Three years ago, Nivi Saishankar stumbled upon a then-emerging app called TikTok and decided to post a video of her own with her twin sister, Kiran. Now, the San Diego-based Saishankar twins have almost 35 million likes on their page and have successfully launched their music careers.
Kiran and Nivi, 22, graduated last year from University of California, Irvine, where they majored in psychology and music, and business economics and music, respectively. But the pair told TODAY they’ve always known they wanted to pursue music post-graduation and have been singing since the age of 3.
“Music has always been destiny for us — it has always been the one thing we wanted to do for our whole life,” Kiran said.
On social media, Kiran and Nivi are known for their covers of popular and trending songs, where they put their own spin on each video. In addition to belting out Sia and Olivia Rodrigo, the twins are also trained in the South Indian style of Carnatic singing.
By the fall of 2020, a cover of “Overwhelmed” by Royal & the Serpent with a South Asian spin — the first time they tried it out — went viral, and everything fell into place.
“It’s kind of on-the-spot,” Kiran said. “When we sing these cover songs, we get random rhythmic sequences and compose it in five minutes and do it on the spot.”
The twins each have their own singing styles, and when those come together, they can create something beautiful. Nivi said she has more of a vulnerable and husky voice, while Kiran said hers is bigger and better suited for belting. When choosing songs to cover, they said they arrange the covers based on whose voice the song matches, with the other adding in South Asian embellishments or layered harmonies. Nivi said their separate styles are especially noticeable in their latest single, “1 Last Bye.”
Kiran and Nivi said they like to change up their covers in some aspect so they stand out from other covers. Whether that means one twin sings the melody while the other adds Carnatic music or different harmonies, each of their videos has a unique twist to it.
“We complement each other,” Nivi said. “Singing together from the age of 5 has helped us learn more about each other and our styles.”
Being twins and pursuing a joint career isn’t always easy, they said. Like any siblings, they often fight, sometimes over differences of opinion on musical arrangements. But at the end of the day, they said they always come to a consensus that works for both of them, and being twins ultimately has its perks.
“It’s been good to have a twin because you can just say everything and be real about it and not formal about it, and we just be real about what we want to sing,” Kiran said.
“It’s been good to have a twin because you can just say everything and be real about it and not formal about it, and we just be real about what we want to sing."
Nivi said she appreciates singing with her sister because they often know what the other is thinking, something that’s especially useful when they are performing live. But while they have a joint music career, they have very different personalities and friend groups, Kiran said, which allows them to live their own lives while also making music with their built-in “best friend.”
The twins said they are grateful to have found TikTok as a launching point into the pop industry, especially as young South Asian singers on the platform. Before becoming popular on TikTok, they said they didn’t know exactly how to pursue music. But with social media, those stepping stones have been much clearer and more attainable for them.
While Nivi said she was nervous at first that they would not be accepted or understood by their audience, she said she’s been surprised at how many people connected with what they were doing.
“People accept me for who I am,” Nivi said. “Music is universal — you don’t have to change your music or change your identity or change yourself just because someone doesn’t accept you.”