Vietnamese American musician Johnny Huynh lays back on a black couch, in a red jacket and black pants.

Johnny Huynh: Aspiring mechanical engineer and voice of a new generation

Writer Daniel Anderson sits down with this budding musical powerhouse

Johnny Huynh's latest single “Good As You.”

Léa Godoy

A bright Thursday morning sees Johnny Huynh’s entrance into the Zoom waiting room five minutes ahead of the scheduled interview, outpacing both the publicist and myself in characteristic precision. It’s an efficiency that makes sense for an engineering major at the University of Washington, and one who already has a SpaceX internship under his belt.

Yet what truly astounds is his seamless juggling act between academia and a meteoric music career. Known for posting impassioned pop covers in moody public garages, Huynh’s husky powerhouse vocals have garnered him a staggering seven million social media followers across TikTok and Instagram, and a freshly inked deal with Columbia Records, all in a mere 10 months.

The Bothell-based wunderkind recently spoke with JoySauce about his latest single “Good As You,”  his remarkable musical journey, and the influence of his culture and community.

Vietnamese American musician Johnny Huynh in a red jacket and black pants, sits on a black couch.

Johnny Huynh started posting song covers on TikTok 10 months ago, with about 500 followers. He now has seven million followers.

Léa Godoy

Daniel Anderson: When did your love of music start?
Johnny Huynh: Music became a big part of my life early on thanks to my mom’s dedication. She even gave up her own piano lessons to support mine and my brothers.’ We performed at local fundraisers for Buddhist temples, which boosted my confidence on stage. Throughout elementary and middle school, I participated in recitals and talent shows, immersing myself in music and the arts. High school was no different. I was deeply involved in musicals, marching band, and jazz band, even winning awards for my piano skills. After high school, I thought my music journey was over, so I pursued mechanical engineering.

DA: Is your family still supportive of your music career?
JH: It did take some time for my parents to fully embrace my journey into music and social media. I only randomly started posting song covers 10 months ago when I had about 500 followers on TikTok. The first one did well, and I decided to try to post every day. Initially, pursuing music full-time seemed unrealistic to them, especially after high school when they expected me to pursue a STEM-related career. Of course, I’m gonna finish getting my degrees since I only have one year left at UW, but my parents seeing my social media growth and the deal with Columbia helps them believe in it more.

Vietnamese American musician Johnny Huynh, in a brown jacket and black pants, sits on a stool with briefcase next to him, against a white backdrop.

Johnny Huynh's musical journey started when he was a kid, taking piano lessons.

Léa Godoy

DA: How do you balance your school work and big social media following?
JH: It definitely takes a huge balance between my personal life and what I’m doing on social media. I go to school, have exams, and I’m trying to post content every day. It takes a lot of planning day to day. I stand by a strict schedule every single week. I’m really specific about timing my posts, how much I’m posting every week. I kind of have OCD over that type of stuff. My schooling helps because I know how to stay organized and disciplined.

DA: How do you choose which songs to cover and how you want to film them?
JH: I started doing the whole garage aesthetic because my voice is emotional. The garage lighting was gloomy and paired well with my voice. As for song choice, I started with R&B covers but they don’t really display my voice as well as pop does. Artists like Adele and Lewis Capaldi resonate with me on a deeper level. Their emotional piano ballads inspire me. I lean toward pop, rock, or heartfelt piano ballads, and covering a variety of styles has honed my versatility as a singer and songwriter.

DA: Who were some of your musical influences growing up?
JH: From elementary school, I was mainly classically trained in piano. I was listening to a lot of Chopin, Mozart, and Beethoven. I wasn’t really listening to radio music during that time. In middle school I had a rock phase and was listening to Disturbed and Metallica. Once high school came around, I was really into jazz music and started listening to Bill Evans and Chet Baker. After high school, it was Tupac. I draw inspiration from almost every genre except country. Some upcoming artists that I draw inspiration from are d4vd, who did the romantic homicide song. Also Benson Boone, who is also from this area. I’m trying to show how versatile I am within my music, I don’t want to box myself in.

