Damp sand sinks underfoot while saltwater mist cloaks Joshua Bassett in an affectionate embrace, the lingering taste of beach days hanging in the air. The High School Musical: The Musical: The Series star plays a game of chase with the soft waves lapping up the shore and retreating tauntingly, daring Joshua to dive in for an impulsive afternoon swim.
Hidden away in a secluded cove, the musician and actor focuses his energy as he balances pebbles in artful towers and skips stones across the sea surface in between posing for photographer Vivian Kim. Making the most of the 2020 quarantine, the artist produced six songs for his upcoming EP, each one a unique and honest story. While eagerly awaiting the EP’s release, Joshua’s singles ‘Common Sense’ and ‘Anyone Else’ keep us loyally hooked to his Spotify page.
Stylist Wilford Lenov dresses Joshua in a wonderful variety of outfits that allow the 19-year-old to scale the cove borders and keep warm as the chilly evening air sets in. As the fog descends and glittering waves wink goodbye to Joshua, he makes his way back through the tall grass to the road that will take him home. With the liberty of youth and the gift of a selfless heart, Joshua’s thoughts and emotions are a joy to explore. Join us as we find out who Joshua is.
Who is Joshua?
I don’t even know if I know! No one really asks me that. I’m just a boy from San Diego who has a big family and grew up doing musical theatre. That’s an interesting question because typically when people ask that, you answer with career-style answers like “I started acting when I was 16 and writing music and stuff”. But who is Joshua? I’m still figuring it out. I don’t know how to answer that. I’m very spontaneous. I do my best to live in the moment and I’m not really on social media. I give everything I’ve got to everything I do. I’m very creative and definitely all over the place! But I’ve got a lot of energy and empathy. I like to think my parents would say I’m a hard worker. I’m always trying to find shortcuts to things! I don’t take the regular route like most people - I’m very self-taught in everything I do. That comes from being homeschooled because that’s all you do: teach yourself. I learnt how to be able to learn whatever I needed to without much help from other people and how to be very self-sustainable. I’d say I’m independent. I moved out when I was 16 and I was living in LA while my parents were living in San Diego. So yeah, those are a few things I would say.
What makes you happy?
A good book. Some good, real quality time with my friends. One of my pet peeves is being with a group of people and everyone being on their phones. It’s missing that real connection. Music makes me happy. Acting makes me happy. Putting my mind to something and achieving it - or at least getting closer, and really sticking to something. Even something as simple as a diet, which might sound silly, but being able to have that self-discipline really brings me true joy. It’s really fulfilling. My happy place is a coffee shop. I love going to a coffee shop! Whether that’s for getting work done on my computer or reading or sometimes writing. Honestly, that’s what I miss about this quarantine - that coffee shop energy of the hustle and bustle. That high energy is infectious when people are working hard. I feel like there’s a certain kind of person who goes to a coffee shop and sets an intention and is like “I’m here to get work done”. The music, the people, the environment, and the community - even though everyone tends to be in their own world - there’s that energy.
What makes you sad?
Other people’s sadness or letting other people down makes me really sad. Disappointing people is obviously never great. Right now, it’s so hard not to be sad, just looking at everything that’s going on. I’m privileged to be doing okay during this time but that’s not the case for a lot of people. It’s hard to see people in pain when you can’t help them. That makes me sad. There are a million things.
When you’re feeling sad, how do you cheer yourself up?
Chocolate is great! That’s not sustainable, but it does help. Also, never underestimate the power of a nap. Don’t underestimate the power of a good phone call with somebody you really care about. It’s crazy how that can truly alter your day. That can also work the other way around but that’s why you’ve got to have good people around you. Talking it through with people or spending time with people or listening to music really helps. I like to clean too - that’s a huge coping mechanism for me when I’m not feeling great because I put on some music and clean and it really helps me get out of that anxiety.
First and foremost, you’re a singer/songwriter and you’ve released two beautiful singles ‘Common Sense’ and ‘Anyone Else’, and you have an EP coming out very soon! Can you tell us what to expect?
