On a recent Thursday night at Sleep Train Arena, an abundance of high-value targets made competition for the spotlight a cutthroat business.
TNT network cameras were trained tightly on Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant, who was playing through a sore shoulder in his final meeting against the Sacramento Kings. Cellphones triangulated on Jamie Foxx, the Oscar-winning actor who was seated courtside. Even Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri, was in the house to perform with the Kings Dancers on a special evening dubbed “Bollywood Night.”
But for three minutes at halftime, the spotlight belonged to pop singer Anjali Ranadive, 23, who performs under the stage name “Anjali World.” Wearing a bejeweled lavender sari and a bindi, she stalked center court, serenading the crowd with “Bad Boy Good,” her latest release, a synth-heavy mid-tempo “club banger” about her ability to, well, make a bad boy good seemingly through sheer force of her personality.
Ranadive, of course, is the daughter of Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive, and her recent performance was far from her first at Sleep Train. In April 2014, she performed her single “We Turn Up” – an ode to up-all-night dancing – at the halftime of another Kings/Lakers match-up. She handled halftime duties again in December 2014 with her track “Nobody.” She also represented the team in the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery and performed a duet with Tesla’s Frank Hannon in 2013’s “Long Live the Kings” rally at Cesar Chavez Plaza, not long after her father took over the team.
Which is all a way of saying that Ranadive knows standing awash in klieg light doesn’t necessarily mean commanding attention or earning fans. Food and drink on the concourse lured some people away from her recent halftime show, which culminated in waves of clapping more polite than rabid. But the performance received at least one enthusiastic review. “She wasn’t just good, she was great!” said Tarun Galagali, 24, a Lakers fan from Cupertino. “It’s cool. It’s like a dream to see an Asian singer like this. As an Indian American, it was an honor for me to see.”
That kind of praise is likely music to Ranadive’s ears, as her songs have received some sad-trombone comments, particularly online. “Honestly she cute … but just because you have money doesn’t always equal having talent.” wrote YouTube user Guhji Pihuj on the “We Turn Up” video.
Ranadive has heard the “money” criticism before during her bid to climb the peaks summited by artists such as Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift. The inference is that her father is buying her a career, or that she doesn’t deserve the attention she’s received.
“It was very intimidating, especially with all the preconceived notions about my family,” Ranadive said of her decision to become a singer. “ ‘Oh, you’re just a rich girl trying to do music.’ I’ve had to really prove myself. I’m doing this every single day. I’m putting everything into this.”
Ranadive said her father is not financing her singing career, and that she’s working her own contacts and helping build the business behind her brand. Ranadive earns upward of $15,000 for a meet-and-greet session with fans, says her producer and manager, David “Super Dave” Knott. Money from appearance fees and merchandise sales is funneled into her music projects, which include a six-song EP and at least four music videos.
“If Daddy was helping, Steven Spielberg would be directing her videos,” Knott said. “We’d just buy a label and call it a day. But you can’t buy a fan. You have to create a fan.”
(People have said) ‘Oh, you’re just a rich girl trying to do music.’ I’ve had to really prove myself. ... I’m putting everything into this.
Ranadive says breaking the news to her father that she’d decided to pursue a career in pop music was a difficult conversation, largely because of his expectations. “There’s a lot of stereotypes, especially with Indian families,” Ranadive said. “My family likes to joke, ‘You can either be an engineer or a doctor.’ So to them, going into music was a huge stretch.”
The conversation took place in 2013 when Ranadive, who attended high school near Menlo Park, was preparing to graduate from UC Berkeley with a degree in marine science. She didn’t have a formal background in music, save for a stint in her high-school choir. During college, she continued to work on her singing, uploading performances onto YouTube with the help of her roommate/ “manager.”
With a 2-day-old college diploma among her belongings, Ranadive packed up her Bay Area apartment and moved to Southern California to give the music business a shot. “I (was) like if I don’t do it now, I’m going to regret it the rest of my life,” Ranadive said.
In L.A., she connected with Knott, a producer who’d worked on tracks for Minaj and the chart-topping rapper Big Sean. Knott saw the potential for international success in Ranadive, especially in Asia. The music charts had yet to see much crossover via Indian music, with a rare exception found in a remix of “Beware of the Boys” by Panjabi MC featuring hip-hop star Jay-Z.
