From soulful R&B experiences full of aching love to party-rock anthems, Jay Sean is a versatile artist and an icon. Sean is an R&B singer-songwriter and record producer born and bred in London, United Kingdom. He has a truly international fan base and has performed for fans all over the world. Sean’s notable accomplishments include being the first British artist to top the Hot 100 since Freddie Mercury as well as having the number one spot on the US Billboard Hot 100. I got the incredible opportunity to interview Jay Sean where we talked about the beginnings of his career, the meanings behind his music, the future of South Asian artists and so much more.
Starting strong with your first album, “Me Against Myself, ” songs like “Dance With You,” “Eyes on You,” and “Stolen,” showcase your pioneering South Asian Sounds mixed with Western R&B. Why do you feel that South Asian sounds and R&B intertwine magically to create such a beautiful fusion?
I think people naturally gravitate to things that both push and pull. So R&B being smooth and chill (especially back when I did those original records), when combined with the intense Indian melodic instruments or our South Asian drums rhythms and sounds do that well. There is pushing and pulling. Tension is good in music so long as the melody or beat releases us from the tension at some point.
On this same album, you dropped the song “U Don’t Know Me” where you talk about what it’s like being one of the few South Asian artists in the mainstream. Using that same notion, do you feel that these sentiments are still reflected in the thoughts and feelings of other South Asian musicians today?
I was always an artist that put my feelings into my songs. I rarely talked about what it was like to stand, often alone in the global spotlight and feel like nobody actually understood me. You know as an artist or as humans, we all just want to be seen… representation did not exist back then and so being “Seen” was just harder. I think it’s getting easier, but there is a lot of ground still to cover.
On some of your earliest songs, the YouTube comments sections are full of phrases like “Timeless music”, A Classic, Songs that Soothe your Soul, and much more. What does it feel like to be one of the greats not only in terms of South Asian musicians but to have such a massive impact on individuals around the world?
There are two amazing ways to look at that. Firstly as human. To know that i’ve had impact on that level is incredible and gratifying …very deeply gratifying. Secondly as an Artist, you always want your work to stand the test of time. Ultimately I hope everyone back then was right and that my music, OUR music, will stand up not only today, but in 50 years. Great art should like a time machine…moving effortless through time and space. Maybe I’ve had a few lucky songs that will last…I hope they do.
Your next album, “My Own Way” had the hit track “Ride It” on it. We saw DJ Regard remix it for a more modern feel. How do you feel about some of your classics being retouched with a modern feel?
I love that remix. When he slowed my voice down and used it to remix, what had already been a hit song, I was blown away. Brilliant work. It was disruptive and special sounding. But the song is the magic. You can remix Ride it 100’s of ways, it will always be a special song. I got lucky with Alan Sampson on that one, we tapped into something deep and real.
“With great power comes great responsibility” — Uncle Ben. What does it feel like to have so many individuals look up to you? (Does it change and make you second guess how to represent yourself because you are representing a community and specifically a South Asian community?)
For most of my career I’ve let my music do the talking for me. I will tell you a small anecdote to best answer your question. Once, long ago an interviewer asked me… “Why don’t you make your new music MORE Indian sounding”…to which I responded… ‘How can it be MORE Indian sounding? I am Indian” Everyone carries doubt, being a role-model or a leader in any capacity can be daunting. But you just do it don’t you? You just put your head down and do the work it takes to show others that “YOU CAN ALSO BE WHATEVER YOU WANT TO BE.” That’s where I’m at these days. I am happy to be here, and to carry whatever I need to carry.
We must talk about your album, “All or Nothing” and specifically the song “Down.” This song made you the first British artist to top the Hot 100 since Freddie Mercury of Queen in 1980. How does it feel to be up in the ranks with rock legends?
Freddie was epic. What a voice!
“All or Nothing” gave us everything. The party tracks from “Down” and “Do You Remember” to the slow jams of “Lights Off,” “War,” and the Candlelight version of “Down.” How do you balance these two sides of your music and continue to be versatile to this day?
An album has to have lots of flavors. It’s like a great meal. Each dish or song has to have its place and purpose and properly set up what comes next and also reflect on what came before. I love making an album cohesive and intentional.
“Neon” was one of my favorite albums of all time. It felt like a classic Jay Sean R&B record. How do you get into the space of creating such emotionally charged music?
