‘Euphoria’s’ Dominic Fike is on the verge of pop stardom, whether he likes it or not

Dominic Fike by the pool.
“The first time I’d ever acted was in front of those people,” says Dominic Fike of his “Euphoria” castmates. “I’m just watching Zendaya and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I could do that.’”
(Annie Noelker / For The Times)

When Dominic Fike landed in Los Angeles in late 2018 — this was after he got out of jail in his native Florida and after a brief spell in Colorado, where he went because he’d never seen snow — the musician and actor with the tattooed baby face moved into a nouveau riche mansion in the Hollywood Hills.

“The rent was like 30 grand a month,” he recalls. “It was ridiculous and disgusting. We called it the Porn House.”

Fike, whose good looks and dirtbag charisma earned him a multimillion-dollar record deal before he’d dropped so much as a major-label single, threw a New Year’s Eve party that year that attracted “some kids who were acting out,” as he puts it — meaning one of them had punched his manager in the face, which led Fike to charge downstairs wielding a knife only to discover that the troublemakers had split.

“I was so glad they were gone when I came down,” he says now. “I’m standing in this Hollywood crib at 7 in the morning. People are on acid. What was I gonna do with the knife?” He laughs wearily. “I was like, ‘I should move.’ ”


Fike, 27, tells this story on a recent morning while smoking a cigarette next to the pool at his current rental in Laurel Canyon. Shrouded by trees and set back from the street, the place is smaller than Fike’s previous digs, with a white-brick fireplace and tasteful light-wood floors. An assortment of sugary cereals lines the kitchen counter; out back is a set of weights he says he uses daily with a trainer.

The dining table is heaped with recording equipment: laptop, guitar, speakers, mixing console. There’s also a copy of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” that an ex-girlfriend just gave him. He was up late last night working on songs, he says, which wasn’t unusual; he’s up late most nights working on songs, especially now that his days are filled with the labor of drumming up interest in his new album, “Sunburn,” which comes out this week and which offers a moving portrait of someone trying to figure out how his past keeps shaping him.

After a stretch spent focused on acting — most notably in HBO’s sex-drenched teensploitation drama “Euphoria,” in which he plays a stoner named Elliot who gets involved with both Zendaya’s Rue and Hunter Schafer’s Jules — the singer and rapper who broke out with the bouncy “3 Nights” (Spotify spin count: 850 million) has recommitted himself to music, so much so that he’s already toiling away on his next record. His next two records, in fact.

The only question is: Does Fike want to be a pop star?

The job certainly seems to be his for the taking. Like a streaming playlist come to life, “Sunburn” blends crunchy alt-rock guitars, squiggly synth licks and Fike’s luscious beach-bro vocals in a genre-blurring way that makes perfect sense to Gen Z. He’s got songs in the new “Spider-Man” and “Barbie” movies and appeared in Bad Bunny’s “Where She Goes” video alongside Frank Ocean and Lil Uzi Vert. At April’s Coachella festival, Fike — who says his “most authentic songs” revolve around his “relationship with the guitar” — performed for an enormous crowd that seemed to squeal every time he flipped his mop of curly brown hair. (He loved Ocean’s much-criticized Coachella set, by the way: “Best live show I’ve ever seen in my life,” he says. “I thought we were all gonna walk away with the same reaction, then I check online and people are just being animals.”)

Mercifully, the HBO series about a pop star and her Svengali wraps Sunday, but not before tarnishing the reputation of co-creator and co-star Abel Tesfaye.

June 30, 2023

Whatever it is that powers modern stardom — whatever it is that powered old-fashioned stardom, for that matter — the slouchy, sleepy-eyed Fike’s got it. Says Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo, who appears on the new album’s “Think Fast,” which interpolates Weezer’s mid-’90s “Undone (The Sweater Song)” into a folky-grungy confession about quitting a toxic situation: “He’s one of the few people I’ve mentioned at home — ‘Oh, I’m going to the studio with Dominic Fike today’ — where my 16-year-old daughter was like, ‘Are you kidding?!’ ”

Yet to hear Fike tell it, the experience of celebrity in the digital age has turned out to be deeply bewildering for a guy who can’t help but read the comments. “If I want to, I can access something s— about myself in like two seconds,” he says, sprawled in a patio chair in jeans and an artfully ripped T-shirt over a long-sleeve thermal top. “That’s f—.” Adulation is just as disorienting, he adds: Gazing out at a throng of fans who’d assembled last month for an impromptu album playback in New York, Fike couldn’t stop wondering what they saw in him.

He’s particularly vexed by the demand that, as a public figure, he set a kind of behavioral example. “Everything’s a morality contest these days,” says Fike, who was roasted online in 2022 after he told an audience he’d been fantasizing about being beat up by Amber Heard. “There are people still keeping the old ways: ‘He’s human, he’s flawed, we get it.’ They’re just not voicing it as much as the other people.”


Fike never scrutinized musicians’ words or deeds when he was younger? “It was just different back then,” he says. “Kanye would come on and my mom would be like, ‘That guy’s a dick,’ and then we’d keep the song playing — like, ‘This s— slaps, though.’”

A young man sings into a microphone, surrounded by people behind barricades
Dominic Fike performs at Coachella 2023.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

As much as he longs for the days before cancellation loomed, there’s something indelibly of-the-moment about Fike’s career, which has relied less on hit songs than on a general vibe disseminated across recordings, gigs, TV and social media. Indeed, the commercial success of “3 Nights,” which topped Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart, set up expectations for his 2020 debut, “What Could Possibly Go Wrong,” that the album inevitably failed to meet. Three years later, “Euphoria” — on which Fike’s character plays off of his real-life persona as a druggy but soulful musician — seems to have put him in a stronger position ahead of “Sunburn’s” release.

