An antidote to a cynical summer, Dominic Fike’s debut record What Could Possibly Go Wrong marks the start of his tentative venture from viral child of the internet age to credible musician. Louise Dugan casts a critical eye over the collection, and tries to find cohesion in Fike’s experimental fusion of anti-pop, rap and emo.
Breaking the terms of his house arrest forced Dominic Fike back into prison while he set to work on his first EP – the short but sweet Don’t Forget About Me, Demos - and he was released to find a bidding war involving some of the biggest labels. The breakout single 3 Nights was undeniably a hit; a chilled-out, beachy affair with an unforgettably catchy hook that hogged radio waves for much of summer 2019.
Now snapped up by Colombia, Fike himself seems to strike the perfect balance between edgy and marketable; something of a more palatable version of Post Malone with his bleached buzz cut, grainy-filtered Instagram posts, and his face tattoo more light-hearted than barbed wire - bearing the Apple logo. But whilst his new debut, What Could Possibly Go Wrong, follows the genre-hopping unpredictability of his previous EP, it somehow feels less deftly achieved.
Fike’s blend of pop, emo, rock and rap slots him neatly into the new trend of ‘selling’ a song in around 25 seconds as a backing for a TikTok video. This means that whilst the tracks are catchy and likeable upon brief listen, they are more difficult to connect with and take a real emotional stake in. The soaring, atmospheric interlude of Fike’s 10x Stronger, for example, carefully layers strings with simple vocals, swelling with the potential to usher in a change of pace in the album. But instead the deeply unremarkable Good Game trails - a mellow anti-pop crooning affair with vapid, faux-deep lyricism.
The distinctly more somber, cinematic Politics & Violence features later, and whilst being a stand-out track, especially nestled between basic, stripped-back tracks like Superstar Sh*t which resembles a lazy ‘lofi hip hop study beats’ track, reinforces the record’s lack of cohesion. Although the production is sharp and deft, working with Kenny Beats and Jim-E-Stack, many of the tracks often feel unfinished – Fike himself even admitting he was unsure as to how or why some of the tracks came about.
“Wurli and Why provide glimpses of a more settled and comfortable sound, combining hard-rock sensibilities with Fike’s affinity for viral rap and pop trends”
The Floridian clearly has a range of artists from which he draws inspiration, with various influences popping up throughout, from M83 to Frank Ocean. Opener Come Here features fuzzy guitar and slowed, muffled vocals akin to The Pixies or even Gorillaz, and weaving throughout Vampires is a sparkling riff which wouldn’t feel amiss on a Chili Peppers track.
Double Negative feels like 3 Nights older brother; its electric guitars and tight drum kicks reading more like a Two Door Cinema Club-esque indie track and making it one of the record’s most rounded out and engaging tracks. Far from tired rip-off’s, these tracks bring a sense of freshness and intrigue to the record. Tracks such Wurli and Why instead provide glimpses of a more settled and comfortable sound, combining hard-rock sensibilities with Fike’s affinity for viral rap and pop trends.
The brighter, hip hop-inspired Cancel Me divulges Fike’s close friendship with BROCKHAMPTON - Kevin Abstract has already directed the music video to 3 Nights, and the group have featured a video about him on their YouTube channel. “I hope they cancel me,” he raps in the chorus. “So I can go be with my family / So I can quit wearin’ this mask, dawg.” Although embracing the crowd-pleasing catchiness and tongue-in-cheek word play of his breakout track, the lyrics have drawn criticism for what appears to be a reference to allegations of sexual assault made under the ‘Me Too’ movement.
Though fans have defended it as a misheard lyric, Fike has been forced to navigate the pressures of fame, and the devastating, yet arbitrary nature of cancel culture. Though considerably less controversial, Chicken Tenders follows a similar sonic pattern – a radio-ready, synth groove backing Fike’s mediations on ordering chicken tenders over the hotel room service for himself and a girl. It falls somewhat short sense of fun, though, and borders on odd at points.
"With What Could Possibly Go Wrong being only his debut record, and still a relatively short effort, it will be interesting to see how Fike develops and matures into his own"
Whilst the album contains strong tracks and each work well in their own right, it seems more of a casual experimentation; a fearlessly yet fundamentally inquisitive exploration of what could possibly go wrong with the backing of one of the biggest record labels, a multi-million record deal, and some fuzzy guitars. But with What Could Possibly Go Wrong being only his debut record, and still a relatively short effort, it will be interesting to see how Fike develops and matures into his own, especially with the success of collaborations with some more established names including Omar Apollo and Halsey.