First off, thank you for saying that! I think at my core I’m just a story teller. That’s what we do right? We tell stories. I was going through a lot of emotions at that time of my life. Success, Marriage, Family, leaving home… Dealing with the pressure of following up on my previous success. It’s all just stories.
Another favorite outside of this album is your track “Emergency.” How did you get into the zone to make this track?
I remember feeling like I wanted to SING something big and emotional. I was in a period where I was tired of making big up-tempo dance tunes. I had just come off the back of “Make My Love Go” with Sean Paul and that was such a global hit…I was touring and running all over the place.
Something about singing a big ballad just really appealed to me. Jeremy, my long time partner, felt strongly about me showing that side of myself as well so I went in and sang it. Surprisingly I nailed it in just a few takes and I think that’s why it’s so emotionally connective. It’s not a big comp of many vocals. It’s really just me singing my heart out…a release of sorts. Then I got a bunch of friends to sing on the choir parts of the hook. 2-time Grammy Winner Melanie Fiona, Kiana Ledé, Shaylen, Rudi…that was really fun, they are all such powerful vocalists!
Your mixtape series “The Mistress” parts 1, 2, and 3 felt like a creative playground where you were free to express all of your emotions and had the most creative freedom. Talk us through this series of mixtapes and why you decided to call it “The Mistress.”
As many know, my love for R&B runs deep and I really wanted to make a whole cohesive album with a running theme. Often albums can be disjointed because each song is about something completely different. I wanted to create a thread that ties every song together. For this I needed a story. So by being able to talk about a love triangle it allowed me the creativity to make a movie with my songs. The fans loved it so much that it allowed me to make a part 2 to continue the story. It was a really fun creative process and by Mistress 3 I was able to paint the ending for fans.
Your different language versions of songs hit your fans harder and shine a new light on a song. In your own words, why do you think singing a song in a different language can provide a totally different feeling?
The way I sing in Hindi or Punjabi, or even when I’ve done small things in Spanish here and there…it just changes the delivery and the emotional quality follows. There is something haunting and emotionally beautiful about Hindi…and Punjabi just supercharges the energy!
You’ve done some crazy collaborations by working with Romanian artists like Antonia, Venezuelan pop dúo Chino & Nacho, Desi artists like Guru Randhawa, grime artists like Skepta, hip hop artists like Lil Wayne and the YMCMB crew, artists such as Karl Wolf, Hardwell, Davido, and so many more. How do you effortlessly work with artists across cultures and genres?
Man…it’s been one of the most amazing things of my career that I’ve been able to share music with these fabulous artists!
From writing tracks for yourself as well as other artists, how do you manage to get through writer’s block when composing new music?
Sometimes you gotta walk away…come back another day, sometimes you gotta push through and sometimes you gotta lean on the team around you to help out. Writer’s block is no fun, but it passes…as all things do.
Who is your dream collaboration?
I’ve been so lucky to have been able to work with so many legends. From Sean Paul to Mary J Blige, Nicky Minaj to Maluma and J Balvin…Craig David, Busta Rhymes…Pitbull to Guru…Whatever comes next will be just fine…
In the early years, we saw only one or two South Asian musicians per year come out with music. In current times we see so many different South Asian musicians ranging in all kinds of genres. How can we support South Asian artists and continue to build a community such as the community BGM is building for the South Asian community?
All of us that are successful, singers, producers, actors, directors, studio heads, label execs…all the South Asian success stories, and there are SO many of them, we all need to acknowledge each other and work together. That is is how it happens. Building community through a common goal…to create MORE representation of South Asians across ALL fields of entertainment.
We loved watching Basement Banter during quarantine as you caught up with some of your industry friends and shared stories of some of your most treasured memories. Who has been your favorite guest and why?
Again, thank you so much! I have no favorites! I love that podcast and will do more!
It was lovely to see you and Rishi jump back in it with “Nakhre.” Any plans of linking up with the crew (Rishi, Juggy, and Veronica on new music in the future?
Once a crew…always a crew… I can not confirm or deny any new music from the “Crew” coming soon…
What are your upcoming plans?
I am focusing on two TV shows. 1 is scripted and 1 is unscripted. I am working hard on my Sparkling Sake brand “SmoothSail” and crossing that over into mainstream. I have a few NFT projects coming as well and a couple of new songs that everyone will be excited about when I’m ready to talk about them. :)
An exclusive standing-room-only crowd, dressed in dazzling colors and shimmer, packed SONA — an upscale South Asian restaurant in Manhattan — in February to celebrate queer love and allyship in the desi community.