Which isn’t to say he disavows the importance of “3 Nights.” “It’s fun — the kids turn up, which is what they’re there for,” he says of performing his big hit in concert. “It’s always somebody’s birthday.”

Fike grew up in chaotic circumstances in sunny Naples, Fla., the son of an African American father and a Filipino mother, both of whom spent time on drugs, in jail or otherwise unavailable to parent. He learned to rap with friends and learned to play guitar by watching YouTube; one of his key influences was the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ John Frusciante, whose face now covers Fike’s right hand in tattoo form. In high school he started putting music on the internet to local acclaim but later ended up behind bars after he was charged with battery of a police officer during an altercation between the officer and Fike’s younger brother.

The good things about jail, he says now, were the regular meals and the regular sleep schedule; the bad things were being cold all the time and being “treated like trash every day” by guards he described as “ruthless.” As it happens, “3 Nights” took off on SoundCloud around this time, which set off a bidding war among labels that seemed none too bothered by the fact that he was imprisoned. (Columbia Records signed him.)


“I had a pretty good idea of what it would do to the story,” Fike says. “It’s not perceived as a bad thing like it used to be. I mean, depends on why you’re in, obviously. Nobody’s giving a $4-million record deal to a pedophile. But mine was hitting a cop, bro. People were like, ‘He’s a badass.’ ”

Dominic Fike in a black shirt with a red cross on it, outdoors with trees behind him

Fike says making “Sunburn” was more relaxed than recording his debut, which he felt was shadowed from the get-go by his reputation as Seven-Figure-Advance Guy. According to Jim-E Stack, one of Fike’s principal producers on the new album, their goal in the studio this time was simple: “We just wanted to let the world know who Dom is,” says Stack, which led to tender yet witty songs about his upbringing, his struggles with drugs, and about fame and his romantic relationship with “Euphoria’s” Schafer, with whom he recently broke up.

In the dreamy “Dark,” which tracks his showbiz ascent, he recalls a paradoxical low point when, after buying his mom a house, he “became who my mama hates.” “That was one of those stream-of-consciousness writings where you’re mumbling and then eventually the words just come out,” he says. “When I said that, I was like, ‘Ah, f—.’ But I’m glad it happened.” His mom’s heard the song and loves it, he says. “She called me and said, ‘You OK?’ I was like, ‘Yeah. I don’t know. Sometimes.’ ”

Looking back on his work on “Euphoria,” Fike says he was “pretty messed up” while shooting the series’ second season, which didn’t prevent his performance from drawing admiring reviews. What does that say about his acting skills?

“I don’t know — I’m not an actor,” he says. “It was more that I just had good scene partners. The first time I’d ever acted was in front of those people. I’m just watching Zendaya and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I could do that.’ And I think I’m a little bit looser on drugs, so maybe I wasn’t afraid to do it. Maybe I would have done better off drugs. Maybe not.” (Asked whether he’s seen “The Idol,” the controversial HBO series created by the Weeknd and “Euphoria” mastermind Sam Levinson, Fike says he has and that he liked it. “If it’s released by Sam Levinson, it’s probably misunderstood,” he adds.)

Three young actors pose for a portrait
Hunter Schafer, from left, Zendaya and Dominic Fike attend the “Euphoria” Season 2 photo call in 2022.
(Jeff Kravitz / Getty Images for HBO)

Fike, who says he’s sober at the moment, is due back for “Euphoria’s” third season, about which he seems ambivalent. “I haven’t seen those people in a while,” he says of his castmates. “You know how sometimes when you want to change, you need to refresh your whole friend group? Feels like moving backwards on that front.” Perhaps doubly so given the presence of a former romantic partner?

“Oh yeah,” he says, pretending that hadn’t occurred to him. “That should be fun.”

Is dating hard in his life?

“Casual sex is easier,” he says. “But I hate that s—. You shouldn’t f— anyone that you wouldn’t want to be with. I went through a period when I didn’t feel that way, and I overdid it. Super-healthy sex life.” He laughs. “But now I’m trying to be abstinent, which is really nice.” Fike calls himself a “relationship person” and says he likes “being able to tell somebody everything. I can’t even call my mom about half the stuff I worry about. And I can’t tell my manager because he’s my best friend and I don’t want to put stress on him.

“When I had a girlfriend, we’d sleep over here,” he continues, a little wistfully. “I could make music around her, which was crazy. I was looking through songs the other day and found one that I made with her. I was like, ‘Man, that was so cool.’ But the fact of me saying that — of being uncomfortable being alone — that’s a bad thing. So I decided to just be alone for a while.”

Dominic Fike.

He’ll spend the rest of the summer on tour, including shows on Aug. 8 and 9 at L.A.’s Greek Theatre. He plans to bring his recording gear on the road with him in the hopes of finishing that pair of albums — “one you can sleep to and one that’s like weird rap-rock,” he says. After heading inside from the pool, he plays a few unreleased songs from his laptop; there’s a Strokes-y tune with clipped electric guitar and another that has him singing about “pissing in a little cup” over a head-nodding groove.


An assistant reminds him that he’s got a lesson with his vocal coach. “My voice is f—-up from coke,” he says, adding that he may have to undergo surgery after tour. “What’s cool is that now I can get that Julian Casablancas rasp,” he says, referring to the famously rakish Strokes singer. “But I don’t do coke anymore, so that’s good.”