Vivek Shraya wanted to be a pop star when she was younger. That dream never came true, but the Edmonton-born artist, singer and writer went far enough to make a TV show about the experience.
How to Fail as a Popstar follows Vivek’s journey: a young queer boy who aspires and fails to become a “Brown Madonna” – the pinnacle of ’90s musical stardom. The coming-of-age story is told from Vivek’s perspective today, trans author and creative writing teacher.
Working with unhinged producers and abusive managers along the way, Vivek pursues his dream from his local Sai Center, to competitions in Edmonton malls, to Toronto’s indie club scene, to the studios brilliant music artists from Paris, then back to Edmonton, where his story began.
“I think (for) most of us, the idea of our life that we have when we’re teenagers, I feel like 90 percent of us aren’t actually living that life,” Shraya said in an interview with CBC News.
The challenge was to tell a story of failure at a time when success seems more accessible than ever. As Shraya jokes, young fans told her that she should just try to go viral on TikTok.
That’s the essence of what she explores in CBC’s musical comedy-drama Gem. She adds, “What does it mean to grow up and realize you’re not going to achieve your teenage dream, but still live your life and enjoy it?”
Q11:50 p.m.Vivek Shraya: How to Fail as a Popstar, The Quest for Fame and Self-Compassion
The chronology of How to Fail as a Popstar bounces between several different periods of Vivek’s life. There are four different versions of Vivek in the series, with Shraya playing the current dream and pop-star versions of his character, and two young actors playing the child and teenage versions.
Shraya, who now lives in Calgary, recognizes the irony of being able to make a TV show about her failed dream. But her accomplishments as an artist, singer, writer and associate professor still don’t compare to her childhood ambition, she says.
“I felt like I could put down roots.”
She started writing the story a few years ago, and as she thought about where she wanted her career to go, “I kept coming back to music, even though I knew it wouldn’t happen .”
But young Vivek still gave music a chance. While filming scenes in which Vivek works with antagonistic figures in the music industry who, at times, intimidate him into their own vision of the kind of musician he should be, Shraya says she became emotional.
“I felt like I could ground myself in my past, in a way that I couldn’t right now,” Shraya said.
WATCH | The trailer for How to Fail as a Popstar:
Shraya said she believed in her parents (her mother is portrayed in the series), even though they didn’t really understand what young Vivek was going through during the real-life experiences he went through. How to Fail as a Popstar depicted.
“I don’t think they understand what I do,” she said. “But for them to be able to go there, be able to turn on their television and watch a show, I think it’s one of the few times in my 20-year career where they’ve been able to (actually) get a glimpse of what I do in the world.
How to Fail as a Popstar was a one-man play before Shraya adapted it into a book and then into an eight-episode television series. She’s finally ready to leave the story behind — unless it’s turned into a Broadway musical.