The event, ‘Pyar is Pyar’ (which translates to “Love is Love”), recognized the landmark bipartisan legislation that President Biden signed into law in December: the Respect for Marriage Act. The event raised $168,000 to support Desi Rainbow Parents & Allies, an international nonprofit that provides peer support and resources to LGBTQ+ South Asians and their families.
Maneesh Goyal, founder and partner of SONA, organized the event with Shamina Singh, the founder and president of Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth. Both Goyal and Singh are openly queer South Asian leaders and thanked the crowd that evening for their support of other LGBTQ+ desis.
Opal Vadhan and Gautam Raghavan from the Biden/Harris Administration read a letter from President Biden to commemorate the event.
“Jill and I — and Kamala and Doug — hope you have a wonderful night celebrating our nation at our best,” Biden wrote. “May we all carry forth that American promise of freedom together. May we also know that love is love — and pyar is pyar.”
“The work that you do to become visible and powerful, to form narratives, to change minds, and to make people feel something about a cause for equality — that is incredibly important,” Raghavan added, before introducing Vaibhav Jain and Parag Mehta, a same-sex Indian couple that got married in 2019 in Texas.
“They denied us because we are a same-sex couple,” said Jain, who grew up in New Delhi. “This is a violation of the Indian constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex; so we filed suit.”
“Parag and I are hopeful for a positive verdict. If our case wins, it would bring marriage equality to nearly 1.4 billion people across India,” he continued. “Just to put that in perspective, the total number of people today who live in a country with marriage equality is about 1.4 billion. That means our cases together could double the global population of places who live in a place with marriage equality.”
“We need a mechanism to help build allies in our community and to help provide the support that LGBTQ people need,” Mehta added, encouraging people to donate to Desi Rainbow.
Rayman Kaur Mathoda, Desi Rainbow’s board chair, challenged allies to put their dollars behind their vocal support. Her family announced a $50,000 donation to the organization’s ongoing work.
Founded and led by Aruna Rao, a straight cisgender mother of a transgender adult, the nonprofit has served more than 2,000 LGBTQ+ South Asians and their families since 2020. The goal is to serve 10,000 in three years; a million in the next 10 years.
Mathoda, a wife and mother of four, recalled how painful the lack of family and community support can be.
“For most of us who come out in the desi community…coming out is still a negative experience,” she said. “It is not a moment of pride. It is a moment of shame.”
Mathoda thanked all allies in particular for making the road easier for queer South Asians. To find the love and acceptance they want and need.
January 1, 2023January 1, 2023 7min readBy Brown boy
Wyatt Feegrado is a comedian and content creator from Walnut Creek, San Francisco, California. Feegrado moved to New York City to attend the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. Feegrado always wanted to be a comedian and grew up watching “The Last Comic Standing” with his mom — his favorites being Alingon Mitra and Sammy Obeid. In 2020, Feegrado starred in the TV show “Bettor Days,” on Hulu and ESPN+, as the character Vinnie bets on the baseball team The Astros and wins big. Feegrado also has a podcast called “First World Problematic,” along with Vishal Kal and Surbhi, where they talk about a range of topics such as racism, sexism, and homophobia, and will be dropping an “Indian Matchmaking” Reunion show. Currently, in Bangalore, Feegrado is performing his first show in India, at the Courtyard in Bangalore. He was previously on tour in the United States. He recently dropped the Amazon comedy special “Wyatt Feegrado: De-Assimilate.” Continue reading to learn more about Wyatt Feegrado.
Do you feel that your upbringing in Walnut Creek and your personal experiences are what molded your comedic style?
Walnut Creek, for people who have never been there, is frankly a very white place. I must’ve been one of four or five Indian kids in my high school of 2000. I think growing up like that, you begin to believe that it’s a bit ‘odd’ that you’re brown. Part of finding my comedic voice was changing that perspective to say; it’s not weird that I’m brown, it’s weird that you’re not. That’s the paradigm shift — I don’t move through the world trying to impress people, why should I? Who are they? They should be trying to impress me.
What was it like attending the Tisch School Of The Arts and what classes helped shape you as a person?
