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Meet The 18-Year-Old Who Just Became India’s First K-Pop Idol

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Puja Talwar

As the world grooves to K-pop, the idols and artists are not only household names but a global fandom that’s unmatchable. Fans across time zones and geographies are bound by a sacred and loyal allegiance—from the BTS ‘Army’ and the Seventeen ‘Carats’ to the Blackpink ‘Blinks’ and the TXT ‘Moa’s’, K-pop has emerged as the most heard and sold musical genre across the world.

And now, from Odisha to Seoul, 18-year-old Shreya Lenka is living the dream of millions as she becomes India’s first K-pop Idol as the fifth member of the girl group Blackswan.

The teenager, who was selected along with Gabriela Dalcin from Brazil through an audition programme organised by DR Music (Blackswan’s music company), admits the past few weeks have been a blur, as she juggles between practice sessions, media interviews and felicitations. “I am overwhelmed and honestly it’s still a dream for me that my dream came true,” says Lenka, who goes by her stage name Sriya.

A trained Odissi dancer, Lenka got interested in K-pop after a friend made her listen to EXO’s smash hit ‘Growl’ in 2016. “I used to watch Korean dramas, but when my friend made me listen to ‘Growl’ by EXO, I was mesmerised. The artists , their energy, how they conducted themselves on stage, the ecstatic crowd, was really something else and I wanted to see myself as part of this world. I started researching about K-pop, understanding it but there were only offline auditions and I used to wonder how can I even try being part of this magical world.”

As offline auditions opened up in 2020, Lenka devoted herself to auditioning, working on her vocals by training in Hindustani classical music to get her pitch right. After a year of auditions, the opportunity presented itself in the form DR Music’s ‘Cygnus’, a six month long global search project to find a replacement after the exit of Hyeme, one of the group’s members.

Lenka admits, “It was tough, 4000 participants which came down to 23, then four and I am glad that they chose both Gabi and me, we had become friends and worked like a team and I can’t wait to share what we have planned as Blackswan gears up for its epic comeback”.

However what makes Blackswan, which earlier went by the name Rania, unique is the diversity. It’s a multicultural and multinational group. While Youngheun and Judy are Koreans, Fatou is Senegalese, and Leia is Brazilian. Lenka says it’s this very aspect of the group, which is inspiring and motivating for aspiring artists.

“We all want more opportunities and want the world to come together, we at Blackswan have a line ‘We are Blackswans, not by skin, colour, age or nationality but by talent and uniqueness that unites people’.” She further adds that her ‘seniors’ have been more than welcoming, “It’s not just Gabi and I who are learning from them, they are learning from us too, they have a seeking spirit.”

However, living the idol life translates as a lot of hard work and dedication, a commitment to stay on top of your game and constant improvisation.

“It’s a lot of hard work, there are singing and dancing lessons, you have to constantly practise and up your game. There are no shortcuts, there is a lot of emphasis on body and weight management. To conduct yourselves on and off stage, you need to be an ‘Idol’ in every sense of the word. But do understand that there is fierce competition and everyone is equally dedicated and hardworking. The vibe is palpable and you only want to give and do your best.”

As Blackswan gears up to present their new song, Shriya, who will soon be leaving for Seoul having transitioned from trainee to idol, hopes to bring her group to tour in her home country.

“They are very fascinated and loved the chicken curry I cooked for them, and we will be more than happy to perform here,” says the young artist.