“‘Jalebi Baby’ is just one aspect of my life.”

There’s no avoiding the topic of “Jalebi Baby” with Shweta Subram, the Indian-born, Canadian-raised, Dubai resident whose voice lends the monster pop song by Tesher its titular hook. The biggest hit you’ve ever worked on is bound to come up in an interview, but that’s not where we start our conversation.

We ask Subram, whose Wikipedia entry calls her first and foremost a playback singer, how she defines herself – given that her music career encompasses a variety of aspects.

“I like to say that I’m a fusion artist,” she replies. “Growing up I was learning Indian music, but at the same time I was exposed to Western music and, of course, Bollywood [which has] everything from folk to hip-hop, pop to jazz, to everything. I wouldn’t narrow it down to just being a playback singer, because in fact, my career started off with independent music.”

Subram was known as live performer and a radio host in the Ottawa region when she started writing her own songs in her early twenties. In 2011, she uploaded videos for two original tracks, “Jee Le” (co-written with Vikas Kohli, Rajeev Tandon, and MC J.D) and “Ajooba” (co-written with, and featuring, Richilous) to YouTube. This led to an invitation to perform at the International Indian Film Academy Awards (IIFA) in Toronto, which then opened the doors to a career in playback singing for Bollywood films, starting with 2015’s drama Hawaizaada, in which she sang the title song, “Dil-e-Nadaan.”

Shweta Subram, Piano Guys, Swedish House Mafia, Don't You Worry Child, Khushnuma

Select the image to play the YouTube video of the song “Don’t You Worry Child (Khushnuma)”

Subram was also put in front of millions of Western music listeners in 2013, when YouTube sensations The Piano Guys asked her to collaborate on their first Indian-language video, a cover of Swedish House Mafia’s blissful club hit “Don’t You Worry Child.” She was tasked with translating the original lyrics into Hindi, recording vocals with The Piano Guys in their Utah studio, and performing in the music video. She calls the assignment “a huge honour” but also admits feeling a lot of pressure.

“When you create your own composition, you’re only answerable to yourself,” she says. “But when you have Sony music behind The Piano Guys, you have millions of subscribers and fans around the world from different cultures, and a song that’s everywhere on the radio… I was like, ‘We better do justice to it.’”

The video to their Indian cover version called “Khushnuma” (lyrics co-written by Subram and Abhay Jodhpurkar) has been viewed more than 22 million times.

That other viral hit, 2020’s “Jalebi Baby” by Indo-Canadian rap star Tesher, has been certified Platinum in Canada, and with a remix video, co-starring Jason Derulo, that’s been viewed more than 350 million times. That’s Shweta Subram singing the memorable “Jalebi Baby” hook in the chorus. But while her voice is prominent, she’s listed in the credits as a background vocalist.

“I was upset about it,” she says. “But I only want to congratulate Tesha because, you know, I believe in karma. It was a learning experience on how to approach a project the next time.  Ask a thousand questions. Get your management and your lawyers involved. Even before you sign any contracts.”

Looking forward, Subram is continuing to work on new originals, seeking fresh collaborators, and keeping an ear out for future covers. “That’s the reality of the industry we’re in,” she says. “You never know what the recipe is for that one hit.”