The Week In Pop

The Dream Of The Late ’90s Is Alive With Dominic Fike

Dominic Fike was born at the end of 1995, and so was his musical aesthetic. Fike, a singer, guitarist, and rapper from Naples, Florida, looks like a hypermodern rap-adjacent pop star — he has an Apple logo tattooed on his face where many people put a teardrop, rocks a loosely androgynous style highlighted by a bleach blond buzz cut, and is baby-faced enough that he could still pass for a teenager in a pinch — yet he specializes in a blend of genres that collectively flash me back to Bill Clinton’s second presidential term.

Fike landed at Columbia Records two years ago and his first release for the label was an EP called Don’t Forget About Me, Demos, which led off with “3 Nights,” a song that drew comparisons to a laundry list of California surf and skate bros. An incredulous New Yorker analysis identified strains of Jack Johnson, 311, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, while Pitchfork evoked Sublime and Rolling Stone mentioned Weezer.

I’d throw in Sugar Ray and Everlast and Incubus and Crazytown and Smash Mouth and Blink-182, but you get the picture: It’s the sound of “alternative” music after Kurt Cobain died, when the format morphed from a barrage of angsty guitar bands into a mix of genre-agnostic shopping-mall music attempting to replicate the eclectic West Coast detachment of Beck’s Odelay with all the subtlety of Fatboy Slim. My colleague Ryan Leas summed up this “skateboard video games and sunglasses stores” vibe upon revisiting Californication last year: “Extreme sports and artificial energy drinks and turn of the millennium graphic fonts attendant to both. The same sun-drenched place glimpsed in ’90s alt-rock videos, where everything seemed more saturated than it could possibly look in real life.”

Fike hails from an altogether different American sunshine hub, but that promoting a second-stage gig on one of the last couple Lollapalooza tours with a visit to the MTV Beach House life force is strong in his music, albeit filtered through the sensibility of SoundCloud rap and hip modern minimalists like Billie Eilish. Steve Lacy is a worthy parallel, considering the fluttery riffs that often course through Fike’s songs, as is Lil Peep, given his predilection for bleary vocals that blur the lines of what constitutes rap. And then there are his actual affiliations: In the two years since being quite suspiciously praised on social media by the likes of DJ Khaled and Kourtney Kardashian (when he had less than 15 minutes of music available to stream), Fike has gotten more legit-seeming boosts from Brockhampton’s Kevin Abstract — who directed a much-viewed clip called “This Is Dominic Fike” last year and recently followed it up with another Fike interview video — and Halsey, who teamed with him on “Dominic’s Interlude” for Manic, an album beholden to many of the same influences.

Mostly, though, Fike is a solitary presence on his own records. Last week he released his official debut album What Could Possibly Go Wrong. At 14 songs in 34 minutes, it crams a lot of ideas into a relatively quick listen, leaning heavily on a small circle of writer-producers including LA duo the Roommates and his longtime engineer Julian Cruz. A couple decently big names briefly stepped behind the boards –“Double Negative (Skeleton Milkshake)” is propulsive pop-rock produced by Jim E-Stack, while Kenny Beats helmed the swampy closing track “Florida” — but there are no vocal features, and for the most part Fike’s small braintrust handles all the music. Despite the knowing, sarcastic title, the album goes right more than “3 Nights” skeptics might rightly expect. If the songwriting feels a little thin, the production suggests his sound is evolving in fascinating ways, into something more than a Gen Z remix of all those late ’90s touchpoints.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong begins with “Come Here,” a quick burst of pent-up aggression like Chino Moreno fronting the Lo-Fidelity Allstars. On the other end of the spectrum, the spacious and soulful “10x Stronger” matches pretty vocals with an even prettier string arrangement. Lead single “Chicken Tenders” presents sleek metropolitan pop-rock, while the subsequently released “Politics & Violence” morphs from something like boom-bap Julian Casablancas to woozy, skittering Frank Ocean trap music. There’s still that lingering sense that you’re listening to some executive’s fever dream of a zoomer superstar — and given that Fike has yet to chart even one single on the Hot 100 (despite “3 Nights” topping Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart last year), those seeking to write him off as an industry plant still have plenty of leeway to do so. For me, there’s enough fascinating stuff happening musically on the album that I’m cautiously optimistic about where Fike might go next.