It’s basically all the songs I’ve written so far in my life - the best ones. I narrowed it down to the top six songs. Each song tells a completely different story which is really cool. What makes it unique is that I’ve written it over all these years, but I really dove into the production over quarantine, and each song was produced during this period. That’s been really interesting to do during this time. The coolest thing is each song is very unique: no two songs sound the same and they each have a different colour and overall aesthetic. That’s something I’m really proud of - that I’m able to make six songs and each of them is like a different chapter. They’re still from the same book but they really stand out on their own.
Do you remember the first song you wrote?
Technically it was for homecoming. I asked this girl to formal by writing her a song with the ukulele. That was actually what inspired me to write because I remember making that in about an hour and going to her house the next night and asking her. She said yes which was great! When I was driving home, I was like ‘that was not that hard at all! What’s stopping me from actually writing music?’. So that’s when I started writing but I think the first song I wrote was called ‘So-Called Home’. It was a very sad song - very sad boy hours. I was 15 and super depressed. I looked around all the people in my life and I felt like a stranger to everybody. It felt like I was very much alone, even in my own household for a little bit. I have a very loving family and they’re all wonderful, but I was going through this mid-teen identity crisis. I called this place my home, but it did not feel like that. It didn’t feel like I had a home.
How would you describe your music?
It’s very honest. That’s the key for me. Every song is a true story, I don’t know one that isn’t. That’s my favourite art - when people are vulnerable and are honest about how they’re feeling and how they think. Because everyone has universal feelings and thoughts, each personalised, but generally it’s a very universal thing. I think that when you’re honest, it brings out that honesty and vulnerability in other people. That’s very special.
Where do you get inspiration from?
Anything and everything. I don’t want to give anything away, but I was with my friend and I said ‘life’s a dance, man, that’s all it is’, and he was like “Yeah, that’s all it is. All it is is a dance”. I wrote an entire song in 10 minutes, and I was like ‘all it is is a dance!’, and it’s great! With my song ‘Common Sense’, I remember I had the idea when I was driving from San Diego to LA for an audition and it hit me, and I started recording a voice memo and basically wrote the entire song during that drive. When I got to where I was going, I pulled over and I listened back, and I had my guitar in the back seat. I pulled it out and figured out the chords. So, I wrote that one like that but then there are other songs where I had guitar ideas that I had been messing with for months. Eventually, I was sitting down and playing it again and again because I knew there was something there and I just happened to be feeling that emotion at the time and it all came out. It really is anywhere and everywhere. Wherever inspiration strikes.
Besides singing, you play guitar, piano, bass, ukulele, and drums! Do you remember when you first fell in love with music?
My dad played classical music when I was in the crib. He played it my entire life. All kinds of music! He is a musician and I started playing drums when I was seven for my church and I remember really loving that. I played with my dad - he played the piano while I played the drums. I did musical theatre and music was always a part of my life. When I was fourteen my grandpa passed away, so my grandma gave me his ukulele and that was my first introduction to that. It really became therapeutic for me. I noticed a pattern: when I was fourteen or fifteen, any time something was going on in my house or my life and I was stressed, before I could even blink, I was playing an instrument. That escape was huge. I’ve always been in love with music. Whether or not I realised it, I’ve always had an ear for music and an infatuation with it, but when I was fourteen, I really fell in love with it.
You star as Ricky Bowen in Disney’s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. Can you tell us a bit about Ricky? Do you relate to him at all?
One of my favourite things about him is how he’s super spur-of-the-moment, spontaneous, and all over the place! That’s very much like me - very impulsive! In the first episode, he has this crazy idea to win his girlfriend back by auditioning for the musical. Even though he’s never auditioned for a musical before in his life, he ends up doing it, and *spoiler alert* he gets the role, and now he’s like “Oh my gosh I actually have to do this!”. I can relate to that in a lot of my life. When we were filming the show, during the last episode - and I won’t spoil this - there’s a big scene I had and I was having a panic attack. It was very demanding and the day before, the creator pulled me aside and we were talking, and I was like ‘I’m a fraud! I am a complete conman!’. I’ve never taken acting classes and I was thinking ‘how did I get here?’. It was this strange moment where I felt like I got lucky, and now I’m here and I actually have to deliver and I don’t know what I’m doing. So that’s where we relate. Ricky is a skater and I don’t relate to him on that front. He plays the guitar and he has a bit of a broken home life but I am fortunate enough where I don’t have that. He’s going through a bit of a crisis and he turned to musical theatre as a safe place and I can definitely say that was the case for me.
