Shreya Lenka from Odisha, who goes by her stage name Sriya, was signed by DR Music post a six-month-long global search to replace four-member girl band BLACKSWAN’s former member Hyeme. Dropping hints of her K-pop debut, the 18-year-old talks to Travel + Leisure India & South Asia about her indelible journey to South Korea and representing India on a global stage. By Srushti Kulkarni
Excerpts from the interview with Shreya Lenka:
T+L India: You created history by becoming the first Indian K-pop band member. What was your reaction to being selected as a finalist for BLACKSWAN?
Shreya Lenka: It was like a dream come true! I had worked hard for achieving a place in the band and when it finally happened, I said to myself, ‘Yes, I made it to the top!’ I feel very happy and proud to represent my country on this big platform.
T+L India: How and when were you first exposed to K-pop?
Shreya Lenka: It was around 2016-17 when K-pop drew my interest and I began following it. One of my friends introduced me to K-pop with EXO’s song Growl. I was so amazed by their performance. Within no time I was hooked! I grew curious about performing before a humongous K-pop audience. I’m so glad my friends introduced me to K-pop; I can’t thank them enough. I have achieved this platform because of them.
T+L India: Korean bands and dramas are an overt emphasis on beauty and physical perfection. How does it feel to be a part of a band that is set to break these Korean stereotypes?
Shreya Lenka: It’s an honour! I have always wanted to spread the message to my fans and motivate them by providing hope that they should not give up on their dreams because of their skin colour, nationality or age. When I first arrived in South Korea, I thought that there will be some kind of differences because my band members come from different backgrounds. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Everyone here is like family and makes me feel at home. Every time I come here, I feel like I’m coming to my home, to my people.
T+L India: You beat 4,000 participants from all over the world to win the first generation of the Cygnus Project. What separates you from other artists?
Shreya Lenka: Ha ha! I don’t know for sure but it’s because I am very flexible. I worked really hard to showcase all the talent I had in me—maybe that’s what swayed the win in my favour.
T+L India: K-Pop is a blend of African diaspora dance forms. As a trained dancer in Odissi, how difficult or easy was it to adapt to the Korean dance form?
Shreya Lenka: I pursued Odissi for about a year-and-a-half, and later turned towards contemporary and freestyle dance forms which gave me an edge over mastering K-pop. I learnt hand gestures, body language, facial expressions, etc from Odissi. I wasn’t a versatile dancer and had to work on freestyle dancing before getting to South Korea. I needed to improve my stage presence.
T+L India: What were some cultural shocks that you experienced when you first arrived in South Korea?
Shreya Lenka: In India, I ate dinner around 9:30pm but in Korea, people dine between 6-7pm! I was taken aback by this and would start feeling hungry later in the night. Now I have become accustomed to it.
T+L India: You have been living in Seoul for the last six months, preparing for your K-Pop debut. Tell us about some of the hidden gems you’ve discovered during this stay.
Shreya Lenka: We haven’t gotten a chance to travel extensively but we did visit a few temples and parks. Dumulmeori in the Yangsu area is very beautiful and refreshing. I also paid a visit to the Korean Folk Village which is a living museum, and the serene Samcheong mountain park. We don’t get to travel much at the moment because we are invested in our practice but soon, we will be travelling a lot.
T+L India: Your home town, Jharsuguda in Odisha, is dotted with several scenic spots. What were some of your favourite places to visit while growing up?
Shreya Lenka: We used to visit Hirakud Dam very often. There is a water sports place near Hirakud Dam which was my go-to spot. We used soak in the tranquillity of the dam and enjoy the river views. I also visited the Rajarani Temple, Lingaraj Temple and Brahmeswara Temple in Bhubaneswar which showcase stunning architecture.
T+L India: What were some Odia delicacies you missed while you were training in Seoul?
Shreya Lenka: I miss everything that my mom cooks, especially chicken curry. I’m not a person who prefers to eat out, so home-food is my kind of food. I miss my mom’s butter chicken naan!
T+L India: We heard your training schedule resembles that of a professional athlete. What does your average day look like?
Shreya Lenka: The training is very rigorous for us. My day begins with language classes at the university and the afternoon is dedicated to the Art Studio. The rest of the day is purely for practice which included workouts, singing and dance lessons. That said, our practise sessions end at 9:30 at night. Post which I take my rap lessons and study lyrics before going to bed.
T+L India: Which is the one place in South Korea that has left an indelible impression on you?
Shreya Lenka: Hangang River has definitely mesmerised me. The river is the fourth longest river on the Korean peninsula and is just beautiful. The river offers views that will help you refresh and restart your body. I wish to revisit it and spend some quality time there.
T+L India: What is your dream venue/destination to perform at? Why?
Shreya Lenka: I have a long list! America, India, Japan, Brazil, Philippines, Belgium, Thailand and Dubai as well.
T+L India: As a member of BLACKSWAN, you will be travelling a lot for work. How is 2022 looking for you when it comes to travel?
Shreya Lenka: Oh, yes! Our debut will come out very soon, stay tuned! But now there is a lot of pressure because soon we will be travelling a lot and our practice sessions have levelled up for the same. I cannot specify the places yet but within a few months, we will be doing concerts. It’s a secret!