TikTok is banned in India but the content from the platform does travel through Instagram Reels, which have massively taken over the internet. The people who have spent hours scrolling through reels know how ingenious the content creators have become in the way that they share skits, reviews, tips, cinematic video content, their art or just trends from TikTok on a daily basis. My own algorithm often surprises me with the relevance of the Reels I see based on what I've been reading about or sometimes even thinking about that day.
Reels have grown to be so pervasive that they're now a medium themselves and have become synonymous with Instagram since it went from being a photo-sharing platform to an app primarily prioritizing video content. And due to their format, music has taken centre stage in all kinds of Reels. In the 2000s images were the foundation of memes; and now with reels, it's music.
Waste by Kxllswxtch, Party Party by Yally and Metamorphosis by Interworld are some tracks that are trending right now and despite the artists' best promotional efforts, you can best believe that a majority of their listeners found them through Reels, which are now a make or break phenomena for music.
Many independent artists, music producers and DJs have also accepted this power of reels and now share their music through them. With the time limit being increased to 60 seconds, viewers can get a solid snippet of their music and decide if they wanna listen to the full track. It can be through live performances, jam sessions in the studio, freestyle videos and guitar solos etc., but when it comes to DJs, it all comes down to the mix or a 'mini mix', because transitions between electronic music like techno can be stretched out to 2-3 minutes but mixes of pop tracks are snappier and more commanding in the short span.
A UK-born South Asian DJ rose to fame on TikTok with such mini mixes last year. We're talking about AJ. Wavy who you might know from the iconic mashup of Drake's Hotline Bling with Bollywood hit, Lal Ghagra. This was his first mix to reach 15 million views across TikTok and YouTube. It was also featured in the Instagram videos of Priyanka Chopra, Shahid Kapoor, Nicole Scherzinger and even in the world of football, with the Champions League, Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Manchester United all sharing his music. You can listen to it below.
AJ. Wavy has since created some of the most loved mixes that are a fusion of western R&B, hip-hop and Indian pop smash hits. They're addictive and particularly delicious if you are South Asian. Apart from the east and west -mash-ups, what makes his content even more endearing is his father who is constantly featured in his videos; reacting to his mixes and just vibing' on an ongoing series called 'illegal mash-ups'. The artist has amassed over 700 thousand followers on TikTok and around 300 thousand followers on Instagram.
Some of his other most viewed mixes are Why This Kolaveri Di with Confident by Justin Bieber and Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai with Up by Cardi B. The oddest one that's my favourite so far is My Hump by Black Eyed Peas with Chand Sifarish from the Bollywood film Fanaa. But that's the thing about AJ's mixes; they're unexpected and near-impossible to imagine until you hear them and then you're just astounded by how well the songs go with each other.
The DJ's sense of rhythm and melody also got him a record deal with Sony Entertainment India. Last July, he released his first track with Sony called 'Desi Bop' which a mash-up of some popular Indian tracks.
It's heartening to see AJ's father and sometimes his grandma in the videos while he deejays, as it's an artform that's often condemned by Indian parents. Due to its punk nature and the rebellion associated with rave culture, DJing isn't quite understood as a craft and profession by older generations in India. So, to see content where that gap is filled with the pure appreciation of music; both old and new as well as English & Hindi, is really inspiring.
There might still be some critics of this machine that delivers content and music in nuggets that caters to our short attention spans or even the mini mixes in particular that don't necessarily reflect the work it takes to create hours-long sets for raves, but Reels have established their own value in the cultural zeitgeist and are undoubtedly a form of individual expression unlike anything we've ever seen before.
Whether it's debunking myths and misinformation, identifying deep-rooted misogynistic behaviour, cooking, satirical skits or just chilling with your dad making some illegal mixes, Reels are great fun. And and right now, in a world of information overload, to me they feel like the most intimate glimpse into peoples mind's and cultures as well as our idiosyncrasies as human beings.