What is it like being a part of such an influential franchise?
It’s intimidating but what’s cool about our show is that we aren’t trying to be the High School Musical movies. We’re very self-aware and meta. We even joke about High School Musical in our show, so it’s very fun. It’s the coolest thing in the world when we’ll get a message from someone. For example, Frankie Rodriguez who plays Carlos will get a message from a kid who is like “I was gay but I was too afraid to confront that or come out and your show empowered me to do that”. To be even the smallest part of that is really powerful when people are like “I picked up guitar because of your character on the show”. It’s also very exciting to see what else we can do with our show. Tim Federle, the creator, is always looking at ways we can be more diverse, or how we can be a safe place for people or inspire people. That’s really special.
What’s your favourite thing about acting?
You get to do stuff you wouldn’t do in regular life. Everyone wants to live their life like it’s a movie and sometimes when you’re an actor, you get to! I’m definitely a hopeless romantic and somebody who loves that kind of stuff, so to be able to live in that world for a little bit is amazing! Another favourite part is the chemistry between actors. When you really get into a groove with another actor and you can really live that moment. You feel like you’re both escaping. You really are living that character: you kind of blackout - your regular thinking mind is gone for a second. Also, when other actors inspire you. Oftentimes better actors make you better by default, or they make you want to be better.
What are your thoughts on social media?
Oh, I have some thoughts! It’s an incredibly valuable tool and if done right, it definitely is good for people. It’s important in terms of staying connected and knowing what’s going on in the world, especially with the way the media is right now. It’s important to be able to have that. On the flip side, I don’t think a lot of people know - even doctors and psychologists - the long-term impacts of what it’s doing to our mental health. Every single person I know who has taken a break from social media always says, “I’m the happiest I’ve been in X-Y-Z years!”. Every single person! I’m not kidding, whether it be a week, a month, or forever. That speaks to how we don’t realise social media is designed to be addictive. It is designed to keep you scrolling forever. It is made so that you won’t get off it. That instant gratification and dopamine hit becomes an addiction. Let alone people growing up and constantly having to evaluate how they look or their follower numbers - that’s so inhumane. It’s designed to make us crave that attention so that everyone is on there saying “Look at me! Look at me!”. Again, there are people that do it right and there are people who don’t. There are people who don’t know that it’s hurting them, and there are people that do know it’s hurting them. Ultimately, it’s what you make of it. My personal preference is to stay off it. It truly brings me so much anxiety that unless I have something that I really want to post, I tend to stay off it because I think there’s a lot of pressure. That whole world freaks me out, so for my own mental health, I don’t really post unless I need to or if I really want to. That tends to work out for me.
Do you have a preferred social media platform? Why?
Biggest surprise, but TikTok! The reason I like TikTok is that, at least my account and what I’ve curated for my feed, is really positive. It’s really uplifting and creative, and very much about the content and not necessarily about “Look at me! Look at me!”. It’s all about art and all these other things I love - like finding a new songwriter. People who don’t even have that many views appear on my ‘For You’ page, and I’m like ‘wow, here is this incredible songwriter that nobody is talking about!’. Being connected to people that way is really positive from what I’ve seen.
How do you use social media to connect to your fanbase?
I’m careful not to create a false relationship with them. A lot of times people will create this idea - it’s dangerous to misleadingly fool people into a relationship. I don’t want to do that. The most I connect to people is when I go live on Instagram and I’m able to talk to people in real-time and they’ll ask me questions and I feel like I can actually respond to them. That to me is the most genuine connection. My favourite thing is putting out music that I write and see what it means to people and how it’s affected them in that moment.
