By Anya Shukla
“I guess all this is part of living out the American Dream,” Yukta Ramanan sings, her voice sliding smoothly between notes as she riffs. “It’s not what it seems.”
These lyrics come from Ramanan’s most recent song, titled on YouTube as “I wrote a song about Black Lives Matter.” Released in 2020, the piece raised awareness for the BLM movement last summer.
Ramanan believes that music is a universal language; “everyone understands art across linguistic and cultural barriers.” By writing a song about BLM, she hoped to express her solidarity in an accessible way.
Alongside music, Ramanan pursues topics like global health equity and youth-led policy advocacy. Her passion for activism has influenced her songwriting: her music focuses on topics like racial equity and mental health. “That's not to say that some of my songs aren't about having a crush,” she noted, “but it’s nice to see songs with a message.”
Her 2020 song marked one of the first times she shared her personal songwriting with the public. “I got a lot of positive and negative feedback,” Ramanan said. Many supported her piece, which received 800+ views on YouTube and was even shared on Lady Gaga’s Channel Kindness platform. However, Ramanan received some backlash from classmates. “People asked, “Is this song necessary? What you’re saying doesn’t matter,’” she recalled. While she had to navigate difficult conversations around her song and BLM in general, she believes that discourse means progress. In the end, she’s glad that her passion has “supplemented the incredible work of Black Lives Matter activists” and played a small part in raising awareness.
Of course, Ramanan’s musical journey did not begin in 2020. She grew up in a musical family and began singing as a toddler, first starting with Carnatic (a classical Indian singing style) vocal training, then transitioning into choir and pop music. “A lot of it is self-taught,” she said, describing her pop singing and songwriting. “I get strokes of inspiration at 2 AM; I wake up, and I write something down. Sometimes, those lyrics make songs; sometimes they don’t.”
While Ramanan dreams of getting signed by a label, she confessed that creating and posting songs is “super hard to do because I’m not a structured musician.” She doesn’t have any musical equipment; her YouTube videos consist of her singing on her phone, her bed visible in the background. “I would love for music to be a career, I’m not gonna lie,” Ramanan admitted. “But I also recognize that making it in the music industry is a one in a million chance” and requires not only meeting the right people, but releasing the right song at the right time. For this reason, she prioritizes school before her artistry, investing in academic extracurriculars over music rehearsals.
Ramanan also faces external pressure to choose schoolwork over music: “within the Indian community, there’s an aversion to the arts.” Many parents ask their children to quit music or dance in favor of electives like computer science once they reach high school.
While Ramanan hasn’t faced this request from her own parents, she has seen her friends being forced to drop their artistic interests. When Ramanan sees her peers pursuing STEM subjects, she feels peer pressure kicking in, pushing her to do the same: “I think, ‘Oh it's so hard to make it in the music industry regardless; songwriting takes effort, and everyone in my communities putting that effort into something else.” So far, she has combated those insecurities, but doing so requires significant mental effort and time.
Ramanan also worries about breaking into the music scene. Asian American representation—especially South Asian representation—in the mainstream pop world is scarce. Even platforms like YouTube or TikTok, algorithmically, tend to promote certain styles or faces. “It’s so hard to crack into the industry normally,” Ramanan said, “and it’s exponentially harder as a brown woman.”
Despite these doubts, Ramanan continues pursuing music and raising awareness for causes she believes in. “It brings me a lot of joy,” she said. Music has “been a constant in my life for so long that I can’t imagine giving it up.”
Even if she ends up pursuing a career in global health equity, or law, or activism in general, she knows she’ll keep music in her life. She encouraged other teens of color to do the same. “Don't quit, because you guys are as worthy and valued as any other musician or artist or creator. It has nothing to do with the color of your skin or the language that you speak, it genuinely is about the music you make. If you love what you're doing, just keep doing it.”