One may be a K-pop fan or a casual reader, but the name Shreya Lenka has been etched in every Indian’s mind since the announcement that she would be the first Indian to debut as a K-pop idol. Shreya Lenka is all set to join the culturally diverse K-pop girl group, Blackswan.
She is also known by her stage name Sriya and underwent a strenuous audition programme called 'Cygnus' along with Brazil's Gabriela Dalcin (Gabi). Sriya was finally recruited to be a part of the group on May 26, 2022.
Competing with over 4000 girls, Shreya Lenka, the group’s maknae (youngest member) self-taught herself western songs through online tutorials. She also learnt to shoot and edit videos, which led her to launch her own YouTube channel.
From being lavished praise by celebrities to young fans, Shreya Lenka has become an overnight sensation and a source of pride amongst Indian fans. She has, after all, proved herself to be the first Indian to shatter the glass ceiling which has long existed for foreign idols, especially a person of Indian origin.
Firsts are always special and memorable. Shreya Lenka hails from Jharsuguda, Odisha and is on her way to reach the magnificent skyline of South Korea’s Seoul. The talented 18-year-old girl has proved that when it comes to achieving one’s dreams, the sky is not the limit, but in fact, the beginning of everything.
In conversation with SK POP’s Anwaya Mane, Shreya Lenka shed light on what it is like to be the first Indian to debut as a K-pop idol. She spoke about how it feels to be receiving unparalleled praise from Bollywood stars and political leaders in the country. Shreya Lenka also told the writer what it is like to be part of a multicultural K-pop group like Blackswan and her message to young Indian girls aspiring to be K-pop idols.
“Blackswan is a group not by skin colour, age, nationality but by uniqueness and talent that unites people”: Shreya Lenka reveals what makes Blackswan different and shares an exciting update regarding the group’s comeback
Q) Congratulations on being the first Indian to become a K-pop star! Has the feeling sunk in yet?
SHRIYA: It still feels like a dream. I was in Korea when it was announced by DR Music that I would be joining Blackswan. I received a lot of congratulatory messages from the fans and I am still receiving many messages every day.
“When Indian media started reaching out to our company for interviews, that's when I realized that finally, I am a Kpop artist.”
Q) Recently Minister of Education and Skill development Mr Dharmendra Pradhan lavished praise on you. How does that feel? What has the response been like from people around you?
SHRIYA: I can't describe that feeling in words. When I reached Bhubaneswar, I heard that Dharmendra Pradhan sir is also coming to Bhubaneswar. The media reporters who were waiting at the airport for him recognized me and quickly came over to cover me. I was surprised that the reporters who cover political news knew about me as well. It felt unreal.
I was outside when Shri Pradhan came out and then the people waiting for him outside the airport introduced me to him. It was truly an honour getting appreciation from him when I told him about K-pop.
The next day I started for my home in Jharsuguda and I was truly amazed and humbled by the grand reception I got. It felt magical.
Q) How did it all start? What evoked your interest in K-pop?
SHRIYA: I have been a dancer since I was 12. I always wanted to be a performer. A few years ago my friend introduced me to K-pop. The choreography in the music videos was very attractive but when I learnt that the people performing were actually the singers, I got hooked on it.
What drew me in was their unique style of singing and dancing together. I learnt that this genre means Korean Pop, in short K-pop and they are called idols. Watching this, I wanted to enter the world of K-pop.
Q) What kind of challenges did you face while preparing for your debut in Blackswan? How did you keep yourself motivated during such times?
SHRIYA: I didn't find any difficulty with my team members because when I first arrived in Korea, we were busy with practice, studying and workouts so we didn't get much time to interact. We only greeted one another and now, as we get along together every day, we try to learn about each other’s cultures. As they're our seniors, they teach us many things while practising.
They are all sweet and kind.
“Blackswan is a group not by nationality, age or skin colour but talent and uniqueness that unites people.”
Throughout my trainee period, I lived with Gabi in a dorm and we created a strong bond. We were both away from home and in a place where everything was different and that was how we found a connection.
I think I am lucky to have found a friend in Gabi or else the entire training process would have been extremely difficult and lonely. Now that we get time to interact with all the members, it feels like we are one family.
Q) You mentioned how your grandmother encouraged you to learn classical music in the past. What kind of influence did your family have on you growing up?
SHRIYA: My family has always supported me. They're always standing behind me, guiding me and protecting me. My father helped me in learning acrobatics. My mom helped me in my studies and my grandmother helped me find a vocal teacher.
My grandfather, who always encouraged me to go after my dreams, wanted to see me perform on a big stage. Sadly, he passed away in 2020. I feel like I have come this far because he has been watching over me and guiding me.
Q) Blackswan is a multi-cultural K-pop group. What is it like being part of such a culturally diverse group?
SHRIYA: Blackswan is a group not by skin colour, age, or nationality but by uniqueness and talent that unites people. We want to motivate and inspire people that they're unique and their uniqueness is what keeps them apart from others.
“We want to give people hope to not give up on their dreams.”
Q) From a relatively small town of Jharsuguda to Seoul, the biggest metropolitan city in South Korea. How are you adjusting to life in a new city and country? What do you miss the most about India?
SHRIYA: In the last six months we have learnt so many things. When I first came to Korea it was difficult because of different lifestyles, language, and food. It was also my first time travelling so far from my home. However, as time passed by, we learned new things and tried our best to adapt to the new lifestyle. Also, the people around us helped us with many things. Also, I missed Indian food the most.
Q) You have put India on the global map with your achievements and many people think this is a step in the right direction to building Indo-Korea cultural ties. Do you think the K-pop industry can look at India as a potential concert destination?
SHRIYA: Yes. In my opinion, India has huge potential to become the next concert destination for K-pop because the number of K-pop fans in India is growing significantly.
Nowadays, a lot of the younger generation of Indian fans, just like me, listen to BTS, BLACKPINK etc and the market is expanding. I am hoping that I can be someone who can help build strong cultural ties between the two countries.
Q) What are Blackswan’s future goals? Can you give our readers any information regarding your debut album with the group?
SHRIYA: We are currently preparing our new song and it will be released soon. We are working hard to showcase our best stages so please look forward to Blackswan's comeback.
Q) Finally, what advice would you give to young Indian girls aspiring to be a K-pop idol just like you?
SHRIYA: Don't give up on your dreams. You are going to fail more than 100 times but you will succeed one day if you are determined to improve yourself and show the best side of yourself.
“Your uniqueness is what sets you apart from others. You are unique and beautiful just the way you are.”
Formerly known as RANIA, the six-member group earned its current name Blackswan on October 16, 2020.
They debuted on the same date, with their first full album, Goodbye Rania, and since then have released a single album and three music videos.
The group consists of members Youngheun, Leia, Fatou, Judy, Sriya and Gabi added as its fifth and sixth members respectively. One of the group's OG members, Hyeme, left the group on November 10, 2020.
In the meantime, share a special message for Shreya Lenka in the comments section below.
Disclaimer: The interview was edited for clarity and grammar purposes.