What do you believe is the best aspect of our generation?
We’re very aware. Every single person I know in our generation is truly an advocate for change and knows that it’s not only okay but healthy to question and challenge how things are and really look at it and believe that we can be better. We always can be better and a lot of times, older people are set in their ways and they see the world how it is and they’re not jumping out of their seats to create change. But that’s definitely not the case for this generation and that’s something that’s really neat. Fewer topics are taboo now and that’s really important. To be able to talk about things and talk about issues and for people to talk about what they’re going through so you can empathise and understand people instead of constantly bumping heads is definitely for the better. People are here to createchange. Social media has a factor in that because beforehand, everyone got their news from the newspaper or the mainstream media who decided ‘This is the story’, ‘This is what we’re going to tell’, and ‘This is what we’re not going to tell’. Now, if something happens and someone sees it, they can pull out their iPhone, film it, upload it, and a dozen people can rip that footage and reupload it. You can’t suppress that stuff anymore so people can see ‘Oh my Gosh, this is actually going on. We had no idea because the news wasn’t covering it, but now we see that this is going on. Now we want to see what we can do.’. Even GoFundMe and Change.org are revolutionary. The fact that people have access from their phones to make a real-world, real-time impact is huge, and I think that’s a huge factor into why this generation is so “woke”.
What do you believe is the worst aspect of our generation?
We’ve definitely got some work to do. I’m going to sound like a boomer when I say this, but we’re so used to the ‘right now’. It’s this constant 24-hour cycle of pressure. It’s the immediate: people don’t wait for answers, they jump to conclusions. People have traded quality for quantity and that shows in music and in a lot of the content we’re seeing. Instead of having three posts a week that are really great, it’s like “How can I post twice a day just for the numbers?”. The addiction to social media is truly going to have some long-term impacts that we’re only going to see in the coming years. It’s the balance of it. The answer goes back and forth because the best part about our generation is social media and awareness, but the worst part is the addiction to social media and the need to compare, look at the numbers, and be judged at face value. I think we lack a little bit of empathy as well.
How does our complicated relationship with social media impact our usage of it?
It’s so interesting. The careful thing is not becoming addicted to it and not putting your worth in it. It’s so hard for people to not put their worth and value in the numbers. People will post a picture of themselves and then they’ll post a picture of something else and then one will do better than the other and they’re overthinking that. They’re thinking “Why did this post do better?”. If we look at social media as a tool to make greater change and to share special moments of our lives instead of “Give me attention!”. It can become “Give this thing attention” - and that thing can be you, that’s totally okay to love yourself and put yourself out there - but at the end of the day, you have to be able to take a picture of yourself, put it on social media, and not let it dictate how you feel about yourself. You really have to be able to separate the two. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to move forward without it damaging more people, more so than it already has. I don’t necessarily know how to do that. We’ll figure it out.
How would you define masculinity?
I don’t know if I have a definition for it because there’s the textbook definition, then there’s what society views it as. I’ve been very emotional since I was very young, and I grew up with five sisters, so my dad is the only example of masculinity I had but he’s a softie! It’s totally cool for people to lean into masculinity, but obviously there’s toxic masculinity and that’s a whole other issue. More and more, something that’s really great about our generation is that those walls are breaking down. Part of me wants to start wearing nail polish as a statement to show it’s okay to break down those walls. I love seeing a TikTok where a dad will take their son to Walmart and the son wants a Barbie and the dad is like “Sure, which one do you want?”. That stuff! I love that! I love that that’s becoming more and more normal. I think the typical ‘masculinity’ idea that’s been ingrained in our minds is fading. It’s still there - like how it’s harder for guys to be vulnerable, but I really think it takes vulnerable men to step forward and be vulnerable to inspire others to do the same. That’s hugely important because we’re taught from an early age not to cry and not to be feminine, not to be all these things, and that’s got to go. That’s not something I’d like to carry with me in 2020.
How do you look after your mental health?