Lyrically, though, he’s still very much a work in progress, in search of something substantial to communicate beyond a travelogue of his own rags-to-riches story. Raised among drug addicts and dealers, he was serving jail time when his first music hit the internet in 2017 and says he dropped off his own mother to begin a two-year sentence just after Columbia released his first EP. The backstory adds some texture to songs like “Good Game,” on which he chronicles awkward encounters with old hometown friends, and “Vampire,” full of paranoid glances at his new social circle. But without knowing where he came from, it plays as your typical unmoored and alienated new-fame growing pains.

And then there’s “Cancel Me,” Fike’s most memorable song yet, the one from the new album that seems most likely to break out organically. It’s a deeply catchy track that leans into the cheesiest aspects of his sound, with a conceptual hook that plays directly into the current uproar about “cancel culture.” The song finds him wishing society would force him to give up his glamorous new life of sex and drugs: “I hope they cancel me, so I can go be with my family.” There’s a well-placed reference to Kanye West’s “No More Parties In LA” and a clever line about being so coked out that “on my way home I crashed into a satellite.” But there’s also Fike deadpanning, “I hope I get Me Too’d,” a line that comes off much darker and queasier than Fike might have intended it, like an errant John Mayer interview quote. In that moment, at least, there’s no doubt about which era this music came from.

CREDIT: Beth Garrabrant

CHART WATCH

Taylor Swift’s folklore was a surprise, but there’s nothing shocking about it posting the biggest debut of any album in 2020 so far. Billboard reports that folklore tallied 867,000 album equivalent units in its first week, almost doubling the 497,000 mark set by Juice WRLD’s posthumous Legends Never Die a few weeks back. Of Swift’s total, 615,000 comprise actual album sales, though she benefits from a wealth of bundle options the likes of which will be thrown out when Billboard’s rule change goes into effect this Friday. In any case, it’s the biggest sales week since Swift’s own Lover moved 679,000 in its first frame just shy of a year ago, as well as the biggest overall debut since Lover’s 867,000 units.

Relatedly, Swift’s first-week totals for folklore, Lover, and Reputation (1.24 million) represent the three biggest weeks on the album chart in the past four years. Swift now boasts seven #1 albums, tying her with Janet Jackson for third most among women. (Ahead of them are Madonna, with nine, and Barbra Streisand, with 11.) Swift also now has seven #1 debuts, most all-time among women, breaking out of a tie with Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Madonna, and Britney Spears. (Jay-Z has a record 14 #1 debuts, while the Beatles have the most #1 albums overall with 19.) With 289.85 million on-demand track streams, which translates to 218,000 streaming equivalent albums, folklore also posts the biggest streaming week of 2020 by a woman. It’s the second biggest streaming week by a female artist ever following Ariana Grande’s 307.07 million-stream debut week for Thank U, Next.

In a week when a new Taylor Swift album did not drop out of the sky, Logic’s 221,000 units and 172,000 in sales for alleged final album No Pressure would have been plenty for a #1 debut. Instead the project starts at #2, Logic’s seventh top 10 release and best one-week figure since Everybody debuted with 248,000 in 2017. After Juice WRLD, Pop Smoke, Hamilton, Gunna, and Lil Baby comes a #8 debut for 16-year-old Juice WRLD protege the Kid LAROI’s F*ck Love via 40,000 units and 7,000 in sales. Post Malone and Harry Styles close out the top 10.

Swift also hits #1 with folklore’s lead single “cardigan” this week, becoming the first artist to debut atop the Billboard 200 and Hot 100 simultaneously. Billboard notes that “cardigan” is Swift’s sixth #1 hit, her second to debut at #1 (following 2014’s “Shake It Off”), and the 41st song to ever debut atop the Hot 100. She’s now the seventh artist with multiple #1 debuts, joining Justin Bieber, Mariah Carey, Drake, and Ariana Grande (three times each) plus Travis Scott and Britney Spears (twice each).

