By Gerrick D. Kennedy, Los Angeles Times
November 20, 2012, 5:00 a.m.
Priyanka Chopra looks like a pop star when she struts into Hollywood’s Chalice Studios, entourage in tow. Her sultry smile, body-hugging dress and towering heels command attention.
She has the image, sure. But not the name. At least not outside of India.
Yet Chopra, 30, is here to listen to her debut album helmed by Grammy Award-winning producer-songwriter RedOne (a.k.a. Nadir Khayat), the same guy who catapulted Lady Gaga into superstardom.
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For the last decade Priyanka has been a Bollywood celeb. But now she has her sights on American pop stardom — an experiment that’s as calculated as it is risky.
Remember the Indian “crossover” films “Bride & Prejudice” or “Bollywood/Hollywood”? Thought so.
Regardless, Chopra’s album will officially launch Desi Hits! Universal, a new label headed by Bollywood music mogul Anjula Acharia-Bath and Jimmy Iovine, the label head behind Gaga, Eminem and Black Eyed Peas. Their goal: to break an Indian pop act in America.
It doesn’t sound like much, but as acts from Europe and Latin America continue to find crossover success, South Asia has remained largely untapped in the global music market. If her sound sticks, Chopra’s transition from the world of Bollywood to U.S. charts could break ground. And the machine behind her is working aggressively to ensure it does.
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“It scares the crap out of me,” Chopra says and laughs while seated in front of a large control board at Chalice.
Acharia-Bath says she saw an opportunity to break an Indian act after the success of 2008′s “Slumdog Millionaire.” The film grossed more than $140 million in the U.S. and its soundtrack by Indian composer A.R. Rahman sparked Bollywood fervor with “Jai Ho.”
But even before the film came out, Acharia-Bath co-launched Desi Hits! as an online entertainment and lifestyle hub to promote South Asian entertainers in the global pop music market.
“We’ve seen our beats … culture and a lot of our community influences in Western pop culture, but we’ve never really had a face that represents us, especially in music,” she says. “That’s been tough for us, but this should open up the door for more.”
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To get the listener’s attention — and guarantee a hit — Desi Hits! recruited RedOne to guide the project, a no-brainer given the Moroccan-born hit maker’s credentials. He’s one of pop’s most in-demand producers and aside from Gaga has crafted platinum smashes for Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull, Enrique Iglesias and Nicki Minaj.
At Chalice, RedOne dials up the volume and starts dancing along to a pounding club beat. As the track “Relax Me” plays, Chopra’s voice fills the room, and then somewhere between flirty lyrics and sexy coos is the surprising beat of Indian tabla drums. It caters to pop radio, and Khayat flashes a smile of confidence when the song concludes.
He’s certain the record, and every song he plays next, are hits.
“Priyanka fits perfectly,” says RedOne of her potential appeal. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, this girl could be a huge global star.’ It’s something fresh for the world to hear.”
Chopra is the first, and so far only, act signed to the new label, and her debut album is set for early next year.
Her record will be released through Iovine’s Interscope and RedOne’s 2101 Records imprint — both part of Universal, one of the biggest labels in the U.S. Chopra’s music career will be guided by Lady Gaga’s manager and she is the first Bollywood star signed to talent juggernaut Creative Artists Agency.