Fronting heavy metal bands and posting a viral Shania Twain cover on YouTube were just two of the detours on Teddy Swims’ long, winding road to the top. It’s been a journey speckled with buzzworthy moments and notable co-signs, but things finally clicked for the tattooed soul singer from Conyers, Georgia when “Lose Control”—a bluesy love song with a herculean run—caught fire, becoming one of 2024’s breakout hits.
Now, the 31-year-old is sitting pretty. “Lose Control” became his first entry on the Billboard Hot 100 in late 2023, and currently sits at its peak of No. 4 after 25 weeks on the chart. “There’s a hundred thousand songs that come out every day on Spotify,” says Swims. “It takes the perfect storm.”
Penned during a four-day writing camp in Palm Springs, the session looms large for Swims, who worked on the track with Julian Bunetta, Ammo, Infamous and Mikky Ekko. The pitch was as simple as it was ambitious: to concoct a vocally challenging tune that builds and builds until a lung-busting chorus. Something along the lines of, say, “Tennessee Whiskey.” “With that song, it’s all about the run,” he says. “If you can’t hit that run, why would you even sing it?”
So, they set out to write their own future karaoke go-to, a song “catchy enough for everyone to want to sing, but not everyone can.” Bunetta and Ekko crafted the first two verses and then Swims stepped into the booth to pull the vocal trigger. By the time they played it back, he knew they had come up with something special. “For the first time in my career, I thought, ‘God, this is going to change my life,'” he says. And it did.
Though its ascent was steady, there’s perhaps another reason why Swims’ breakthrough took a little longer than expected. Dabbling in everything from hard rock to club music and country made it harder to distill his sound, and his first four EP releases dating back to 2021 didn’t exactly connect. “A lot of times in the past I was very close to hitting the mark, but I was still defining what I wanted to be,” he says. “I don’t think those were failures per se, but we were experimenting and trying to find something authentic to me.”
Swims takes a moment to clarify. “I’ve actually been making—or trying to make—this kind of music for the last four years,” he says. “‘Lose Control’ is just the first time I really hit the mark.” But recording great music is only part of landing a hit—or so he thought. “I used to think that it wasn’t enough to have a good song anymore,” he says, referencing everything from TikTok algorithms to release dates. “Now I disagree with that.”
A large part of the song’s appeal is that it evokes an era when voices were big and instruments trumped computers. “You don’t hear a lot of songs like ‘Lose Control’ anymore,” he says. “It’s got roots in country, rock, Motown, and R&B — and it was made to be sung live.” He drives that home in the performance-based video. “We’ve put money into doing regular videos before, but for us that always ends up being a waste of time. People still want to see live music.”
For Swims, the live arena is another chance to showcase his biggest gift: a formidable set of pipes. “Good singers are hard to come by these days,” he says. “People want real music with real feelings and real instruments.” Those fundamentals are more important than ever with AI and other technologies. “Nothing beats the human experience,” he says. “It’s in the way somebody plays guitar or hits a note, you can feel the emotion.”
“Lose Control” might sound timeless, but Swims knows his way around music’s current ecosystem, and feels that the good outweighs the bad. “We’re so lucky to have tools that even the playing field,” he says. He also believes that streaming and social media have unlocked doors that might have previously been closed to him. “If I looked like this 30 years ago, they would have said lose 80 pounds, get rid of the face tattoos and then we’ll think about it.”
For Swims, timing is key. “I used to be so impatient and wanted everything to happen now, but if I had this success at 21, I would be dead.” He means it quite literally. “I would’ve spun out and got strung out and thrown this all the way had it happened any moment before right now.” Finally equipped for success, Swims is determined to make every second count as he tentatively thinks about life after “Lose Control.”
He will start by giving “The Door”—another standout cut from his 2023 debut album, “I’ve Tried Everything But Therapy (Part 1)”—a little push. “We’re going to let that grow organically,” Swims says. “It’s already starting to grow and climb, so I really wouldn’t mind having two hits at once.” In the meantime, he’s putting the finishing touches on “I’ve Tried Everything But Therapy (Part 2),” a project he’s itching to release.
“I can’t wait to release it, but ‘Lose Control’ is still growing and I’m going to ride that train until the wheels fall off,” he says with a laugh. Ultimately, it’s buying him time to keep writing and, hopefully, conjure another future standard. “Now I know what it feels like to write a great song,” he says with confidence. “When I get that gut feeling again, I’ll trust it.” That wisdom comes from more than a decade of false starts, near misses, and genre pivots.
“If I could go back to a younger me, I would tell myself to shut up and get out of my own way,” he says. “There were so many signs pointing me in the right direction, but I just burned right past them. I was forcing a square peg into a round hole.” However, as he swaps the troubadour life for that of a rising hitmaker, Swims is grateful for every not-quite-perfect decision. “I truly could not be more grateful,” he says. “I really feel justified and loved.”
And Swims is still only getting started: “‘Lose Control’ has given me a taste of what’s possible and now I’m so hungry for more. I want the whole pie.”
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