“For American people, I’m not American enough because I’m brown, even though we could have been born in the same hospital. I’m automatically seen as not American enough, because I’m not the same as them.”
Joshua Sweet is hard to miss. Before I even knew him personally, I was able to recognize him as someone who turns heads instantly, someone who raises questions and charms his peers, and ultimately, someone with a compelling story to tell. With that being said, I was very appreciative when Joshua agreed to be interviewed by me about his music career for Analog. He had a lot to say about his artistry, his upbringing, and ultimately, his goals and aspirations for a bright future in music.
I’m curious how the stage name Joshua Sweet came to be. Unsurprisingly, there is a precise story behind it. “People used to tell me I was too sweet, and that I’m too nice to people,” Joshua says. “I always took that in a very bad way. It always made me feel horrible, like I have to be mean or something. But then I decided to myself, ‘I’m not going to change for anybody. I’ll show the world who’s too sweet.’”
Although he had previously released a record under the name Joshua Johnson, he’s happy he made the switch to a new direction. “I was like, ‘I have to do it.’ Then I came out with my song, ‘Thanks Anyway’ as Joshua Sweet, and then it just took off from there. Joshua Sweet is me.”
As he explained to me, Joshua’s early life was full of turbulence, constant moving, and strict rules put in place by his parents. Growing up in an extremely Christian household with two successful Indian parents, Joshua recalls feeling confused about his identity. “I was never really accepted by the Indian community. They never really liked me, because I was born in America, my name is Joshua, I grew up Christian, my dad’s from England and my mom’s from Malaysia,” Joshua says about his family. “I never really had a community to fall back on, so I really had to find myself and build a sense of belonging.” For a channel of creativity and expression, Joshua remembers the close relationship he maintained with his brothers throughout his childhood. “We didn’t learn from our parents, we learned from each other. Without a doubt.”
Coming from a postdoc father and a business-oriented mother, Joshua also recalls the strict expectations put in place by his parents, and how that slowly faded over the years. “When you’re moving around so much, it’s hard to keep track of your kids. Eventually they just started loosening up. For example, I was never allowed to have earrings growing up, so [one day] I just kinda did it. But because it was so much later in my life, they were kinda like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’”
This dynamic relationship between masculinity and femininity has always played a substantial role in Joshua’s physical image- one which is reminiscent of the androgynous energy put forth by Prince and Michael Jackson. Unsurprisingly, Joshua often finds himself being compared to many of his favorite artists. He cites Michael Jackson and Prince as some of his most substantial influences, but also includes more modern icons such as Bruno Mars, Shawn Mendes, Justin Bieber, and Harry Styles. Joshua recounts Harry Styles in particular as one of his most favored idols, especially in regards to his femininity. “I started wearing women’s clothes in middle school, and people weren’t ready for that. I was definitely ahead of my time. When Harry Styles started doing that, I felt a sense of belonging and acceptance. One day, I want to tell him how much I appreciate that.”
In late August of 2019, Joshua Sweet released his newest song and music video, “Strangers.” With college starting just a week away, Joshua recalls his reservations about starting that new epoch of his life. In fact, he admits, that period of his life was one of his hardest moments in 2019. “I was about to release my video, ‘Strangers.’ I was just thinking to myself, “I have to get out of here, I can’t go to school. It’s not for me. Part of me still believes that. I was having all these internal conversations with myself, like, ‘I need to release strangers before I go to school and hopefully someone will find it.’’ According to Josh, his other dark moment of 2019 came in December, when popular rap artist Juice Wrld died after a drug-induced seizure. Even though Joshua states he was never a huge fan of the artist, being informed of the death still hit him hard. “It hurt knowing that someone that age could lose it all,” Joshua says in regards to the loss of Juice Wrld. His life basically just started. He was 21, and the life that he was going to be known for and cherished for had just started. He lost it within two years of being a big artist. Two years goes like that; I’ve been making music for longer than two years. That definitely got in my head a little bit. When I see celebrities die, it makes me feel weird, even if I don’t know them. They had this whole life that they probably wanted so badly, and now they can’t have it anymore.”
It’s clear to me, and many of the people around Joshua, that his appreciation and zest for life is enormous. He is someone who approaches every day with a positive attitude, and a general goal to make the best out of all of his experiences, both good and bad.
However, despite these privations, 2019 certainly treated Joshua Sweet well. In fact, he recounts it as an altogether fantastic year for his growth as an artist. He was granted his first interview as an artist in January of 2019- an experience that marked his prominence as “the real deal.” He also discovered a fan cover of one of his songs on YouTube, and then, out of nowhere, discovered he had a fan page on Instagram. When I ask him how it feels to have a designated fan page, he laughs and says, “It definitely felt weird at first, because I didn’t know what was going on, because I’ve never had a fan page going on. So I was a little scared at first, actually. But then when I talked to them, I saw that it was real. I couldn’t believe it. It feels like you just had a child or something. You’re just in shock and you start reflecting on your whole life. I knew it was going to come, but I didn’t know how soon. I try to use my platform for good, because I know people are watching me.”