Two other folklore tracks debut in the top 10 — “the 1″ at #4 and the Bon Iver duet “exile at #6 — making Swift the sixth artist to debut three songs in the top 10 in the same week. All five of the previous artists were rappers, and all men: Drake, Lil Wayne, Juice WRLD, J. Cole, and Lil Uzi Vert. Thus, Swift is the first woman to achieve this particular feat. She’s also the first artist overall to debut three songs within the top six and the first to debut two songs within the top four. She now has 28 career top 10 hits, tied with Mariah Carey and Stevie Wonder for sixth most. And with all 16 tracks from folklore charting on the Hot 100, she’s now had 113 songs on the chart, fourth most all time.

Amidst all those stats, you might have missed this factoid: “exile” becomes Bon Iver’s first top 10 hit. The Justin Vernon-led project’s previous high mark on the Hot 100 was #18 via a guest appearance on Kanye West’s “Monster.” The only other Bon Iver song to crack the Hot 100 was the #60-peaking “Dark Fantasy” from the same Kanye West album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. (Kanye, I’ma let you finish, but Taylor Swift had the highest charting Bon Iver single of all time!)

Most of the rest of the top 10 comprises familiar hits of summer 2020: DaBaby and Roddy Ricch’s “Rockstar” at #2, Jack Harlow’s DaBaby/Tory Lanez/Lil Wayne-assisted “What’s Poppin” remix at #3, the Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” at #5, Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar” at #7, SAINt JHN’s “Roses” at #8, and Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé’s “Savage” remix at #9. One other new track has climbed to the #10 spot, though: Jason Derulo and Jawsh 685’s “Savage Love (Laxed – Siren Beat),” which is Derulo’s seventh top 10 hit (but first since 2015) and the first for New Zealand producer Jawsh 685, aka Joshua Nanai.

POP FIVE

Billie Eilish – “My Future”
Who knew Billie could bring the funk without compromising her signature sound? Phenomenal stuff here.

Sam Smith – “My Oasis” (Feat. Burna Boy)
Neither artist’s best work, but I’m here for unexpected pairings like this.

Snakehips & Jess Glynne – “Lie For You” (Feat. A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie & Davido)
Seems like they just threw together a roster of artists from different scenes hoping to cast as wide a net as possible, but they forgot to write a memorable song.

Ava Max – “Who’s Laughing Now”
On the other hand, the hooks on this one really sneak up on you.

Curtis Waters – “The Feelings Tend To Stay The Same”
The dude behind the TikTok hit “Stunnin” presents: chillwave!

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Britney Spears’ father Jamie talked to Page Six about the #FreeBritney movement: “All these conspiracy theorists don’t know anything. The world don’t have a clue.” [Page Six]
  • Blackpink’s debut album is coming this fall. [Twitter]
  • Garth Brooks said he won’t campaign for CMA Entertainer Of The Year because he’s won it so many times and someone from the next generation should get it. [Tennessean]
  • Tyga is launching a chicken nuggets delivery service. [TMZ]
  • Bastille worked with Blur’s Graham Coxon on their new song “WHAT YOU GONNA DO???” [YouTube]
  • Taylor Swift responded to the Swiftie who went viral for going on a camping trip and missing the folklore release. [Just Jared]
  • Swift also released a “cabin in candlelight” version of “Cardigan.” [YouTube]
  • In other Swift news, Brie Larson covered “The 1.” [Twitter]
  • Young Thug got a tattoo of his late dog Ms. Tootie. [Instagram]
  • Ludacris’ new KidNation initiative teaches kids positive messages about getting along and staying clean through rap videos. [HuffPo]
  • BTS’ Jungkook covered Dan + Shay and Justin Bieber’s “10,000 Hours.” [SoundCloud]
  • Meanwhile Dan + Shay have a new single, “I Should Probably Go To Bed.” [YouTube]
  • Ariana Grande teased a new fragrance. [Twitter]
  • Luke Combs got married. [People]
  • DaBaby released a new song, “PEEPHOLE.” [YouTube]
  • Tekashi 6ix9ine is off house arrest and dropped a new song, “Punani.” [YouTube]
  • The New York Times previews the new Gordon Lightfoot doc: “Driving around Toronto, he sees a billboard of the hip-hop artist Drake and starts enthusiastically praising his countryman.” [NYT]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME

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