I hope I don’t get too much flack for this…but I don’t really think that NYU helped my career very much. Being in New York helped me immensely, it raised the ceiling on what I could achieve. I really appreciate NYU’s approach, they teach art as a fundamentally collaborative discipline, which I do believe it is. However, that’s just not how I learn. I’m a competitive person, I want to be pitted against my fellow students and prove I’m the best. That motivates me. I would say, if you want to use NYU or any art school to your advantage, understand that classes are only half of what you’re supposed to be doing. That was a pet peeve of mine, I used to see my fellow students finish class and simply go home. That’s not the way to do it in this industry. Every day, after school, I used to go to two or three open mics, send in self-taped auditions, and make opportunities of my own. You’re betting on yourself — so go all in.
What was the process of creating the comedy special “Wyatt Feegrado: De-Assimilate?”
In terms of writing the jokes, it’s the culmination of studying joke writing for 10 years. But I was approached with the opportunity in March or so, and I had my reservations to even tape a special — I’m a perfectionist so I wanted all my jokes to be some of the best ever written. But that’s just a bad strategy in terms of trying to make it in life. When an opportunity falls in your lap, you have to take it no matter what. Worry about whether you’re ready later. One time I was cast in a commercial for Facebook that required me to do skateboard tricks. I lied and said I knew how to do skateboard tricks at the casting call. I landed the commercial and then started practicing how to skateboard. I think the most important lesson in comedy you can learn is how to believe in yourself when nobody else does. I always have the confidence that I will rise to the occasion.
What was it like getting your special on Amazon Prime?
So Four by Three, the amazing production company that produced my special, has a very good relationship with Amazon, as they’ve produced a lot of content for their platform. They handled distribution for me, and together we made the strategic decision to also release De-Assimilate on YouTube. I think because of the over-saturation of streaming services you have to pay for, combined with the renaissance YouTube is having, where a lot of the content will have TV-level production value, more and more young people are turning to YouTube as their primary source of content. People are always asking who is going to win the “streaming wars.” My dark horse candidate is YouTube.
As a comedian how do you deal with hecklers?
So many comedians are mean to hecklers. I hate that. There’s no reason for that. They’re a person too and it’s not right to berate them unless they truly insulted you first. In my opinion, there are three types of hecklers — the heckler who is just too drunk, the heckler who thinks they’re helping the show, and the heckler who actually hates you or thinks you’re unfunny. I think only the latter deserves to be berated. The rest of them I try to work around, and tell them they’re interrupting the show in a way that doesn’t interrupt the show in itself.
What was the first joke you ever wrote and your favorite joke you have ever written?
Oh god this is going to be horrible. The first joke I every wrote was:
“Shawn White is a professional snowboarder, but a lot of people don’t know he is also very skilled in Curling, his hair”
That is so bad. I’m embarrassed. At least it disproves the BS some people say that “funny isn’t learnable.” That is NOT TRUE. What they mean is the infrastructure for funny scant exists. There’s no Standup Comedy Major in Art Schools or Textbooks that teach joke writing. There will be one day, but for now there isn’t.
My favorite jokes I write are jokes that I really think encapsulates the zeitgeist. My favorites on the special are the joke about how Jesus’ Disciples are Brown, and how the Vaccine is the first time anyone in the US has gotten healthcare for free.
Are there any jokes that you regret telling in front of an audience?
Of course. Referring back to my answer to the first question, any joke that has the underlying presumption that it is ‘odd’ to be brown — which is a genre of jokes that many Indian-American comedians in history have been pigeonholed into — I regret saying those type of jokes when I first started. Now I do the opposite. Sometimes I’ll do a joke about how Jesus was brown in Texas just to piss them off.
What has been your favorite project to work on?
Flying to Nashville to shoot Bettor Days for ESPN+ was great. I was just out of school at the time so it felt amazing to make money, travel, and work. Also the sets were fun and I’m still friends with the cast. And then getting to see myself on TV for the first time — thrilling.
Can you tell us more about your podcast First World Problematic?
Yes! First World Problematic is the comedy podcast I host with Vishal Kal — yes the same one that broke Nadia’s heart on Indian Matchmaking — and Surbhi, another close comedian friend of mine. We’re all Indian-Americans, and we discuss a wide variety of topics, such as dating, pop culture, and just in general make a lot of jokes. ALSO! We just released an Indian Matchmaking Season 2 reunion special — we brought back all the cast members of season 2 for a tell all! In Jan we plan to do a Season 1 reunion.
Who do you look up to in the world of comedy?
