The teen singer-songwriter speaks about her EP, why she chose to sing opera and her dream to be on the Billboard charts
Aditi Iyer wears the crown of a prodigy with elan. One of the few Indian singers trained in opera, she caught the attention of music lovers with her covers of Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Mariah Carrey and Miley Cyrus. She followed it up with some original compositions and an EP release at the age of 10. Now 17, Aditi makes no bones about her desire to make it to the Billboard charts one day. Her just-released four-track EP, Dollhouse, focusses on abusive relationships. She explores a gamut of emotions through her lyrics and her synth-bass hop vocals.
In a Zoom interview, Aditi talks about her passion and dreams.
What led you to choose the topic of abusive relationship for ‘Dollhouse’?
Everyone has relationship problems. The person who inspired me to write this song is a teenager, a friend of mine. She is currently in an abusive relationship with a boy, who often leaves her for other girls and keeps coming back to her. I know so many girls like her facing this and it is never really talked about. I wanted to highlight the dark side of the teenage years, which are not as carefree as people think they are.
Why did you choose to train in opera considering it is a niche genre in India?
I didn’t really have opera on my mind. When I was eight, my parents and I were searching for a voice teacher as we felt I needed some guidance on my vocal technique. We then met Situ Singh Buehler in Delhi who trained me in opera, which has since become a means to my end. Opera training has laid a foundation for my singing, like learning breathing techniques, how to resonate, how to keep a healthy vibrato… these are things you can use everywhere. While I may not be an opera singer, I practise whenever I can because it helps me sing pop and refine my voice.
Have you given any opera concerts?
Yes, I have. At 15, I performed an opera concert at National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai. I sang three songs. I am open to performing more. While opera singing may not be my career, I thoroughly enjoy it.
Your advice to aspiring opera singers in India.
I would say, go for it, but with caution. It matters how you sing it. You need to have a vocal foundation before you take up opera. There are many conservatories abroad you can learn opera from. India might be a little dry on opportunities, but there are many dedicated opera centres. The career opportunities may not be like that for mainstream pop but there are many places where you can make a living out of it.
Who are your opera inspirations?
I looked up to Charlotte Church a lot when I was younger. Jackie Evancho is also an inspiration. In India, I know a couple of opera singers who are all good. I like Sparsh Bajpai, who has such a powerful voice and can control her notes so well. I did one opera with her. She may not be famous as the Western counterparts but she is just as good.
Is there a Bollywood dream?
I used to have the dream but it got crushed pretty quickly. Bollywood has a lot of talented singers, but unfortunately, there is a lot of nepotism. It is really hard for a person like me to get in. Another thing is I don’t sing in Hindi that well. I tried singing in English at talent shows and was unceremoniously rejected. I am going to aim for a more plausible option to record my music.
How do you deal with the adulation and the expectation that come from being a prodigy?
Prodigies are not given the luxury of enjoying their childhood. They are expected to think and act like adults. I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. I know my strengths and it has made me a rounded person. What is particularly pressuring when you are a prodigy is that people define you solely with what you are good at. It is good to have an identity that defines you but apart from being a singer, I would like to be recognised as the person that I am.
Where do you draw inspiration for your lyrics?
I read a lot. I read about people’s experiences or the experiences of my friends. That motivates me. I do believe words have a limitation, but music doesn’t. When there is a desire to empathise with people I get motivated to write. I am not particularly the most socially savvy person and I do not know what to say in certain situations. But there is a desire to express, so I say that through my music. I feel music can be used to change society and for expressing ideas.
How did living abroad help shape you as a person?
I am blessed to have had this international exposure. I was born in London, then moved to Singapore and then to Indonesia and then came to India. We speak Tamil at home. I have great parents who support me. When I was in kindergarten my teachers thought I was insane and they would tell my parents to get me tested because I would be restless and didn’t follow what other kids were doing. I have had a few music teachers who did not want to teach me properly but my parents stood by me. Mom has been there through thick and thin so has my dad. In India a lot of parents don’t want their kids to pursue music, they want security so they choose lucrative jobs. Not that they are easy professions but are conventional and gives you a job guarantee unlike an unpredictable profession like music or dance. I have seen so many of my friends who’ve been forced to choose subjects in school that they never wanted. So I’m grateful to my family.
What’s on the anvil for the future?
I am working on a new piece of music that I will be releasing in a few months. What I’m excited about is the change I can bring to my music; being young I have the freedom to experiment. Apart from music, I am writing every day to hone my skills as a writer and discover myself. Being an artiste, it’s important to reflect and try to get better and evolve. It is my dream to be on the Billboard charts and to show that we are not just Bollywood but have a diverse music scene.