In the same way Vivek Ranadive has said he wants to grow an audience for the Kings in India, Knott envisions a similar international business opportunity with Anjali World. “Aside from just her pure talent, it’s her cultural background too in terms of her Indian heritage,” said Knott, who writes much of her music. “There’s a huge audience for her. There’s over a billion people living in India. She also has a big following in China.”
Ranadive performs under the stage name “Anjali World” so as not to be confused with another singer named “Anjali,” and to get a bit of distance from the family name. (It also happened that “anjaliworld” was an available URL, an important aspect for a Web-savvy singer.)
“It’s definitely hard navigating in the industry when people know my background,” Ranadive said. “A lot of the time they try and charge me three times as much as a normal person and stuff like that. I’m doing this all on my own, independent of my parents.”
That doesn’t mean there aren’t perks to being a Ranadive. As the daughter of a wealthy NBA team owner, she has access to opportunities and networks out of reach for most upstart singers. This fall, for example, Ranadive hung out courtside at Sleep Train with her father and rapper Drake when the Kings played the Toronto Raptors.
But being part of the family has put other constraints on her career. She pledged to her parents that she’d keep her music free of profanity and wouldn’t sell an overly sexualized image in her music videos, a decision that puts her at odds with many of her contemporaries.
Ranadive’s father also had expressed concerns about a potential collaboration with Chris Brown, the multimillion-selling R&B singer who was charged with felony assault in a domestic violence incident with former girlfriend Rihanna. The recording with Brown never materialized, but Ranadive says that was due to other reasons, not because she was simply following her father’s wishes. Either way, Ranadive believes her brand of clean fun can resonate on the pop charts.
“It’s been hard when I’ve (told rappers), ‘You can’t curse,’ ” Ranadive said. “Don’t get me wrong. I love to go out with my girls, but it’s different when you start to talk about drugs and alcohol and swear words. Yes, you can have fun without all that is what I’m trying to show.”
If Daddy was helping, Steven Spielberg would be directing her videos. We’d just buy a label and call it a day. But you can’t buy a fan. You have to create a fan.
David “Super Dave” Knott, Anjali Ranadive’s producer and manager
Ranadive released her first single, “We Turn Up,” in 2014. The track – and its fusion of R&B and Indian “bhangra” rhythms – featured an appearance from French Montana, the rapper and former paramour of Khloe Kardashian. On her song “Nobody,” Ranadive collaborated with Tyga, the popular rapper linked to Kylie Jenner. Ranadive’s connection to Tyga was enough to generate a few online posts speculating that the two were a couple. (Ranadive says they were not.)
As a singer, Ranadive is not a vocal gymnast or belter like Kelly Clarkson. But she does have enough range and ability to more than adequately perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” before sporting events – something that socialites who sought pop stardom, like Paris Hilton, could never pull off.
Much of her music follows a familiar template of urban pop – with lyrical focus on strained relationships and nights on the town – but Ranadive has peppered certain songs with animal rights themes, including her 2015 single “World on Fire” and its shark conservation messages. Some of the proceeds from her music benefit her Jaws & Paws organization.
The animal activism in her music speaks to her father. “I think she can have a big impact,” Vivek Ranadive said. “She can use her celebrity and her following. She’s already trying to stop shark finning. I think she can use her social network to appeal to people at a higher level.”
Sales for her 2015 EP, “Brave New World,” have not been much to speak of. According to Nielsen Music, it has sold just 10 copies, and the combined sales for her singles are 1,400. She’s received 206,000 on-demand streams of her songs on YouTube/Vevo, XBox Music and other digital platforms, Nielsen said. It’s also worth noting that she has more than 76,000 followers on Instagram.
“We’re not thinking of how many sales she has,” Knott said. “It’s all about (video) views and (social media) followers. The strength of her brand and what we bring to the table is being recognized.”
Ranadive, who performed at Sacramento’s Ace of Spades in December, is scheduled to leave Feb. 2 on a monthlong tour of clubs and theaters as an opening act for Skate, a rapper from Nebraska who was nominated as “next best thing” in the 2015 Teen Choice Awards. She said she dreams the spotlight will be all hers some day.
“For me, there is no Plan B,” Ranadive said. “I don’t care if I’m 40 years old and still trying to make it. To me, this is it.”
Residence: Southern California
Education: Degree in marine science from UC Berkeley
Discography: Includes “We Turn Up” (single, released 2014); “Brave New World” EP (released 2015)
Charity work: Founder of Jaws & Paws, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting endangered species.