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Chartbreaker: Why Teddy Swims Had to ‘Lose Control’ to Take Off

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In February, during a writing camp in Palm Springs, Calif., singer-songwriter Teddy Swims had a professional breakthrough — amid a period of personal turmoil, following a breakup. “I was so unhinged at the time,” he remembers. “I just needed to say a lot of stuff.” Over the course of five days, he poured his emotions into half of the songs that would ultimately comprise his debut album, including his biggest hit to date, “Lose Control.”

Rooted in piano-driven production — and an impressive ability to stretch his vocal runs — the R&B-pop ballad details a relationship that’s been tainted by substance abuse. “Lose Control” has steadily grown since its release in late June, leading to Teddy Swims’ first entry on the Billboard Hot 100. “When it was finished, I was showing everybody before the song came out,” he says. “I just felt that energy, like, ‘This is lighting in a bottle.’ I knew this was going to change my life.”

Born Jaten Dimsdale, the 31-year-old began performing a decade ago at his suburban Atlanta high school, trading football for musical theater (he joined with a friend, who still plays guitar in his live band today). His senior year was particularly pivotal: he helped the theater department out of debt prior to graduation with an in-school production of a Star Wars musical parody he created with his teacher. That same year, his band at the time, Heroic Bear, released its first EP, a hardcore project he now deems “really bad.”

In the years that followed, he explored countless genres including country, alternative, funk and metal in various musical projects. “He was in, I kid you not, like eight bands,” says Luke Conway, who started managing Teddy Swims while he was touring as an opening hip-hop act in early 2019. “He was doing every single thing that you could possibly do.”

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From left: Teddy Swims and manager Luke Conway photographed on September 15, 2023 in New York.

In June 2019, on the 10th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death, Teddy Swims uploaded a YouTube cover of “Rock With You” that soon went viral. The success prompted him to ask his friends for a six-month commitment to help him keep momentum. During that time frame, he sang classics (Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”) and hits of the moment (Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved”) alike, with his spins on Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One” and Mario’s “Let Me Love You” each eclipsing 100 million YouTube views. Publishers called first, then booking agencies, and before long, a dozen record labels had made offers. On Christmas Eve 2019 — a day short of six months from when he uploaded “Rock With You” — he signed to Warner Records.

While the covers helped grow Teddy Swims’ audience on a global scale, his priority upon signing was to create an identity all his own. “Some people get stuck in that world and never really make it out,” he says. “There was a lot of fear in no one caring about my [original] songs. I wanted to be an artist with my music.”

Warner placed him in rooms with veteran songwriter-producers like Julian Bunetta and John Ryan to help him hone his voice, and over the next few years, he wrote hundreds of songs, releasing singles across four EPs (including the holiday-themed A Very Teddy Christmas) and getting featured on tracks by Meghan Trainor, X Ambassadors and others. “I go back and listen to some songs that I did four years ago,” Teddy Swims reflects. “They started this idea of the signature Teddy sound that I feel like I’m finally nailing now.”

Teddy Swims photographed on September 15, 2023 in New York.

That “signature” sound punctuates his September debut album, I’ve Tried Everything But Therapy (Part 1), which is full of “sad boy breakup songs,” as he puts it. His powerhouse vocals (“Some Things I’ll Never Know,” “The Door”) and poignant writing chops (“Suitcase”) are on display throughout its 10 tracks, but no song better illustrates the style he’s created than “Lose Control.” After its June release, he shared three new versions — live, strings and piano — as the song gained steam on digital service providers and radio. By the end of August, “Lose Control” debuted on the Hot 100, where it has since reached a No. 67 peak. On Adult Pop Airplay, it climbs to a new No. 26 high on the Oct. 7-dated chart.

As the hit keeps growing, Conway says the strategy isn’t to strike while the iron is hot with unrelated follow-up content. In fact, it’s the opposite: he hopes the song becomes “cemented in culture” in the months to come, likening “Lose Control” to Chris Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey” and Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.”

“We have to be protective,” he says. “It’s his story. This is the golden egg we’ve been searching for and fighting to dig out of the ground for five years. There have been a lot of conversations about finding a feature, but we see the lifespan of this song. We can’t dilute it by giving it anybody else’s identity.”

Teddy Swims is currently on a 43-date North American tour in support of the project, studying how each city reacts to the new material. “There’s no A&R that [compares to] when you’re at a show and you see what really moves people,” he says. As the title of his album suggests, there are plans for another installment. He says it could arrive by the middle of next year, though both he and Conway share that the writing likely won’t begin until after the tour wraps.

However, Teddy Swims does suggest that, if all goes well, the follow-up will contain brighter content. “I’m really hoping the next time is me falling back in love and moving on,” he says, taking a beat and then laughing. “Or it’s more sad s–t. You never know. Life is happening to us, what are you going to do?”

Teddy Swims photographed on September 15, 2023 in New York.

A version of this story will appear in the Oct. 7, 2023, issue of Billboard.

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