I’m still learning how to do that truthfully. It’s a battle sometimes. Some days I win, sometimes I don’t. I meditate a lot and that’s important for me. I think there’s a stigma around meditation that even I had for my whole life. I always thought that was BS but now it truly is a lifesaver. The ability to be still and allow your thoughts to fade away and not be run by the constant voice in your head, being able to step back and let that go and watch your thoughts and your emotions and not be consumed by them or taken over by them is key. Drinking water is great. Not going on social media is great. Going for walks is huge. It’s really nice to see the number of people walking now, that’s always good. I like to take trips to Joshua Tree national park. Getting away from the city for me is key and changing it up is important. Reading is good, listening to music, trying to learn, and not focus too much on all that’s going wrong. Meditating – once you get good at meditating, it becomes a 24/7 thing. When I’m in a regular work schedule, I tend to wake up at 5 in the morning and get up before the sun is up and do a quick little workout. I’ll write, I’ll read a little bit if I have time, or I’ll meditate, and then I’ll go to work. No matter what kind of day it is, at least I’ll start it off with that as the foundation. It’s hard to find time for that, but when you get really good at meditation and all it is is focusing on your breath, you can do that at any given moment, and you don’t have to be alone in a quiet room. Obviously, it’s a little harder when you’re starting out, but you make time, you figure it out.
Do you have any self-care tips?
It’s so difficult right now, in this time and in our generation, for people to be alone and not distracted. You don’t notice how often you have an urge to go on Instagram until you delete the app from your phone. Pay attention to the patterns that you have and notice when you feel anxious during the day. Sit with that and figure out what’s really going on. What tends to happen is before people have a second to look into going on, they’re distracted - they’re on social media, they’re eating, there’s always something. Oftentimes, if you allow yourself to feel it instead of distracting yourself, the next time it’s a little bit easier. It’s different for everyone, and find what works for you, but protect your energy. Especially for people who are living at home with their family. As much as they love their family, sometimes they can be affected by it, especially if they don’t have their own room. Really pay attention to who’s affecting your energy and what’s affecting your energy. Make sure you set aside that time to really take care of yourself. I don’t think people do that enough. I don’t do that enough, so I know people definitely don’t do it enough because I try all the time to.
What do you think we can learn from 2020?
It’s interesting how a lot of these issues we’re facing - the fires, Black Lives Matter - are not new in any way. People are just now waking up to them. The biggest thing we can take away is that we’ve got a lot of work to do. This year is awful but it’s showing us the ugly that’s always been there. We’re seeing the impact of that right now. One of the biggest takeaways is to learn. Learn what we can do to make it better for future generations, not just what’s immediately good right now or what feels good. A lot of people are hurting right now, and even if it’s not directly affecting you, it shouldn’t take it directly affecting you or your family to realise this is an all hands-on deck situation. The biggest thing I would say, especially in the US but all over the world, is that we’re very divided. The only way we’re going to truly create change is through coming together and putting aside our differences and looking at how we can make a solution. We can work together for the greater good. The only way forward is together. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around this idea that people think we’re going to create change by hating each other or fighting with each other. Why don’t we come together and have a debate? You can have a debate, you can have a difference of opinion, but at the end of the day, respect the other person, and be respected by that other person and look at how we can come together. Until we start doing that, it’s going to be difficult to make change quickly and we very much need to.
Anything else to add?
If I could go back in time to when I was a teenager and tell myself one thing, it would be that the people that are hurting you and are judgemental of you are going through something, or they’ve been through something, or they don’t know what they’re really doing to you. Knowing that doesn’t make the pain any less severe and it doesn’t make it easier but being able to not take it personally is important. It is such a hard thing to do, because you’re like ‘no, they’re saying this about me, they’re saying this to me’, but truly knowing that you can’t take it personally, and having that empathy and understanding of other people, will radically change your entire life, because you know that it’s not their fault. “Hurt people hurt people” is one of the truest statements I’ve ever heard. At the same time, people need to be held accountable. You absolutely need to be held accountable, they can’t just be mean and expect it to go away, but when it comes to how it affects you, knowing that will give you that much more peace of mind.