Dominic Fike, the face of alt-pop, released his first full-length studio album on July 31, titled “What Could Possibly Go Wrong.” The 24-year-old native of Naples, Florida, who is recognizable by his neon hair and boyish charm, treats each track as a fun experiment in new wave pop. The experimentation produced a 14-track album that manages to be both unique and catchy, simultaneously emotional and fun.
Back in 2017, Fike released several tracks on SoundCloud, which later formed the EP “Don’t Forget About Me, Demos.” The Florida native had written and produced the tracks while on house arrest for battery against a police officer. After violating the terms of his house arrest, Fike was briefly sent to prison. Upon his release in April 2018, the musician was greeted with multimillion-dollar contract offers from just about every major record label. Soon after, the budding star signed with Columbia Records for $4 million. At only 22, Fike found his dreams realized: He was going to be a pop star.
Fike’s deal with Columbia Records has basically guaranteed his stardom — Columbia’s musicians simply don’t flop. The label boasts contracts with Bob Dylan, AC/DC and in more recent years, Beyoncé, Daft Punk and Adele. To say that Columbia Records is the music industry is hyperbole, but only slightly.
Thus, Fike’s album was destined to be a hit, regardless of its quality. Its title, “What Could Possibly Go Wrong,” might be understood as Fike’s nod to his own Columbia-guaranteed success. “All the things that people say and the hype that’s built around me and all this stuff makes for a pretty interesting debut album release, I think,” admitted Fike in an interview with the Naples Daily News. Luckily, Fike delivered.
Sonically, “What Could Possibly Go Wrong” is filled to the brim with playful recklessness, though its production quality remains polished. Fike’s laid-back, speak-singing vocal style is an excellent companion to his iconic electric guitar, the real star of the album. Sunny synthesizers, up-tempo beats, and autotuned vocal harmonies fill out each song brightly. However, these basic sonic elements are simply Fike’s playdough. What makes the album so fresh is the way Fike messes around with what could have been a basic pop song in each track.
I like to imagine Fike asking himself throughout the writing process, what could possibly go wrong with his basic musical ingredients when he cooks them up into various wacky new dishes? Liberally but artfully situated glitching effects keep listeners on their toes, as do sudden tempo changes. Just as I find myself leaning into a melody, Fike changes the tune completely. As soon as I find myself tapping along to a beat, the beat disappears. Right before an expected resolution of a musical phrase, Fike drops out all instruments in a moment of dramatic suspense. Unnecessary distortion, reverb and sound effects certainly prevent listener boredom.
Too much playing around, though, risks the signature catchiness that characterized his original hit, “3 Nights,” and Fike certainly bets high. Ultimately though, his risks pay off, and he emerges with 14 tracks that are highly recognizable and just surprising enough.
There’s a definitely a certain recklessness present, both in the album and in the 24-year-old singer himself. Fike is under a lot of pressure from Columbia Records to create, perform and curate a certain output. On top of this, Fike feels the pressure of emotional and financial ties to his home in Naples, Florida.
“You’re put on a, like, treadmill, I just feel that pressure, to have to do it. I cover people’s rents and I take care of people,” Fike confided during an interview with The New York Times.
His multimillion-dollar stairway to fame is perhaps more than he’s bargained for; the pop star dedicates the majority of the lyrical content of “What Could Possibly Go Wrong” to lamenting his newfound Hollywood obligations. In the song “Vampire,” Fike warns a partygoer that “everyone here is a vampire,” presumably referring to the insincere intentions of socialites and producers at required Hollywood parties. He expresses longing for his home in Naples and the complications of having moved on in “Florida.” Other themes include deep-rooted anxiety and loneliness.
His gutsiest, most heartbreaking song is “Cancel Me.” The song is Fike’s simple and public plea to be released from the pressures of fame. “I hope they cancel me (Why? Why?)/ So I can go be with my family (Why? Why?)/ So I can quit wearing this mask, dog (D—)/ Tell the people, ‘Kiss my a–, dog’ (Yeah, yeah).”
The message is clear: He misses his family and wants out of the public eye. Toward the end of the song, he even goes so far as to assert, “I hope I get Me Too’d,” a reference to the #MeToo movement. Right after this lyric, all of the instrumentation underscoring his lyrics drops out, mimicking a moment of shocked silence. The line is no doubt problematic but is emblematic of the pressure that leads to Fike’s lyrical recklessness.
Fike weaves silly non sequiturs throughout his more serious lyrics too, with lines like “Girl you know how itchy my back gets.” In combination with its instrumental brightness, these lines keep the overall mood of the album lighthearted, despite some of its darker themes.
Surely, Columbia Records likes his edginess and likely encourages or helps to curate it. In fact, critics have jumped to label Fike an “industry plant,” a vague term used to denounce an artist as a figurehead for a product, handpicked by the music industry (see also: Billie Eilish, Clairo). The term doesn’t hold much weight in reality, though, seeing as pretty much all pop stars are hand-picked by the music industry giants for one reason or another.
It’s true that since Fike’s EP was released and he was signed for $4 million, he’s basically been guaranteed by Columbia Records to become a superstar. It’s possible that Columbia Records selected him to feed fans the appealing story of anonymity-to-stardom, from a disadvantaged background or even prison. It’s true that Fike is a person of color, but light skinned enough to be palatable for white listeners with implicit racial biases. Surely, Columbia was aware of all of these factors when signing Fike.
I don’t think it matters, though. Fike’s music is good, plain and simple. He is the mastermind behind his own creations. He might be signed to Columbia Records, but he’s still just a guy — a guy with a background, a life, emotional pressures and most importantly, creative agency.
Best of all, Fike is just getting started. In an interview with Zane Lowe, Fike disclosed with a goofy grin that he’s already working on his next studio album. Fans smell a collaboration with Tyler, the Creator or Frank Ocean in the air. Whatever Fike comes up with next, I’m sure it will be as lovable as it is surprising. Let’s hope the pressure doesn’t get to him before then.