’t fit into any specific bucket! It was just me having fun and it was that uniqueness people responded to.
So, for any creator who is making music or even short videos, you just have to fully be yourself and enjoy the full process. Never try to make something for it to be a hit or go viral. Because when brands try creating something to go viral, it usually doesn’t. You can’t predict stuff that can go viral; the best practice is to give it your best shot and be authentic with it.
You had a lot of issues with YouTube in your early days because your content was taken down a lot. What was the reason for this?
When I was younger, I would remix Bollywood songs with Hollywood songs that I had heard. Being someone who lives in Canada and is Indian, I have both of those worlds coming at the very same time. It was natural for me to mix those cultures and when you put them on YouTube, of course, it’s taken down.
It’s funny though: now I work with Universal Music but back in the day, it was them who were the ones who got me to delete my YouTube account. Look how the tables have turned!
What was the experience of working with Derulo? Any experiences and learnings to share?
There have been a lot of learnings from him. Just watching him in front of the camera is an amazing experience, for one. He gives an incredible take every single time. He’s such a professional dancer and as soon as the take is over, he calms down and watches the shot to see what he can do better. He’s a fun guy, for sure, but when he’s working, he’s just working and is tuned in.
He gave me a lot of pointers on how to move my body and how to work with the camera in front of me. It was my first big music video, and for me, I had to learn a lot of things which he helped with.
Another track you created was ‘Pawri Hori Hai’. While the whole world was trying to use the line through moment marketing, you created a soundtrack around it. How important is it to be tuned into pop culture and release work on the back of it?
That was a funny story. My mom showed me the original video and I heard it and thought it should be a song. That idea came to me and I was late to the trend, honestly. It blew up in Pakistan first, then hit India before hitting Canada and the USA. I knew that if I had to make this song, I had to do it within the next 24 hours. For me, it was a fun thing to do; I just made the most of it and enjoyed the process.
I showed this to my mom later and she couldn’t believe I made a song out of the video!
The best part is that I made it for fun and thought people would enjoy it at that moment. But just a week ago, someone emailed me and wanted me to replace the word ‘pawri’ (party) with shaadi (wedding) for their wedding entrance. I did it for them immediately.
So, it’s amazing putting out something for fun and seeing how somebody else has a whole different thing in their head. The track is now being used as a couple’s wedding song that they’ll probably remember for the rest of their lives. It’s crazy how the internet creates moments like these!
I saw one Instagram story of you promoting a Spotify playlist that didn’t even have your song on it. Have many brands approached you to share content on your page?
It’s been pretty cool seeing brands that I have been wanting to work with, or used, coming to me to work with. One of the coolest things for me was to be able to work with TikTok directly. I always champion TikTok on what it can do for a musician because it has democratised the process completely. They loved my story of starting in my basement, making a song, putting it on TikTok, and the next thing, I’m doing a song with Jason Derulo!
Instagram Reels helped for sure, but much like TikTok’s tagline, it started on TikTok.
You don’t see YouTube come in and work with artists that have used their platform, and that’s no shame for them, but I love that TikTok leaned in. I loved the fact that we had a billboard in Los Angeles; I was told that not even Bollywood movies have been promoted on a poster that big in Hollywood. Jason and I doing the Bhangra on a huge Billboard in Hollywood is a huge moment for any South Asian. It was a cool brand partnership and one that I will cherish forever.
Any category that you'll look to turn down?
There’s one for a tobacco brand that I turned down. I don’t smoke so I can’t do something I have nothing to do with. Other than that, the brands that have come in have been pretty cool. I think brands these days are pretty smart. In this world of influencer marketing, there are so many people that they could reach out to and they do their research on who would be helpful for them.
For the majority of the brands that have reached out, I read their pitch and I can see why they have come to me and I try figuring how we can create something together.
Back to social media – you have loads of followers on Instagram and very few on Twitter. How do you approach both these mediums?
I used to have a Twitter account that got deleted because of too many copyright infringement notices from all the remixes I used to put out. Now, I don’t use Twitter that much because my phone has Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and YouTube, and I try to limit my screen time. Judging from how I was with my old Twitter account, it’s so addictive and I’m actually happy that my Twitter account isn’t super crazy and a huge commitment of time for me. To be honest I can reach all the people I need to by using my Instagram and my TikTok accounts. Twitter will grow and I’m not worried about it. You should never try limiting yourself to one or two (social media platforms) and should be spreading your voice to as many mediums as possible.
Since you’re at the start of your career, are there any dream brands in mind that you’d love to work with and create content for?
Samsung. To this day I’m the only one among my friends who owns a Samsung phone. When I did ‘Young Shahrukh’ (another of his music tracks), I had the line ‘I’d like to thank Tim Cook for taking out that headphone jack of the iPhones, now we’re only plugging it in my phones’. And it was true because I was the only one on the party bus with a phone (Samsung Galaxy S6) that could be plugged into an ‘aux chord’. I’m very upset though that they, too, took out the aux chord from their new phones, although I understand why.
I’ve always loved their phones and also thought that their past marketing campaigns have been cool. I also believe in the company.
Hinge, the dating app, is another cool brand. I namedropped them in ‘Young Shahrukh’ too.
Well, were these brands just being namedropped or were they brand integrations, too?
No, this wasn’t a brand integration. I was just rapping and it fit!