Dominic Fike rises above the pressure to deliver a masterful debut with What Could Possibly Go Wrong

September 16, 2020

Graphic by Liv Stevens

Dominic Fike’s long-awaited first full-length album, What Could Possibly Go Wrong (2020), came out two and a half years after his hit EP, Don’t Forget About Me, Demos. The new album features a short—but incredibly memorable—opening track, “Come Here,” that immediately demands your attention: the aggressive vibrato on the electric guitar and his raspy, muffled vocals make you feel like you’re falling down a rabbit-hole. It’s the perfect opener because it showcases the magic of Dominic Fike; it takes him only one minute and 18 seconds to engross you in the album and make you realize that, despite the criticism brought on by his sudden ascent to fame, he’s no “industry plant.” He’s simply brimming with genuine, raw talent.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong dropped at the end of July, appeasing the hordes of fans who have been hounding Fike for it on social media for years. The album, a true pastiche of Fike’s personality traits, radiates a refreshing and captivating eclecticism, using humorous and quirky phrasing to talk about some of his recent experiences and struggles. Anyone who keeps up with Fike on social media during his rare periods of activity or has seen one of his performances knows that he doesn’t take himself too seriously (at least overtly). Those who caught his Instagram livestreams with his brother Alex during quarantine this summer were privy to their antics (which included them lightheartedly roasting some fans) and even got opportunities to preview snippets of unreleased songs.

In a complete contrast to “Come Here,” Fike incorporates sweepy, dreamy instrumentals into the fourth track, “10x Stronger.” The song’s brevity allows it to act as a sort of interlude and consequently provides a tonal shift from the rock influences in the first three tracks to the fifth track, “Good Game.” “Good Game” features hypnotic percussion and a melancholic crooning wherein Fike talks about his complicated relationship with his father, and his disappointment at the tendency of others to assume Fike would become like him: “Well, don’t you become your daddy / Boy, you show so much promise.”

The album, whilst cohesive, remains unpredictable. Fike throws in whiplash-inducing beat switches on par with the likes of Frank Ocean. Similar to Ocean, Fike oscillates between rapping and singing, showcasing his range. With his incorporation of infectious guitar riffs and drum beats in “Vampire” and “What’s for Dinner?,” catchy and eccentric pop production on “Chicken Tenders,” and understated, lo-fi tracks like “Florida,” Fike exhibits his versatility and proves that his creativity cannot be constrained or neatly sorted into predictable categories. His discography is notoriously genre-bending; different songs are imbued with rock, alternative, and hip-hop elements. The only thing you can readily expect from Fike is that his music will captivate you and that you won’t be able to get it out of your head.

Fike’s overall sound on a surface level may exude a self-confidence that borders on cockiness. However, delving into the lyrics of songs like “Cancel Me” reveals his outlook on the drawbacks of fame: “I hope they cancel me / So I can go be with my family / So I can quit wearin’ this mask, dawg / Tell the people, ‘Kiss my ass, dawg.’” Given the prevalence of cancel-culture today, Fike’s lyrics about hoping for that to befall him conveys the intensity of the pressure he feels and how detached his current lifestyle is from his previous one.

This theme of burdensome obligation is heavily discussed in Fike’s episode of the FX and Hulu docuseries The New York Times Presents. In the episode, through a piecemeal collage of exclusive interview clips as well as peeks into his production process, Fike provides us with insight into his motivations and anxieties. The biggest takeaway from the episode is that under his blasé tone and carefree attitude lies an unshakeable dedication to providing for his family and taking care of those around him financially. This is in large part why he incited a bidding war for a record deal—he needed to pay his parents’ legal bills after they were involved in a drug bust.

However, the overwhelming pressure to be a provider and also prove his detractors wrong makes him constantly anxious about delivering content and working on new music. In the episode, he says things like, “I guess I’m just not comfortable with the skin that I’m in yet” and, “I hope people don’t think I’m a fraud for trying to show depth.” Even though he’s gotten this amazing opportunity, he notes that the accompanying obligation leads him to worry about the other shoe eventually dropping: hence his debut album involved a grueling, anxiety-ridden process that quickly made him realize that his job is by no means smooth-sailing. It’s exhausting, demanding, and his internal and external demons have been weighing him down.

Despite all of the strings pulling Fike in different directions, his work has an undeniable allure to it. The songs on Don’t Forget About Me, Demos, his collaborations with Omar Apollo and Kenny Beats, and his features on both Halsey’s and Kevin Abstract’s most recent albums all showcase different sounds, and above all, they demonstrate how adept Fike is at creating distinct and striking music. Despite the views of those who label him as an “industry plant,” he is most certainly not a fraud. And, as I’m sure his fans are thrilled to know, he’s already working on his sophomore album. True to his words in his episode from The New York Times Presents, “this is the very beginning” of his journey.

VOICE’S CHOICES: “Double Negative (Skeleton Milkshake),” “Wurli,” “Why”

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