DA: What is your single “Good As You” about? Why was this the right next song in your discography?
JH: The two songs I released before were breakup and sad songs, but “Good As You” reflects a more positive message. The tempo of the song is more upbeat and like nothing I’ve done before. I wanted to have an upbeat song for the summertime. As for what it means personally, the song is inspired by a best friend relationship I had from first to sixth grade. We did everything together. We ate together and played video games at my house. This was like one of the only kids that mom allowed me to have over. By the end of elementary school, my friend had to move away, which was during a difficult transition period right before middle school. You really want to carry your best friend with you. I think in your lifetime, you only meet like three or four true best friends. It’s gonna be really hard to find anybody else like them and replicating that fun joy you had with them would be really hard. That’s what “Good As You” means for my audience. I hope they can apply it to whatever situation they’re going through. Maybe they miss their mom or they miss their dad or maybe a relationship with a friend.

DA: Seattle has developed a reputation for the “Seattle Freeze,” where people say it can be challenging to make strong connections here. What advice do you have for making good friendships?
JH: It is Asian and Pacific Islander heritage month, and I really leaned on the fact I’m part of the Asian community. I found so many small niches within there. At UW, I joined the Vietnamese Student Association. All of my best friends are from there. Even as an engineering student, I found groups within there of people who share interests with me. The Seattle Freeze can be a real thing, but if you lean on your culture, you’re going to find people who have things in common with you. Even as a musician, you find photographers and videographers. There’s a lot of creative people.

DA: From your social media, you also like to cook a lot of Vietnamese food. Do you have restaurant recommendations for the best Vietnamese food in Seattle?
JH: Saigon Deli is a popular banh mi spot. They’re going through stuff with graffiti and vandalism, so I’m hoping more people support them and they can keep their business open. The International District is great, too. They have Pho Bac there, which is my go-to for pho, literally some of the best. Hương Bình is also very good. I really love supporting family owned businesses, especially during this month. I find it important to go out to eat on the weekends while supporting local businesses.

Vietnamese American musician Johnny Huynh, in a brown jacket and black pants, sits on a stool with briefcase next to him, against a white backdrop.

In addition to music, Johnny Huynh is currently a student at the University of Washington, studying engineering.

Léa Godoy

DA: Since you mentioned Seattle creatives, who would you love to collaborate with?
JH: One dream collaboration would be with Macklemore. He’s always trying to support up and coming artists in the area. Something sort of like Charlie Puth and Wiz Khalifa, but with Mackelmore. There is also a photography group called Life N Light that I’m a huge fan of.

DA: Can you tease any future projects?
JH: In the next five to six months, I’m working towards my first EP. My next song is going to be rock leaning, so it’s a pretty hype song. I’m going to be dropping songs once every month leading up to my project.

DA: Lastly, can you give any advice for any other aspiring Asian artists out there?
JH: It’s an obvious piece of advice, but put yourself out there. I started on social media and I didn’t think it was going to anybody, but the fact that I tried to put it out somewhere is the start of everything. As far as Asian artists, it’s kind of hard to break into the pop scene because there is expectation to go K-pop, J-pop or to do R&B. As an Asian person trying to break into that pop scene, it’s something very different and new. My main piece of advice is just go for it. Don’t be afraid of what people think of you. Don’t be afraid of judgment. Right now, the pop scene is very Caucasian dominated. Trying to break into there as an Asian American is something fresh and new. It is a very exciting journey for me because this is just the start.

Published on May 20, 2024

Words by Daniel Anderson

Daniel Anderson is a disabled Chinese American adoptee based in Seattle. His freelance writing specialties include K-pop, entertainment, and food. He believes that any restaurant can be a buffet, and the key to success is to take a nap each day. Follow his adventures on Instagram @danzstan.