Nazia Hassan, the South Asian Queen of Pop

The British Pakistani singer redefined global stardom in the 1980s. But her musical career was tragically cut short.

Nazia Hassan, the South Asian Queen of Pop
"Nazia Hassan"

Ayesha Le Breton


March 4, 2024


11 min

In “Aap Jaisa Koi” from Hindi film Qurbani (1980), actor Zeenat Aman dances and sways in front of a crowd, wearing a red cutout dress with fringes. Aman, however, has eyes only for Feroz Khan, who stands in the back of the club.

In many ways, the song is like any other Bollywood number: about two people, in love. But playful synthesizers, the twang of electric guitars, and raspy, sensual vocals ensured that “Aap Jaisa Koi” was unlike anything else the subcontinent had heard: instead of using the high-pitched sopranos typical of Hindi love ballads, the timbre was rawer, deeper, untrained. If you hear “Aap Jaisa Koi,” you can’t stop humming it.

The singer behind it? An unassuming Nazia Hassan, just 14, who would soon take the world by storm. With a blend of Urdu and English, disco and pop, Hassan changed the trajectory of music forever. Over 20 years since her untimely death at age 35, Hassan’s legacy continues to reverberate.

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