Above: VJDAMUSICMAN “Mad Hatter” single cover. Photo by Monica Inez
PRESS PHOTOS (Credits in file name) | BIO
Q&A with VJDAMUSICMAN / Vybhav Jagannath
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05.09.23: Queer Indian-American Claps Back at Haters in Vibrant “UGLIES” Music Video
About the “UGLIES” video (see press release for the short description)
“UGLIES,” is an iridescent mix of cultures and settings that exemplifies the tumultuous road that Indian-Americans face when connecting to their identities. From the villages of Chennai to the alleyways of North Carolina, the video pays cultural homage utilizing the sight of swirling saris, scent of coconut hair oil and sounds of kuthu music to show that regardless of the destination, the complexities of identity follow.
These intersectionalities of identity are represented in “UGLIES” and the forthcoming album as a battle between Jagannath’s queerness, his ethnicity, and his mental health. Each concept is so powerful that it’s manifested as an entire persona of its own.
VJDAMUSICMAN is the artistic persona (the black outfit and the pink jacket). He is the elevated version of Vybhav Jagannath in that he is an artist who aims to make non-Indian people comfortable, dipping his toe in to represent Indian culture while not fully committing to the act out of fear of being too “ethnic.” He represents the confusion and insecurity that constantly surrounds culture clash, indicated by the mixture of American style R&B vocals with the huge cinematic synths present in South Indian soundtracks.
The visuals of the dancers performing in Indian garments with kuthu steps in a North Carolina alley reflects the common experience of first-generation Americans: “No matter how hard we try to assimilate, we will always be seen as ugly,” says Jagannath.
Mad Hatter (in the velvet coat, long nails, nose ring and chai earrings) is Vybhav’s queer alter ego. He is aggressively unique and secure almost to the point of intentionally making people around him uncomfortable. He encourages confidence and pride in pursuing one’s vulnerability and truth, here represented by aggressive rap lyrics.
In order to visually represent the rap, the video incorporates one of India’s richest storytelling artforms Bharatanatyam, an Indian classical dance commonly associated with elite and educated circles, but used here to dismantle the wall that exists between the artform and an unfamiliar audience.
Finally, Vybhav Jagannath (the red bomber jacket at the coffee) regularly changes his personality to make the people around him feel comfortable with his existence as a queer Indian-American. (Hence the mental health challenges). In the video he and his friends humorously clock each other for “whitewashing” themselves as they order chai (and Indian drink) at an American coffee shop.
“I am self-actualizing by learning to love each part of myself enough to incorporate them into my one being. VJDAMUSICMAN and Mad Hatter live inside me and no longer have to live as separate personas or alter egos; they can all calmly exist and thrive in one being, Vybhav Jagannath.”
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