Sheena Melwani: ‘Close the Windows’
If it means you’re cold, that’s one thing. But if it means something else to you, then you’re probably a fan of singer Sheena Melwani and her “Interrupted” series on TikTok. What started as a friendly contest with her brother to see who could get the most followers has grown into millions of views. Now, she’s carved out a niche for herself with a mash-up of music, comedy, pranks and little snippets of her life that even make her LOL.
If someone had told Sheena Melwani even just a few years ago that she’d be where she is today, she wouldn’t have believed it: creating hundreds of videos doing covers of pop songs, then getting interrupted by her “real Indian dad,” who heckles her, but never appears onscreen. “I had no idea that I would be the face of this random comedic act,” she says. “It was always so focused on music.”
In one episode, Melwani is singing, “I dug my key into the side of his pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive …” Then the heckling starts: “Why you put your name? Put his name … don’t leave evidence at the scene of a crime.” And the video ends as most of them do — with Melwani laughing her guts out, and the heckler throwing down his practically patented line, “Close the windows.” (Meaning: “We’re done here.” Often followed by, “Go to sleep.”)
Sharing her voice came early in life to Melwani. “It was one of those things that was apparent from a young age,” she says. “I sang in a preschool performance of The Sound of Music, and everyone said, ‘That girl is going to be a singer.’” They were right. Born in Montreal, she attended McGill University (and gets tears in her eyes when she learns that U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris spent her high-school years in Montreal, too, graduating from Westmount High School). Unlike Vice-President Harris, though, Melwani got married and moved to Japan with her husband, joining a YouTube community to post music videos. “I used that as a way to connect with friends and family, and then the audience started to grow,” she says.
When they moved to Boston a year later, her music career started to take off, and she started performing at different venues, such as Fenway Park and House of Blues. Then, she told her husband she wanted to start a family. “I remember telling him, ‘I feel like I can give my career a pause right now and go back to it in a couple of years,’” she says. So, she played her last show at House of Blues when she was about eight months pregnant. But life doesn’t always go as planned, and it just gets unexpected sometimes, and Melwani just did not have the heart to leave her son, who’s 10 now.
It was the same story when her daughter was born (now a seven-year-old). Her husband pushed her to give herself a deadline, so about a year and a half ago, she reignited her YouTube page. “I just started building again, and I had to relearn the social media completely from the ground up because everything had changed,” she says. Then the pandemic hit, but still, her husband urged her to keep moving forward. She started doing live online concerts on Facebook a few times a week. “People started to join and listen and talk to me in real time, and we would just spend an hour together and get through the evening,” she says. For Melwani, it is still all about the music, and she is working on an EP now, which she’s pretty excited about and hoping to release this spring, telling us that “original music has always been my focus, first and foremost.”
“I sang in a preschool performance of The Sound of Music, and everyone said, ‘That girl is going to be a singer’”
Similar to many other families, Melwani’s family started forwarding funny TikTok videos back and forth. “One day, my brother made one, and it was really funny, so we got a pool going to see who could get past 1,000 views,” she says. She posted one of her singing JP Saxe’s “If the World Was Ending,” with a few comments from the peanut gallery at home. “I put it up and overnight it went crazy.” In a fun twist, Saxe recorded himself singing his song, subbing in the words from her video, which has become one of her favourite moments. And, well, that’s how the “Interrupted” series got started. The videos themselves have morphed over the past few months. Her piano needs work, so she’s had to get creative and now she puts out snippets of a conversation or pulls a few pranks sometimes. “I sprinkle a little of everything in there,” she says.
Like most people during the pandemic, Melwani is finding her way, trying to make it work with two kids. “Life is crazy — as it is for most people,” she says. She tries to not spend too much time over-producing the clips, working mostly later in the evenings, after her kids are in bed, but they are pretty supportive, too. “They get up every morning and ask ‘Can we see what you posted?’” she laughs.
Something like this can take on a life of its own and it has to be managed, but Melwani is quick to point out that she gets a lot from all the feedback, too. “I spend hours answering comments — but it’s important, connecting with the audience is half of the joy that comes with it.” She loves that her videos make people laugh, especially at a time when we all need it. And that’s why she likes to keep the videos clean, too. “They’re cross-generational. I hear that people watch them with their children and send them to their parents. I hear they send them to their grandparents, too.”
Melwani also receives some heartfelt messages, like the one she received from someone who had lost their partner, saying that even though they are at home now, the videos are helping to get through the grief, or one from someone who was depressed, telling her that her videos are a welcome relief. “It’s just really heartwarming,” she says.
“When the pandemic hit, we turned more to music, we turned more to laughter, and this was what was born of it — I really feel like I have the ability now to sing and also to connect with people in a way not really explored before,” she says. “And I feel really lucky to be able to share that with people.”