Even if you haven’t followed the steady rise of Vidya Iyer (or Vidya Vox, as she is more popularly known), it would have been hard to miss her viral mashup cover of Chainsmoker’s earworm ‘Closer’ and ‘Kabira’.
Chennai-born Vidya, who is based in the US, has become an internet sensation by representing her own dual cultural identity by way of musical mashups. Her 1.9 million-strong YouTube channel is a testament to the fact that she has made it (despite what she still believes). Singing since the age of 5, Vidya had a chance meeting in college with Shankar Tucker, an American musician who rose to fame through his YouTube channel. Their subsequent collaboration was the catalyst that kicked off her online career. In 2013, Vidya moved to Mumbai to 'reconnect with Hindustani music', a move that helped her discover her knack for creating internet-melting mashups.
Between rehearsals for her live performance at Radio Mirchi’s ‘Mirchi Fusion Fields’ in Mumbai recently and fighting off major jet lag, Vidya talked about her upcoming work, dealing with trolls and working in Bollywood.
ELLE: Do you remember the exact moment when you thought that you’ve made it?
Vidya Iyer: (Laughs) I haven’t really thought that yet. I’m still working on a lot of things. As a musician, I’m trying to find my artistic direction, especially with my original music. Covers are good and mashups are awesome, but it doesn’t really show your personal style. Once I can do with original music what I do with mashups, then I'd think I've made it.
ELLE: What are the things you keep in mind when you’re creating a mashup? Talk us through your process
VI: While I'm driving or in the shower, it comes to me ‘Oh! This would make such a cool mashup’. I had been getting a lot of requests to do something with ‘Closer’. Then I heard ‘Kabira’ and I thought that they would go together perfectly. The songs were in the same scale, so they synced perfectly.
ELLE: You’ve collaborated with a lot of other YouTubers for your mashups and videos. How do you find them?
VI: I reach out to my musician friends, but it’s usually last minute. With ‘Closer’, I recorded the entire thing but I felt like it needed a male voice. Casey (Breves) lives really close to my house in LA. I called him and asked if he wanted to record it with me and he agreed. And it was awesome. We’ve built a community now; everyone does it for each other.
ELLE: What kinds of pop culture influences did you grow up with? Did they affect the way you make music now?
VI: At home I would listen to a lot of Carnatic music and bhajans. I wasn’t allowed to listen to any other music. So on my school bus, when the bus driver had the radio on, I would get to listen to Destiny's Child and Shakira. It always felt like two separate worlds to me and I'd think of how I could bring these two worlds together. There’s the culture I grew up with, at my home, and then there’s one at my school. It felt like an identity struggle and that’s how I started doing mashups, because I felt I needed to marry the two worlds.
When I recorded the Sia song, I felt like I needed to show that I spent 15 years learning and singing Indian music. No one’s going to know that if I'm singing a Sia song. So I added ‘Kabhi Jo Badal Barse’ to it. Now I think like that every time I’m doing a song, ‘what Indian element can I add to it?’
ELLE: Anyone and everyone with a working Internet connection can be a critic these days. How do you deal with haters online?
VI: I try not to read the comments. As soon as I upload a video, I spend a few minutes just to check that there are no technical issues. After that, I don’t touch the comments at all. I think that music is so personal. What you like and what I like might be so different. I am proud of all the mashups that I’ve done and I’ve worked really hard for every single video. For people to be dismissive about it in a YouTube comment is really hurtful. No matter how many good comments I get, that one comment would always stick with me. So I try to insulate myself. You can’t please everybody.
ELLE: Which Bollywood music producer would you like to collaborate with, if given a chance?
VI: A.R. Rahman, obviously. He is amazing and I’ve grown up listening to him. Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy are great too. I haven’t got any offers yet though (laughs).
ELLE: So what’s next for you?
VI: I’m working on some more mashups. I’ve just released an original song the first single from my EP, and I'm releasing more in the coming months.