Man. I’m a student of a looooooooot of comedians. So so so many people I look up to. Steven Wright and Dave Chappelle are my first loves. When I was a kid, I used to think standup was just time pass, until one day I stumbled upon Dave Chappelle: Killin Em’ Softly on YouTube. That is what made me realize that standup can be high art. That is when I knew I wanted to be a comedian. Steven Wright is the comedian who first inspired me to write jokes, many of my first jokes emulated him. I have learned so much about modern Joke Structure from Dave Attell, Emo Phillips, Dan Mintz, and Anthony Jeselnik. Bit structure I take directly from Louie CK and Bill Burr. As for my comedic voice, I learned so much from Paul Mooney. Listening to him is what I feel really unlocked my approach to comedy, the way how he is so mean, so aggressive. He talks about white people the way the media talks about black people. I always thought us Asian people needed that, an Asian comedian that talks about Asian-American issues, but not with the friendliness you typically see Asian comedians portray. He taught me to be in your face. And Chappelle taught me how to be nice about it.
Do you feel that South Asian comedians can be easily pigeonholed?
Historically — unequivocally yes. In the modern times, much less so. I very much think South Asian comedians in some sense pigeonhole themselves, by trying to emulate past South Asian comedians, who were pigeonholed by the market. I do think now, and it is completely because of social media, there is a market for every kind of comedy. Like I said in my previous answer, I’d like to be a South Asian comedian with the confrontationality that we have historically only seen from Black comedians.
But you know who is really pigeonholed nowadays? Female comedians. This may be a tangent, but if there was a Female comedian that talked about Female issues, with the hostility towards men that Bill Burr will occasionally have towards women, in my opinion she would likely be the GOAT.
How do you feel social media such as Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, and Snapchat have changed comedy?
Social media has been a truly beautiful thing for comedy. It has completely decentralized the power structure of our business. Back in the day, if you wanted to get famous, you had to do comedy that appealed to the white men who held the power at the networks, at the talk shows, in the writers rooms. They still do control all those things, but now because of social media the people watching our stuff are representative of the population, and we can grow our followings because the market is wider. Now if you have a social media following, you have all the leverage, and therefore you see a multitude more styles of standup comedy out there. Also social media in my opinion is the third great comedy boom. Seinfeld made standup a household art form, Netflix made it possible for people to binge watch standup, and now Tiktok and Instagram have proliferated standup to the point where it is EVERYWHERE. There are more comedians than ever and there’s a bigger market for standup than ever.
Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?
Us Indian-Americans are at a very interesting financial and cultural intersection. Indians are the richest ethnicity in America, and culturally Indian parents will generally pay for their children’s college, unlike other ethnicities. If Indian parents were to hypothetically support their child to go into the arts, just like they may support them in getting their Masters degree, I believe Indians would have an astronomically higher chance of making it in the arts than anyone else. The greatest gift you can give your artist child is financial support in the early stages, since we all know the early stages of the arts make next to nothing. We just have to get rid of the Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer only BS that I would argue is a remnant of the Caste System in India.
Also, remember to call white people Euro-Americans. It helps the movement!
“Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a meditation on the new moon and guilt. I wrote it when I was living in Dallas and was driving back from a dusk prayer. The new moon terrified me on that drive. I was diseased by the knowledge that my partner, at the time, had seen the worst parts of me. There’s immense shame in this piece—it seized my self-image. If the moon could become brand new, then I could start over.
I often ponder on the moon’s reflective nature and pairs of eyes. I’m hyper-fixated on how I am seen by others. Unfortunately, the brilliance of seeing your reflection in another person leads to negativity. After all, those who are too keen on their own reflection are the same people who suffer from it. It is possible to use shame to fuel one’s retribution and personal growth, without becoming consumed by it.
We can look to Shah Rukh Khan succumbing to alcoholism in his own sorrow and then later imbibing his sadness in Chandramukhi. “Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a lesson for us: Don’t be Shah Rukh Khan in Devdas, instead embody pre-incarnation Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om!
Sometimes when the moon abandons the sky, I wonder if I drove her away.
If she comes back, will she be the same? How I wish she would come back new, truly new! That way she’d have no memory of the sin I’ve confessed to her. You noxious insect. Sin-loving, ego-imbibing pest. You are no monster, for at least a monster has ideology, it sins with purpose. You sin just to chase ignominy.
But the moon won’t say that, she never does. She’ll just leave the sky and return days later, slowly. And I’ll wonder if she’s new, perhaps she won’t remember my past confessions. What does it matter? Were the moon replaced with one from a different god, I’d drive her away, too.