Goosebumps is what I got when I first heard SWEEDiSH’s cover of “Issues.” Straight away, I wanted to know: what has this girl gone through?
American-born, Swedish-raised, Jennifer Newberry is the daughter of an American father and Swedish mother – both White, but from two different cultures.
As an exchange student, Mr. Newberry lived in a small city in north Sweden* called Sundsvall – it was there he met Jennifer’s mom before moving back to the States. She followed shortly after and then they joined in matrimony. Jennifer soon entered the picture at the 3-month tail end of her family’s stay in Ozark, Alabama – her father was in the military and stationed there.
Active duty orders had The Newberrys relocate considerably. Alabama, Georgia, California, then Germany. And by age 3, Sundsvall became Jennifer’s new home after her parents separated. The community comprised of primarily Northern Europeans, as well as Middle Eastern refugees.
*Sweden is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe and characterized by North Germanic heritage.
Sweden vs. America: the early years
In Sweden, the name “Jennifer” is uncommon and considered unique.
Often “the new girl” and bullied during her early years, Jennifer recalls an episode in elementary school when a teenager wearing a bomber jacket and a shaved head approached her. He asked: What’s your name? The answer didn’t fit his Nazi race ideology, so he immediately caught an attitude and said: You’re not Swedish! For a young girl, this is an unfortunate memory that has yet to go away.
Starting at age 7, Jennifer began traveling to America to visit her father every year, where cultural differences between her two worlds appeared during greetings with strangers in public. “The one thing that kind of shocked me in the beginning, was when I was in America and just going into a grocery store or somewhere, and someone would say, Hi. How are you?…At first, I didn’t know how to respond.”
Luckily, her verbal reflex eventually caught up to American customs, and so did her love and appreciation for openness.
• “I never had anything happen to me like that before.” •
- SWEEDiSH on her song being featured on Fox' “Empire”
A love for music
Since age 3, old cassette tapes are proof of Jennifer’s then-future career. And for leverage, her mom was a singer. So throughout Jennifer’s upbringing in Sweden, she would attend performances and sing for pop-up audiences.
Another piece of the entertainment enterprise, Jennifer’s stepfather was a director at a theater company. Backstage became Jennifer’s third home where she witnessed shows, rehearsals, equipment, actors and actresses swarm around her.
By 14, Jennifer’s solo career began. She started singing in the church for different occasions, events, festivals and musicals. She also ventured into pop music and started singing with her mother.
She admits not really knowing who God was at the time, but years later in the U.S., this would change.
Seattle, New York, Los Angeles
At 21, Jennifer decided to make the move to the U.S. for a few reasons. “One, I wanted to expand my music opportunities. Before I moved, I was on a tour as a back up singer for an artist in Europe.” It was fun, but being backup wasn’t her calling. It was time to be in the front.
Two, “I had my family in the States. I wanted to rekindle those relationships and build on it.” And three, she was in an on-again/off-again relationship (or what she calls a relationSHIT) for about 5 years. “If I didn’t move, it would’ve probably still been going. I’m so glad I got out of it.”
Leaving the life she knew behind, Jennifer entered America feeling pretty good about herself. But then, heartaches came: some breakups, different struggles with family and self-esteem issues.
Jennifer was in tumultuous relationships, but eventually awakened to the fact that she was attracting who she was and what she thought about herself. With this realization, her life took a turn for the best.
In chrono order, Jennifer spent a year in Seattle. New York for 2 ½. Back to Seattle for 7. And has been in Los Angeles since 2014.
“When I first moved to L.A., even though you bounce into all kinds of people, I ended up coming into a really good crowd…I was introduced to this songwriter that I started working with. Through her, I actually met my husband. So a lot of good things happened!”
“The Voice” leads to “SWEEDiSH”
In 2013, right before moving to L.A., Jennifer made it to the “Blind Auditions” on the reality television singing competition “The Voice” (Season 5, Episode 4). At the time, Jennifer performed under her birth name, but “…my stage name turned into SWEEDiSH because everyone remembered me as the Swedish girl.” She made it easy for everyone and was therefore pushed into a name that paralleled her heritage.
She performed, but the judges didn’t turn around. It simply wasn’t her time.
“Up to that point, I had to understand that God had given me this opportunity. He wanted me to be here, but it wasn’t meant for me to come about success in that way. He showed me a glimpse.”
“Empire” on FOX
In 2015, “I collaborated with producer Marcus “Bellringer” Bell to write music. There was this particular style of music that these ‘people’ were looking for. I didn’t know who the ‘people’ were at the time.” SWEEDiSH and Bellringer proceeded to record the song, but it sat on the shelf for months before given the green light. The ‘people’ ended up being executives from the musical drama television series on Fox called “Empire.” Within a short 3 days, SWEEDiSH, director Chris Crutchfield (her husband), and Bellringer created an accompanying music video from start to finish.
On November 11th, 2015 (Season 2, Episode 7), their song “Handcuffs” was featured on “Empire” for 90 whole seconds. “I never had anything happen to me like that before. It was really cool!”
Swedish in America
“I think a lot about both [cultures] in different scenarios, especially when I first moved to the States. Sometimes I would feel like I really didn’t fit-in in Sweden, and I really didn’t quite fit-in in America. So it was definitely one foot on both sides.
When I started recording and doing soul, people would say: You shouldn’t be doing this kind of music because you’re White. You should do something more consist with what you look like. People try to put you in a box sometimes, but I think that’s because of how they were raised or how they think of themselves. It’s not necessarily about who you are.”
Doing open mics in New York for example, “I would pretty much be the only White person and people would say, Whoah! I didn’t expect that! And most people didn’t know what I was because I have this ambiguous sort of look. Sometimes people would ask me: Are you Black? Are you Filipino?
For the most part, people have been pretty opened with me maybe because of how I am towards them or the feeling that I give off. I do know that because of me being White, and the sound of music I do, it has its pros and cons for sure.”
“When I first came to the States, I was trying to be the person that everyone wanted me to be that I lost myself. Not just in person, but in music. How I dressed, how I did my hair…Now, I’m going to do the music that I want to do. I’m going to wear what I want, and take my opinion over everyone else’s.”
Since her early 30s and after some soul searching, Jennifer has learned to trust herself and admits that life is a constant altering. By referencing her diary of emotions, she continues to create pop, urban and electronic dance music (EDM) as an independent artist.
SWEEDiSH is set to release more dance music collaborations, and inspiring pop and urban music later this year.
Her advice to someone who may be struggling with their identity:
“Everyone has different beliefs of course, but I believe in God and His Son. I can see how He played out His life, so I try to follow His ways and follow God's commands.
Who’s a good example to follow? How did their life play out? You have to have some sort of reference.
Write down on paper, exactly what it is you like in detail…That’s a good way to find out who you are. Trying to look good in pictures and do selfies all day to get the satisfaction of Likes is not going to help pretty much. [laughter]”
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- Images courtesy of SWEEDiSH
- For the latest information, including upcoming shows, visit sweedishlove.com or follow SWEEDiSH on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter: @sweedishlove
- For all her music and videos, visit SWEEDiSH on ReverbNation