While many of Joshua’s themes and lyrics are centric around a typical pop, love/breakup dynamic, he also enjoys branching out into other subjects, such as social justice issues. Joshua says he is a firm believer that our generation will change the world for the better, and ultimately, undo the harm caused by prior generations. Joshua says, “I know we’re going to change everything, and the way society was built by prior generations. They have a lot of wrong beliefs, in racism, sexism, and the people “below them.” This year, Joshua hopes to release his song and music video for “Fear the Youth,” which covers this exact topic.
Passion for helping others and even exploring philanthropy is one of Joshua’s biggest goals once he becomes a prominent artist. As of right now, Joshua is growing out his hair for the sole purpose of donating it (and yes, although I’m sad by the prospect that he’s going to cut it, I understand his mission). He says that while he certainly wants to live well, money and cars aren’t as important to him as pure, wholesome happiness. At the root of everything, Joshua Sweet just wants to spread his sweetness. “I strongly believe that we should be kind to one another, regardless of our differences,” Joshua says about his values. “That’s definitely a huge value of mine, to treat people equally and respectfully regardless of if you’re gay, straight, trans, black, white- we’re all human. I feel like we lose sight of that sometimes.”
Along his journey of pursuing music professionally, Joshua says he has certainly learned a lot about success, connections, and community. Additionally, even though he was originally apprehensive about entering college, Joshua appreciates the lessons he has learned along the way and the friends he has gained. On campus alone, Joshua is aware of his success and knows that people will approach him solely because he is an artist. However, he has no reservations about the somewhat surface-level attention he receives. “I guess I kind of knew that would happen, so that’s why I don’t even hate it. I was signing up for this life and what comes with it. And I am fully ready for it.”
Beyond adoring college acquaintances, Joshua is also grateful for the support and interest his friends have shown in his lifestyle. He says that his friends accompany him almost anywhere- from the studio to record new music to photo shoots, they’re always close by to offer their loyalty. Having a large network has also initiated Joshua to extend his recognition. “People who I don’t know will come up to me and tell me that they like my music, and it’s the greatest feeling in the world. When you show your music to one person, they’ll show it to another, and another, and another. That’s how a lot of people find me. People will show their parents my music, and then their parents will be impressed with me. It’s just the greatest feeling ever.”
Although Joshua does record all of his music at a studio, he prefers to write whenever and wherever inspiration hits. “I don’t write in the studio because that’s actually very financially irresponsible, because you’re paying for that time,” he says about the expensive nature of studio time. “I write wherever inspiration hits me, really. It could be in my dorm room, in my room at home, or even in class, it will hit me sometimes. I have this song called ‘Broken Girl’ that nobody’s ever heard before, but it hit me in the middle of class. The lyrics just randomly came into my head, and I just started writing in the middle of the lecture.”
As of right now, Joshua says he has put writing on hold so he can focus solely on recording. “I want to release my song ‘Lucy’s Jewelry’ and release my video for ‘Fear the Youth,’” he says in regards to his plans for 2020. Additionally, in an ideal world, Joshua hopes that 2020 may be the year his music career takes off drastically. “My aspiration for 2020 would be to randomly become one of the biggest artists ever. In the real world, though, my goal is just to work my hardest and be happy. I know that hard work is what’s going to get me there. I’m optimistic in the sense that I know I’ll get there.”
Even if Joshua ever changes his mind about pursuing music (which is, from what I can tell, extremely unlikely), he has a backup plan for his career. “I would be an actor,” he says about himself if he had to pick a different career. “I am an actor already, but definitely not as serious as music. I’m aiming for music, and then I can branch off into acting. I feel like acting and music go hand in hand. When I think about having a career, I can’t imagine myself at a 9-5 desk job.” (Neither can we, frankly.)
Before we end the interview, I still have a couple more questions for Joshua. I ask him what he wishes more people knew about him, and he says, “No matter who someone is or what they’re going through, or how you perceive themselves, they’re always welcome to talk to me, and I will always accept them no matter what they feel they’re different for. They don’t need to feel uncomfortable or anything. When they’re with me, they’re cared about a lot.”
Speaking to Joshua face-to-face for this story, I am able to experience firsthand his warm, kind-hearted nature towards himself and others. While he certainly funnels a lot of thought and attention into himself, a large part of his identity is still essential around how he can leave a positive mark on others.
Lastly, before we close, Joshua has a final piece of advice for other budding young artists hoping to achieve success. “Just because someone tells you that your idea is bad, doesn’t mean it actually is bad. They’ve never seen the outcome, and they don’t know what’s what. If your peers had all the answers in life, they would be further than they are now. No matter what, your ideas are just as good or even better than what their’s ever could be.” ★
Joshua, we wish you success and luck with everything!