It’s early April, and up-and-coming, internet savvy, Queens-born artist, d4vd has just turned 18. In my small, sparkly handbag I hide a 500ml can of VB, hankering to present it to him as a gift at the end of the interview. He’s in Australia, just reached drinking age and I thought this would be a good joke of sorts – no one really likes VB, but you have to admit, it is quintessentially Australian.
We slip down the stairs and into the basement at Mary’s Underground in Sydney’s CBD. d4vd, his dark fro and signature black-rimmed glasses, frame his face as he holds a mic. It’s a pre-show soundcheck an hour before a debut performance, and the room is empty save for his parents, manager and various other organisers.
We’re ushered to the velvet red couches in the corner, watching him patiently as the soundcheck continues. Though d4vd has only been in the musical circuit for about 15 months, he commands the stage with expertise, confident in his music and presence. And it’s somewhat surprising. The idea that someone who, just months ago was making music on their Iphone and enjoying TikTok virality, would go on to perform in a country halfway across the world with such gravitas, seemed a stretch. There’s also the pessimistic attitude that most TikTok artists aren’t readily able to perform, having not done the dirty work of building their performance skills before being scooped up by labels. But d4vd seemed different. In the last few years, the value around TikTok musicians has skyrocketed as labels and PR people pander to the potential of viral data. And d4vd, his music catchy and melodic, fills the holy grail when it comes to the maximal power of the internet. His songs “Here With Me” and “Romantic Homicide” have now amassed over 500 million streams (each) on Spotify and countless reposts across TikTok, as users scuttle to soundtrack their visceral and mostly sad filmscapes with his music. He is a label's wet dream. A poster child. A savvy internet genius.
And because of that, it’s been a short road to stardom. As d4vd settles beside me, calm and confident, legs spread and leaning forward slightly, he explains that three years ago he was just some kid making Fortnite videos. His aim, back then, was to become a well known streamer in the realms of gaming. He’d make short montages of his gameplay with the aim to reach 1000 subscribers on Youtube before any of his friends. Of course, he was the first. During the process d4vd, who throughout his homeschooled, Christian-based upbringing, was secluded to gospel-oriented genres, began journeying through a wormhole of popular music. He started with jazz, then indie and then got into the darker stuff. He’d slip those songs behind his montages until he was struck with various copyright infringements.In that moment, he decided to try making his own. In late 2021, he released his first track, “Run Away.” “It was always in the back of my head that if I’m not doing [music] as a career when I was making Fortnite montages, at least I can get better as I do it and work towards it in the background as a hobby,” he tells me.“But it’s gone by so fast. From going from Fortnite montages, to promoting on TikTok and Soundcloud, to now being at Mary’s Underground performing. It’s so crazy.”In true internet-savvy, gen z bravado, d4vd figured out a way to transfer his digital, cult-like following from Youtube videos to music. He even posits himself as being one of the first to popularise the “Fortnite artist”.
“I don’t think there was anybody using their own songs in montages for the sole purpose of being royalty free at all,” he says.“My music wasn’t copyrighted so everybody was able to use it and make montages.”In part, it’s likely that this deliberate strategy lays weight towards his spectacular virality on platforms like Soundcloud. But it also comes down to his dark-tinged, visceral and underground soundtracks that saw fans from the dark corners of the internet push him into cult-like fame. In a way, he mimics the rise of the likes of Spooky Black (now known as Corbin). But it was his track “Romantic Homicide”, recorded entirely from his iPhone, that really broke him into the mainstream charts, while also leading him to a record deal with Darkroom Records, the same company that signed Billie Eillish. In fact, it was only a year or so before that Justin Lubliner, the CEO, had contacted me to tell me that d4vd was going to be the next Eillish.d4vd laughs shyly at the idea, “I don’t even know how I feel about that, I’m just tryna make music,” he laughs.And then came TikTok. “I think TikTok’s a blessing and a curse,” says d4vd.“‘Cause there’s so much music on TikTok, and finding a way to get through all of those people and try and find something unique and something that catches peoples attention is so hard. I had to gimmick my way through.”d4vd would pitch up his tracks, “so that I sounded like a chipmunk,” he says. A trend he doesn’t think he started but definitely contributed to at its genesis. Whether he knew it or not, he was a part of a new generation of musicians shaping what was hot and what was not; what was proven to go viral and what was doomed to fail.
But that was 2021. Now, it’s obvious that d4vd’s innate understanding of digital-scapes is what caters to his success. He understands it, like most people who grew up with it do. He knows how it moves and how to probe the minds of those isolated but also connected by the screen. A walk down the long line that snakes around the corners above the venue cements it. Fans dress in white shirts with blood splatters and handprints. They’re mimicking Itami – a blindfolded anime-inspired character d4vd created, who’s name in english translates to “pain” – and a character in a universe d4vd calls the d4vd-verse. All in all, there’s 4 characters he hopes to introduce. “It’s like Marvel,” he says.“There’s Itami, the blindfolded character, then we have the gaming character, Antonio, then the bonnet character, and then me, d4vd. I make every genre possible so having an excuse to drop music under a different name and a different genre will be cool.”At this point the interview comes to an end and I reach for the VB.“I heard it was your birthday so I got you a present,” I say. “Oh, no way,” he says.“It’s a VB. It’s an Australian beer.”He laughs, “I don’t drink.”“Oh.”
The beer is passed into the hands of his touring manager who sips at the luke-warm liquid (it’s been sitting in my bag for the last hour) tentatively. He puts a thumbs up. But I have a backup: A playlist with music from 18 up-and-coming Australian artists titled, ‘hb d4vd’.
“Yes please, I need that,” he says enthusiastically. It’s another glimpse into his personality: Hardworking, focused and music-obsessed. A mind savvy to the changing world, rejecting distraction and hungry to prove it.As he leaves for the show, where a small but dedicated crowd will know the words to every song, he ends with his big goal moving forward.“To make the best music possible. To have something that lives beyond me. People notice and recognize your creation after you're gone. I want to leave a legacy.” d4vd's debut EP Petals To Thorns is out on the 26th of May. You can stream it here.Below is d4vd’s 18th birthday playlist:Follow Julie Fenwick on Twitter and Instagram.Read more from VICE Australia and subscribe to our weekly newsletter, This Week Online.