Joshua Nanai is trying to articulate how it feels to have an international hit single, and it’s not the easiest task. The 17-year-old from South Auckland, New Zealand has just reached No.1 in the UK with TikTok smash Savage Love (Laxed – Siren Beat) and he’s still drinking it in. “I don’t know how to explain it, but as a young guy, having this all coming out of nowhere is a blessing.”
And chart success isn’t the only thing he’s been hit with today – Music Week calls after his evening boxing training session. Nanai’s high school has broken up for a two-week holiday, but the young musician is busier than ever. Made at home on his old busted laptop Laxed... is a booming, uplifting example of Nanai’s music, which he began uploading to YouTube last year under the name Jawsh 685. His Samoan heritage inspires his sound and the numbers in his name represent the island’s dial code. “It’s a big thing for Samoans and it means a lot, that’s why I have it in my name because I’m Samoan too,” he explains.
Earlier this year, Laxed... made it onto TikTok and its accompanying ‘culture dance’ quickly spread. Jason Derulo was among the celebrities to endorse it, adding vocals from his song Savage Love over the top. This led to his representatives making contact with Nanai’s and a deal with RCA to release the song. It has almost
90 million Spotify plays and 124,195 UK sales to date (OCC). It made Nanai the first New Zealander to top the charts since Lorde in 2013. He’s almost certainly the first person to ever prompt Susan Boyle, Jennifer Lopez and Dame Judi Dench to indulge in a dance craze, too. Indeed, it’s safe to say things have been pretty weird for Nanai of late.
“I wanted to make music I loved hearing and to make people happy, I only had a small audience at the beginning,” says Nanai, who describes himself as a “shy guy”. Some accused Derulo of stealing his song, but Nanai is having none of that. “There’s no beef or anything controversial between us,” he says. “Our teams made an agreement and the song came out officially and now it’s gone big, it’s hitting the charts real hard.”
Music is like chess, you’re not going to tell your opponent what move you’re making
Nanai speaks in short, slow sentences, confiding that he’s “sucking up” all the attention that comes with being the architect of a song that has united people across the globe. As far as TikTok hits go, his is one of the biggest yet.
“I didn’t know anything about Spotify and all that,” says Nanai, who abandoned guitar and piano to focus on beats in 2018. “I didn’t know you could spread music out and have it on all platforms, all my mates used YouTube, so that was all I knew. I didn’t care about TikTok, I thought it was a cringey app and I only got it a month or two before [my song] started popping. I was excited that people actually liked my song and it wasn’t just a trend.”
While Nanai isn’t much of a dancer himself (“I vibe to jams in the car or at school, lazy dances”), he’s grateful for the craze his song started. “It’s exciting, coming from where I come from with a broken laptop and making all this happen,” he says. “It is a big deal, having a big-hitting No.1 with a big artist from America on it, it’s real big.”
Other than getting stopped in the shopping centre for selfies and doing interviews, Nanai says his life isn’t changing much just yet, although he has bought a new laptop to make beats on. As for more collaborations, he’s sceptical to say the least: “I’ve seen some people in my DMs on Instagram and that but I don’t know if they’re serious or not.”
Before he hangs up, he divulges his first impressions of the music business: “It’s like a game of chess, you’re not going to tell your opponent what move you’re going to make, you just do it.” It’s not bad for a first observation, and it sounds like Jawsh 685 could get used to all this.
Being sleepy all the time is probably the hardest part for me, being up and ready to take on the day, but it ain’t too bad,” he finishes. “I like it...”