Once upon a time, Vanalika Shan joined her preschool choir, and from then on her destiny was sealed: Her heart belonged to music. Though no one else in her family was a musician, this was her calling. She knew she would rely on the twin engines of hard work and passion to make her dreams come true. From third grade on, she studied classical voice, and she began classical piano lessons the next year. When her father’s career in IT took her family to India, Australia, and several states in America, music was Shan’s constant companion. As the singer-pianist contemplated her next step beyond high school, she thought of how dreams can change. This led to her writing “Midnight,” an indie R&B ballad that questions Cinderella’s story.
“The song’s original meaning was about enjoying another person’s presence. I was a senior in high school and I had to start thinking about college and what that would mean for this person and our interactions. It got me thinking ‘what if Cinderella didn’t get the ‘happily ever after?’ How would she react in that situation?’ That’s where my song ended up going,” Shan says. These questions are dramatized in the video which Shan co-directed. The video shows her wearing a royal blue formal dress and tiara, waiting in a castle-like space as the background changes.
In the video, she seems at peace with what some might call disillusionment. “I loved the way it turned out because it gives you a picture where the character isn’t upset that they didn’t get there happily-ever-after. They’re more content with the fact that they got to make memories. That’s how I grew as a person during the process. I saw that growth not only in my music but also in myself,” says Shan. Music has always done that for her offering a safe space for growth. “I always describe music as my bridge. It bridges my gap. I’ve moved around a lot and had to go into new environments not knowing anything, being the new student all the time,” she explains.
But Shan hardly seems afraid of new situations or big chances. Though she’s 18, she already has a host of huge performance credits to her name. “When I was in Australia, I got the amazing opportunity to perform at the Sydney Opera House. I auditioned and was selected and given a solo piece. I’ve also performed at several celebrity weddings back in India. That means groups of like 3,000 or 4,000 people! We love our big weddings,” she laughs, adding that she also sings in her mother tongues of Tamil and Hindi. “When I moved back here to Texas, I performed at Gas Monkey Live and House of Blues. I also performed at iHeart Radio’s Jingle Ball, and I did the theme song for Drew Pearson live,” she says, enumerating her highlights so far.
As wonderful as these performances had been, Shan is focusing on the future. She’s taking a gap year before college to release and market her music. The singer-pianist hopes to keep honing her craft, including her songwriting. She cites authenticity as hugely important to her message, citing songwriters like Ed Sheeran for his “organic and natural style.” She also mentions Billie Eilish as someone who’s made her own style rather than follow trends. “I don’t make music that has a flavor of just everybody but rather music where you can hear me, Vanalika Shan,” she says.
“Vanalika” means “sunflower,” and that name too seems to be part of the musician’s destiny, courageously adding vibrancy to the world around her. As she says, “My name means sunflower, so I want to take the perspective of that and emphasize that it’s okay to brighten the world. It’s okay to spread positivity. I want to brighten the world — one sunflower at a time.”