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Courtesy of Ada Chen

Anya Gupta is stepping out from behind the screen to make an announcement – she’s ready to be seen as she is. There’s a lot of pressure for artists gunning to make it big. You’re half expected to have a perfectly curated debut, with the success of a modern Sam Smith, to the digestible image of an everyday Fletcher. So, for Gupta, stepping into her skin has taken some time. However, now, the 19-year-old is ready to embrace everything that comes with who she is. 

“I found a lot of comfort in watching interviews from [queer] artists,” she says over a long-distance Zoom call. “I hadn’t really seen that when I was in high school.” Confronting new types of art (and artists), Gupta found herself enamoured with artists “who weren’t afraid to put like pronouns on songs” and expressed herself much like she did — “There are other people like me and that makes me feel so much more comfortable.”

So, as Gupta’s career continues to blossom, we sit down with the budding singer-songwriter for our new music editorial series, Queer & Now, to chat about her new single Jackie, and how’s she balancing life as a new artist-turned-college student.

Who are the artists that have inspired you so far?

When I first started making music, my biggest inspirations were Girl In Red, King Princess and then I discovered Fletcher and Reneé Rapp. Since then, it’s [kept on] going. I also appreciate the fact that they’re women as well, so it’s nice to see that representation in the industry. I’ve found inspiration through so many of these artists. 

What impact are you hoping to have on the music industry?

It’s surreal to me. In the way I look up to these artists, I have that on a very tiny level. It’s not as big of an impact, of course, but it’s really heartwarming to see comments on my social media saying, ‘I’m Brown, and I’m also queer, and I listened to your music because this gives me comfort.’ My goal is to create a safe space for people to feel comfortable in themselves.

We always have to push for more South Asian queer representation…

I also have trouble finding these artists. So for me to get to this point in my life where I can do an interview like this is always also a huge deal for me, because it’s a lot of battles. You have to fight to make people finally recognise you for who you are and be okay with it. It’s important to people around me that listen to my music and I’d rather take the risk in doing that and be myself. It’s just so much more liberating.

What’s your favourite music memory?

My favourite music memory was actually very recently. I went through a really rough breakup in my senior year before going to college. I had just released this album of pure heartbreak music including a song called You Ruined Phoebe Bridgers. A lot of people were telling me sad music won’t sell and that I need to create something appealing to a broader audience. I put it out and it just reached 700,000 streams yesterday. It’s really cool to see that number on my profile. I don’t think I’ve ever reached something so huge.

What does your current songwriting process look like? 

Honestly, it changes, but voice memos are probably my best friend.  I’ll come up with a melody idea and hum it into my voice memos, so all my ideas are stored there. I’ll grab my guitar and then I’ll base it on that. But, in terms of figuring out a melody or lyrics, it comes either way and then I work from there.

You’ve just started kicking off your career as an independent musician. How are you finding the transition so far?

Right now, I try to respond to every comment I get. If someone’s taking their time to recognise me, I’m going to recognise them as well. But, you’re right, I’m only 19. I’ve figured out a lot of things, but it’s all been a trial and error process of posting videos and finding my community. It took a really long time to get the algorithm to attract those people back to me. So, now, I feel like I’m doing something right. 

What can you tell us about your new single Jackie?

Jackie was a really last-minute thing. I didn’t plan on releasing music anytime soon, but there are some songs that just click and I was like ‘I have to work on it’. So, Jackie is about a queer heartbreak and the pain that comes along with it. It also represents a lot of things for me. It represents young love and trying to navigate those hardships that come with being queer and how, sometimes, relationships don’t work out when someone’s not as comfortable with themselves.

As devastating as that is, the song also manages to reflect that there was a love that was felt and that love was pure and genuine. Also, a good heartbreak always creates a good song! Just like You Ruined Phoebe Bridgers, Jackie kind of fell under the same category.

What’s next on your music bucket list?

Oh, that’s a difficult one! A part of it is seeing the numbers there. I really want to hit a million streams on You Ruined Phoebe Bridgers. But, on a personal note, I’d like to see myself develop into the artist that I want to be and become even more comfortable in my identity. I’ve come really far but I have much more to go. So, for now, it’s about finding that community that feels safe with me. I also want to play some live shows. I’ve been behind the screen for the last couple of years. Although, I have to be a little bigger to do that. 

I would love to work with other queer artists and other artists that I’ve been a huge fan of. I think there’s something so special about being a huge fan of someone and having them recognise you. Artists like Fletcher or Reneé Rapp – I would love that! It would be a dream come true.