Twice-as-nice tunes

Twice-as-nice tunes

Leon Lee does a double-take as he sits down for a chat with YouTube stars Jayesslee

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Janice (left) and Sonia Lee never expected to find fame with their videos.
Janice (left) and Sonia Lee never expected to find fame with their videos.
Photo: Edmond So/SCMP

As an April Fools' Day prank this year, YouTube announced that they were closing down for good. If that were really to happen, it would translate to hours of increased productivity for many people.

But many modern musicians, comedians and other performers would lose an important channel through which to distribute their work and connect with their fans. Without YouTube, popular singing twin sisters Jayesslee might've never been discovered, which means they wouldn't have played three sold-out shows in Hong Kong last weekend. Thank goodness, it was just a joke.

The duo's moniker comes from the first letters of the Australian-Koreans' names, Janice ("Jay") and Sonia ("S", or "Ess"), and their surname, Lee. They set up their YouTube channel in 2008 when a friend in South Korea asked them to lay down vocals for a song he'd written. Since the girls lived in Sydney, the easiest way to send their recording was through YouTube. They soon started receiving very unexpected feedback.

"People from all over the world just started commenting, saying 'Can you try this song? Can you try that song?' So we took a [leap] of courage, we tried new songs and that's how we got here," says Janice, the elder by 10 minutes.

That leap didn't lead to instant success - not that they were looking for fame. Singing was just a hobby. But everything changed when they recorded a cover of R&B singer Tamia's single Officially Missing You in 2009. Views on their channel started to climb exponentially; soon, every new upload garnered millions of views. Today, their videos have amassed more than 170 million views, and 1.2 million people have subscribed to their channel.

Jayesslee's covers are stripped-down, acoustic performances that usually begin with Janice singing as Sonia plucks away at the guitar before joining in on the vocals. They've covered a range of popular hit songs such as Jason Mraz's I Won't Give Up, Maroon 5's Payphone and even Psy's Gangnam Style. But they listen to a wide variety of music, and don't have a specific plan as to which song to sing next.

"When we hear a song, it kinda chooses us," Janice explains. "So when we hear a song that we can cover, we both know that it's good for harmony, in lyrics, in melody. The whole fun of it is changing it to an acoustic style where it suits our voices and we can add harmonies and what not ... to make it sound like our song."

While they enjoy their new trade, the two confess they prefer to sit on the sofa watching TV. The music stuff comes to them when they're in the mood or feel inspired. The mood comes less frequently now the sisters no longer live together. But fear not, fans: they have no plans to abandon the tunes.

"We love to do covers, but we also like writing our own original music as well, so hopefully we can do a mixture of both in the future. But we'd love a full album of originals eventually," Sonia says.

And they'll continue to tour and play live, too. "Our fans [have] only seen us through the monitor, and we only chat with them through Twitter or social media. Having a live show and seeing them face-to-face is surreal to us; it's like you guys actually exist," Sonia says.

Oh, and if YouTube ever really did close down, Janice and Sonia would just go back to making juices and scooping ice cream as they did at secondary school - and, like with everything in their lives, have a good time doing it.

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