Who Is Jaten Dimsdale, Better Known As Teddy Swims?

For the singer, whose soulful baritone voice has propelled him to success beyond his imagining, a stadium is the natural place to share personal pain.

Article by Lance Richardson

Teddy Swims.Photograph courtesy of Teddy Swims.

Teddy Swims is trying to convince me that I, too, have the potential to be a global musical sensation. I can barely hold a note, I say, but he is having none of it. Have I ever heard somebody who thinks they can sing but who can’t actually sing at all? There’s no helping those people, he insists. “When somebody says they can’t sing, though, that means they know when they’re hitting it and when they’re not hitting it.” Those people — me, apparently — have the right ear. “And if you know you’re not hitting it, all it takes is learning the muscle control.”

That easy, huh?

“People ask me all the time: When did you discover you could sing? And I say, it wasn’t a discovery,” Swims says. He urges me to look up Heroic Bear, one of his early hardcore bands, on YouTube, for damning evidence. “Goodness gracious, bro. I could not sing.”

Anybody who has listened, slack-jawed, to the virtuosic baritone crooning through Teddy Swims’s “Lose Control” (“When you’re not next to me / I’m fallin’ apart right in front of you, can’t you see?”) will find this very, very hard to believe. Talent can be honed, but to sing like that, you need to have something once-in-a-generation to work with in the first place. It is safe to say, I think, that no amount of “learning the muscle control”, as Swims puts it, will land me a guest spot on “The Kelly Clarkson Show”, where he appeared this past December, holding his own in a duet with Clarkson so astonishing that there are multiple reaction videos online of voice coaches struck dumb as they watch it.

Swims may be overestimating my innate ability, and underestimating his own, but he truly believes what he says. Unlike many people who have brushed up against superstardom, he speaks earnestly and with unimpeachable humility. He is still genuinely shocked to find himself the centre of attention. Not so long ago, he was overthinking things, full of anxiety. “I used to be, when I started, so nervous that I would sit in a corner and stare at a wall for three hours,” he says. “But when I hit the stage, I was never nervous. Once the lights hit me and I sang the first note, it felt like that was my home. I felt like I belonged there, and I became the most me I was when I was on stage.” Now he is thriving in the spotlight as an unlikely 31-year-old icon: shaved head, bearded, with tattoos across his eyelids and neck, singing ballads as openly confessional as those by Taylor Swift, whose “Cruel Summer” he has expertly covered.

The stage, Swims explains, feels like his living room now. “And I always say that, in my living room, I walk around butt naked. If you don’t want to come see me butt naked —figuratively, of course — then don’t come to my show. It’s a place where I’m just allowed to be vulnerable. And it makes other people feel that way, too.”

Teddy Swims is a stage name. (He hates it, but says “it’s too late to change now, I guess”.) He was born Jaten Dimsdale in 1992, in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. When he was about 13, he watched his best friend’s dad sing “Wanted Dead or Alive”, by Bon Jovi, in the family basement, and had an epiphany: “I was like, ‘Yo, bro, we gotta be your dad!’ ” (That best friend, Jesse Hampton, is now Swims’s guitarist.)

In high school, he got involved with musical theatre, playing, among other characters, Mark Cohen in “Rent”. Then there was the “Star Wars” parody musical he co-wrote with his teacher. “I cast myself as Han Solo,” he recalls. Performances of that helped bail out the school theatre department — “kind of why I got my diploma”, Swims says with a laugh.

After high school, Swims, like all his friends, joined heavy metal bands around Atlanta, most of which performed for an audience of other heavy metal bands. It was a closed-circuit system, but he found the pure expression of it all completely liberating. “It was emo,” he admits with a grin. “It was about ‘nobody understands me’ stuff, and it changed my life, man. It was a really beautiful thing for me.”

In the years following, he dabbled in other genres, and found work opening for other artists during their shows. But fame came via a different avenue. On June 25, 2019 — the 10-year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death — Swims uploaded a cover of Jackson’s “Rock With You” to YouTube. Standing next to a microphone, a bandana tied around his head, he accidentally changed the course of his life. “I just wanted to pay homage to Michael Jackson, because he’s the greatest,” Swims says. “And then we woke up the next day with, like, 10,000 views. And I was like, ‘Oh boys, we’re partying! We’re getting hammered tonight! We made it.’ I could have never imagined that.”

Seizing on the delirious success, Swims quit his job at Chili’s Grill & Bar, moved with a few friends into a house in Snellville, Georgia, and built two makeshift studios. They gave themselves six months for a grand experiment: “We can design our own merch, record our own songs, produce our own videos, play all the instruments. We can do everything ourselves.” Which they did to enormous success, releasing a string of viral covers: Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (now at 42,862,764 views); Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One” (166,809,208 views). On December 24, 2019, one day shy of the six-month deadline they had set for their “stupid little plan”, Swims signed a contract with Warner Records.

“I put all my friends on salary,” he says proudly. Not even the pandemic could slow them down now: they were already living in the same house. The covers kept coming, and then some original songs, followed by four EPs, and finally a full album, “I’ve Tried Everything but Therapy (Part 1)”, which came out in September 2023. “Lose Control”, released a few months earlier as a lead single, had already entered the Billboard Hot 100 and would hit the top spot the following March. In Australia, it reached number four on the ARIA Charts.

“I was going through a very tough time with somebody I was dating,” Swims says. “We were both in a really bad place. It was kind of a toxic relationship. And most of the album, like six of the 10 songs, came from just going through this situation with her at the time. I had things on my chest that I needed to say.”

Some of the song lyrics are brutal. “I’m such a sucker for the pain,” Swims sings. “I’m helpless, baby / Porcelain in your hands.”

But things are better now — he has moved on, cleaned himself up — and listening back to the album, or singing the songs in front of a live audience, has given him a new perspective.

“I will never regret that time in my life,” he says. “What I take away from it now is that no matter what you’re going through, not only is there a way out, but you’re not alone. And when somebody raises their voice about it, somebody else is going to say, ‘I feel that same way,’ and that creates a safe place for you to speak about it, which has been the most successful thing in my life.”

One success among many, at any rate: Swims is now preparing for arena shows — his first ever — in New Zealand and Australia.

“If you just tell people how you’re feeling,” he says with a smile, “you’re going to find your tribe, you know what I mean?