The first concert d4vd ever attended was his own. Earlier this year, the singer-songwriter embarked on his first headlining tour, a sold-out six-city trek. “I wasn’t into show culture,” he says over Zoom from Los Angeles. “I was just at home.”

Since stepping out into the world, the 18-year-old has quickly become one of alternative music’s most promising new artists. Thanks to his emotive ballads (breakout hit “Romantic Homicide,” “Sleep Well”) and teen-angst bangers (“Worthless,” “DTN”), he boasts a career total of 614.3 million on-demand official U.S. streams, according to Luminate. And now, as d4vd (pronounced “David”) prepares for his upcoming debut EP, Petals to Thorns, out May 26 on Darkroom/Interscope, his life mostly happens on the move. But making music wasn’t always in the cards for the Queens-born, Houston-based d4vd, so he’s savoring the movement — and bringing his family along for the ride. (His parents are ever present, with d4vd even panning his phone to his father during this Zoom.)

Growing up, the artist born David Anthony Burke sang in his church choir — playing piano and primarily being exposed to gospel music — but like many other teenage boys, he was also an avid gamer. He took a liking to Fortnite in his early teens and would use popular songs to soundtrack the gameplay montages that he posted on YouTube. But after receiving multiple copyright strikes, his mother encouraged him to create his own music.

By late 2021, d4vd was using his sister’s walk-in closet to experiment with the only recording equipment he had at the time: his iPhone, earbuds and online music-making software BandLab. His inspiration came from video-game storylines and alt-rock bands he discovered through other YouTube montages like The Neighbourhood, Arctic Monkeys and Wallows. He created his first song, the ethereal, piano-led “Run Away,” and several tracks followed, including “You and I,” “Here With Me” and, of course, “Romantic Homicide.”

On the melancholy fuzz-rock song that arrived last July, d4vd croons about heartbreak — something he has yet to actually experience himself. The track gained instant success on TikTok, which d4vd credits to his incredibly active presence on the app prior to releasing music. To help promote the song, he posted screen recordings of the vocal stems without ever revealing his identity, both inviting listeners into his process while also fueling the mystery behind his sudden rise.

“Romantic Homicide” peaked at No. 33 on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned top 10 spots on the Hot Alternative SongsHot Rock Songs and Hot Rock & Alternative Songs charts. (“Here With Me” also cracked the top 40 on the Hot 100.) Suddenly, d4vd understood the commercial value of a DIY approach — his bedroom songs were emotionally relatable. “You feel like you can make the song yourself,” d4vd says of his music. “You hear the flaws in it, too, especially [with me] making it on my phone.”

While d4vd says that it’s “hard to break through the saturation” of social media, noting it’s “super hard to be seen,” his prolificness helped him stand out. He recalls the first time he met his manager, Mogul Vision’s Josh Marshall, who had discovered his music on SoundCloud even before “Romantic Homicide.” “I remember he flew down to Houston the next day, and we [sat] in Panera talking about the music industry, and I was like, ‘OK, this is it.’ You really can’t hesitate. Social media moves so fast. You can blow up as quick as you fall off.”

Around the same time, d4vd’s parents were moving just as quickly to help him navigate the various labels eager to set up meetings in New York and L.A. By August, as “Romantic Homicide” continued to build, d4vd signed with Darkroom/ Interscope — the label responsible for developing Billie Eilish, a superstar whose career d4vd admires especially because of what he thinks is the “perfect timing” of her releases. He signed a management deal with Marshall (along with his day-to-day manager, Robert Morgenroth) at Mogul Vision soon after.

“The Darkroom team, I just feel like we clicked because everybody saw the vision. My management company as well,” says d4vd. “I wasn’t even trying to be an artist at the beginning, so people who are making plans and seeing the bigger picture, that’s who I want to [work] with.”

And while d4vd may not have intended to land here, as a Black artist in the alternative space, he now feels honored to be a reference point for young listeners who didn’t think that combination was possible. “Before ‘Romantic Homicide,’ I [hadn’t] posted my face. Then I released my live performance of it on YouTube, and people were like, ‘You’re Black?!’ ” he says with a laugh. “[I’m] a gateway into that genre. It’s an absolute honor and a blessing.”


Nolwen Cifuentes

This story originally appeared in the May 13, 2023, issue of Billboard.