The first question that shows up when you tap this musician’s name into a search engine is “How did Jawny get famous?” Such is the Californian’s kickflip-fast rise from skateboarder making SoundCloud beats to bone fide indie pop star with millions of streams, a major-label debut and a bottle-blond-bandana look that suggests a normcore Axl Rose. This combination is, of course, TikTok catnip. Like the bowl-cut viral sensation Oliver Tree, with whom he has toured the States, 27-year-old Jawny – born Jacob Lee-Nicholas Sullenger – seems to be as much a micro-sketch comedian as he is a musician and social media soundtracker.
His breakout tune, 2019’s Honeypie – released under previous alias Johnny Utah – was a lithe, bouncy breeze of falsetto funk that caught the ear of someone who knows a viral hit when she hears one: Doja Cat. And his new first full-length album, It’s Never Fair, Always True, has a broader Y2K moodboard. Strawberry Chainsaw has the bright guitar thrum of the Strokes; other tracks clearly nod to Weezer, Phoenix and Kings of Leon amid Jawny’s boy-next-door whimsy. There’s even a passing of the weirdo-cherub baton on Take it Back, featuring Beck and sounding like something the midnite vulture himself might have written in 1999.
It’s all very “flicking through a 2002 copy of NME”, except Jawny’s sound is as slick as Harry Styles. How did Jawny get famous? The songs seem to speak for themselves.
It’s Never Fair, Always True is out now via Interscope