The very idea of appearing in front of a crowd is paralyzing. Ever-so iconic spotlights, hypnotizingly hallucinatory crowds screaming “Encore!”, and puddles worth of smeared graffiti quickly manifest themselves into blinding kaleidoscopes that strobe, strike, and spin enough to makes you sick at your stomach, creating that excess saliva that makes you want to spew verbal, if not actual, vomit. Add audience members who have come simply to laugh at you while taking mocking pictures and videos, and now your life is like the opening scene of Pitch Perfect .
This terrifying scenario, though petrifying, is exactly what sixteen-year-old twin sisters Carly and Martina Spiro have had to face, making it all the more amazing that these two teen pop sensations from Chicago have graced so many stages despite facing so much adversity. With both bravery and unapologetic confidence, these up-and-coming singer/songwriters have found solace in proving their haters wrong.
Though the incoming high school juniors have had to claw for every opportunity they have received, they have been rewarded with a loyal (and massive) fanbase who loves them, not only for their music, but for their fearless combatting of omnipresent cynics with juicy as a lollipop, sassy and inspiring pop music.
“When you build yourself up you’ll come crumbling down because you can’t build a house on jealousy and doubt,” Carly and Martina sing. Carly croons the top harmony, her songbird-like tone blended like gelato with her twin sister Martina’s low belt. As Carly moves her hands up and down while performing in her expressions of emotion and deliverance, Martina delicately yet deliberately cascades her fingers along the keys of her piano, hands pressing down hard in 4/4 time during the choruses.
Carly has this strange ability to sing with a smile. She brings a refreshing energy to the songs. Even slower tunes feel like a build as opposed to a monotone stagnation. Martina, meanwhile, brings an older soul to the stage, maintaining a stable and calming presence. Though it is obvious the two girls are working to assure that their singing, songwriting, and instrumental crafts are as perfect as can be possible, their real appeal is undeniably their superhuman enthusiasm mingled with oozing adolescence that their uplifting original tunes and glowing smiles exude.
Offstage, the girls shine just as brightly as they do on. Luckily, it is not just those who attend the shows get to meet this relaxed Carly and Martina. On the contrary, their 154k Instagram followers, 82k FaceBook fans, and 36.1k Twitter enthusiasts know the day-in-the-life of these teens, and connect with them constantly. “A very important part of our daily routine involves connecting with the fans.” Carly emphasizes. “We post at least 5 times on Music.ly, Instagram, we spend hours a day responding to DMs. It’s all about curating good content and interacting with our fans.”
So far, this strategy of focusing on growing social media has been massively successful for the twins, allowing them to share their songs on a global level. With approximately 2 million lifetime views on YouTube, the twins’ original songs, cover videos, and vlogs have amassed flocks of fans who are obsessed with the girls’ content. In part due to social media, the girls have been able to perform at the Chicago House of Blues, headline at Girl Scout rallies, meet deliriously happy fans at VidCon, and write with hit songwriters such as Victoria Shaw (Garth Brooks, Christina Aguilera) and “Big” Al Anderson (Meghan Trainor, Zac Brown Band). None of this, however, happened overnight, and most certainly not without a few storms of Rebecca Black “Friday” level hate.
“Okay, this is how all the crazy stuff started,” Martina said, taking a deep breath before diving into the exhausting tale, “We decided to leave school so that we could spend more time on music. We never talked about our music all that much, we were under the radar, but when we left, then people went from not knowing about us to totally hating us.”
“Yeah,” Carly continues, “And I get that, at that time, we barely had any followers, like 6,000, so they saw it as ‘Oh there’s such tryhards, they think they’re so great…’”
“But,” Martina finishes. “we needed those months to not be in high school in order to start building!”
Around the period of time Carly and Martina began online school, they started receiving a crazy amount of menace and trolling online. From dislikes on their videos to crude comments on their Instagram pictures, the girls were struggling with vicious and unwarranted attacks of cyber and in-person bullying. “It was crazy how bad it got,” Martina says. “We’d walk out of the house, we’d get stared at, people were all commenting mean stuff on our sites, they were rallying to dislike our videos on YouTube, it was just terrible.”
“We’ve even had kids buy tickets to our shows just to, like, mock us.” Carly rolls her eyes. “But hey, thanks for the money, guys!”
Unfortunately for Carly and Martina, bullying is nothing new. In their Ted Talk that opens, “Have you ever been bullied?” the two girls vulnerably share personal experiences of bullying in middle school and how that inspired them to get into music. Martina tells of having spondylosis, a spine condition which, during 6th grade, required her to wear a three-inch thick, plastic neck brace. Throughout the tumultuous period during which Martina was unable to attend school or even walk due to the device and the pain, she self-reportedly turned to “pizza, donuts, and ice cream” for enjoyment. The kids’ response? Labeling Martina “pregnant”, “fat” and “disgusting”.
Carly also had her 6th grade struggles. A speech impediment from a young age prohibiting her from pronouncing certain words, (though she has overcome those struggles to become a talking machine, today!) leading the the other children to call her “weird”, “psycho”, and “creepy” because she was different. All of the pain the girls were experiencing eventually led them to sit down together and write a song.
That song, a little tune called “Make Me Happy” all about not letting others keep you down, would eventually lead them to a hit music video, record deal offers, and most importantly, relief in the realization that something wonderful that gives others strength and happiness can stem from terrible experiences.
