It was in 2012 that Shirley Setia met singer Shreya Goshal. She was still in high school then, but worked part-time at a radio station hosting Showtime with Shirley on Sundays. Setia, whose family hails from Daman, India, but lives in Auckland, New Zealand, told Goshal that she wanted to sing. “She asked me to upload YouTube videos so that even though I lived far away, I would be able to connect with Indian audiences,” says the 22-year-old.
Her first viral video — a cover of Tum Hi Ho from Aashiqui 2, which was recorded spontaneously at 1 am while she was in her pyjamas — earned her the pseudonym ‘Pyjama Popstar’. It also, eventually, won a contest conducted by T-Series. From there, her fame grew online. Today, her YouTube channel, launched in April 2012, has over 120 million views. Her Twitter account has close to half a million followers, while Facebook boasts 3.5 million and Instagram 2.6 million followers. Ask her how she managed to win the unpredictable attention of the Internet and she simply says, “By being myself.”
As her cover songs — like Bol Do Na Zara and Sanam Re, which each have over 23 million views — took the internet by storm, Setia fine-tuned her skills. She learnt to edit and shoot videos, manage her social media, and also graduated from the University of Auckland with a degree in Marketing and Information Systems, all while juggling a part-time radio jockey gig.
But it all changed in 2015 when she was on vacation in Hyderabad and put up a Facebook post asking fans to meet her at GVK mall. “I didn’t expect so many people to turn up — the security personnel freaked out and kicked me out of the mall, and yet people followed me, pleading for a picture. You know your social media statistics, but to see it in real life was overwhelming,” says Setia.
The incident gave her the push to pursue her passion professionally. So in 2016, she moved to Mumbai. In the year since, her YouTube channel, too, has taken a new avatar. She posts less often than she used to, and the content is more eclectic.
Her channel now features her original work, vlogs and tour diaries from cities like Durgapur, Varanasi, Raipur, Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai. Most of these performances have been on college campuses.
But despite 32 live gigs in 2017, she finds it difficult to decide which medium she prefers to perform. “With YouTube, there’s always a second chance. But in a live gig, if I have a cough, cold or a bad day, it will show in my performance. For me, even adjusting to the atmosphere has been difficult. Every time you go to a different city, the air is different.”
Even though she’s moved countries, Setia says there’s a long road ahead. Having made her debut in Bollywood with the song Disco Disco: A Gentleman, she is looking forward to her upcoming track with DJ Chetas and Atif Aslam.
Last year, she decided to stop doing cover music so she could spend more time on her originals.
“I thought it would be a risky move but people have been welcoming.” Her second and latest single, Tu Mil Gaya , she says, took over six months to compose, record, shoot and upload, and has over 2.8 million views in a month. “I want what I put out to be the best version of the song, and I want it to touch people so that they can make their own cover versions of it.”
Since she enjoys being in front of the camera, she features in most of her videos. “My first original ( Koi Shor ) was emotional. The second one is about being spontaneous. I want to do different originals where I can dance, go crazy and just express myself,” Setia concludes.