“All of this has made us who we are.” Martina says firmly. “We’ve learned that the status quo isn’t everything. We believe, first, there’s not just one way to do something. You don’t have to go to college right away, come out, get a job in finances, move back to your homown two blocks away from where you grew up, and start a family and raise your kids to be exactly the same way. You can follow your passions and be different.”
“Absolutely,” says Carly. “There’s no one way to do it. Anyone who tells you you are not good enough just can’t see it.”
“Yes,” Martina exclaims. “You’ve got a passion, something you love and can’t imagine not doing? Just do everything you can to make it happen because then it will.
“Everything that happened recently with our school and those kids made us question what we were doing, I thought it could’ve been the biggest mistake of my life leaving school,” Carly admits. “But now, I just think it’s stoked AF to try hard and be passionate about something! The most unattractive uncool thing is just people who do not care.”
So, what’s the latest big news in Carly and Martina’s life? Well, that might just be their latest and greatest hit single to date, “Block His Number”! The pastel-colored music video filled with highly GIF-able imagery has already amassed approximately half a million views, and is now officially their most streamed original song to date. The infectiously sweet as a pop sundae video production is a mix of Dua Lipa’s “New Rules” meets Sharpay’s “Fabulous”, but Carly and Martina are probably proudest of the song’s message.
“Traditional summer songs are about being in love and being excited for the summer.” Carly notes. “But hey, what about a song that says ‘Hey, this summer I’m not letting other people’s annoyingness ruin my summer’? What about, ‘I’m not giving any more of my time to people who don’t deserve this’? We wanted to write a song that’s summer with a twist.”
And this fresh take on the traditional summer anthem is notable within the video itself, cliches like summertime smoothies juxtaposed with bedazzled disco balls rather than beach balls scattered throughout, all the while featuring the girls gorgeous summer gear. Though Carly is modest when discussing the process, it’s obvious the girls did much of the creative work on the video, “We ended up directing, buying all of our own hair and makeup,” Carly begins.
“We didn’t buy our hair, Carly!” Martina laughs.
“Oh, sorry!” Carly says sarcastically.
“Ha-ha,” Martina coyly replies. “Anyway, we ended up doing hair, makeup, props, the set, everything. So we’re so happy with how it turned out.”
When I probe them on why this song in particular is getting such a great reaction, the girls in their uninhibited fashion contribute some of it to the industry’s lack of musical variety. “I think people are looking for something different.” Carly suggests. “We aren’t following the natural trend that pop is right now, but a lot of people want something new!” “The average person isn’t listening to one genre or trend.” Martina adds. “They’re listening to different styles, different lengths, all different topics. Our fans like that we do that. When we’re making music, we just focus on making what we want. It’s okay if not everything sounds the same!”
“That’s what gets me frustrated about this industry.” Carly says unabashedly. “When did it become wrong for one artist to have one song influenced by The Beatles and another by Stevie Wonder? Right now, the industry is trying to make people conform and say, ‘Hey, this is my brand, this is the only thing I’m going to do’, but that’s just so unrealistic. Songs should be the whole spectrum of what an artist is going through. People aren’t just one thing, you know?”
So, is there an album in the future for these girls? Though they can’t reveal too much, Carly does hesitantly admit, “We’ve got another song in the future, then another song in the future, and then…yeah.”
“We obviously want to do an album,” Martina smiles. “But we need enough support. Sure, we could put one out now, but we just wanna make a big splash.”
“We’ve got about 180 songs written!” Carly exclaims. “First, we’ve got to narrow them down! Unfortunately, albums can’t be that long.”
In the meantime, however, Carly and Martina will be working their tails off, continuing to perform for massive crowds and prove their doubters wrong. Whether writing songs, recording video and vlogs, or rehearsing for massive concerts, these teens are anything but procrastinators and have work ethic to kill for. “I’m like a mix of Elaine from Seinfeld but also Sandra Bullock from Miss Congeniality .” Carly says proudly, both her personality archetypes strong and opinionated female icons.
“Well, I think I’m Jim from The Office meets Ann from Parks and Rec” Martina says astutely, citing their agreeable, funny natures.
“Oh my god, no!” Carly exclaims, perhaps for the first time sounding like the average sister. “You are not Ann!”
“Well, I think I am, Carly. But you can’t deny, I am so Jim from The Office .” Martina affirms.
“See, I love Michael Scott. I think I’m him but less….you know.” She avoids finishing almost as if Michael is here and she doesn’t wish to offend.
“Michael is just ahhh.” Martina smiles.
This end conversation reminds me that though these girls with their arched eyebrows, windswept dark hair, and bear brown eyes, are exceptional, they’re also just twin sisters who love being kids. The way they walk, smile, and exhibit self-esteem is in no way a Nickelodeon manufactured facade that exists simply for the purpose of being marketed as this masquerade called adolescence.
These girls instead give others the feeling that might come from a warm cup of coffee at the end of a long day, warm and always personable. They create music that gets blood flowing. They make music videos sweet as caramel kisses. They help people to feel better on the bad days. Perhaps most importantly, these teens tell others that they are worthy and perfect just the way they are, and that they can overcome anything.
After all, if two sisters from Chicago can have a whole school of kids turn on them, only for them to become teen pop stars, who is to say one of their fans can’t become the next Anna Wintour after being excluded from the lunch table?
To quote Carly’s favorite original lyric of all time, and the main message she and her sister wish to send to fans, “You will always be in pieces, but even if you’re never whole again that’s alright, the cracks are where the light gets in.”
Also published on Medium.