Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
D4vd lead image 2 best fit exclusive

The Glorious Imaginarium of d4vd

10 November 2022, 23:00

Sophie Walker meets Darkroom-signed teenager d4vd, the embodiment of pop's past, present and future.

d4vd is in equal parts an actor as he is a musician, trying on different masks in the darkness of his sister’s closet.

Between those four walls, in the absence of everything, 17-year-old David Anthony Burke's mind begins to paint colour on a blank canvas, armed with nothing but a pair of Apple earphones and BandLab downloaded onto his phone.

The sounds he creates – often worlds apart from each other – are an exercise in dramatics, a kind of stagecraft where his imagination dictates the weather, the narrative and emotion of it all. You can hardly believe, at times, that the songs you’re hearing are the work of the same person, so chameleon-like is his ability to blend into the scenery of style. From drill to shoegaze, right down to Jersey club, d4vd has a command of them all – yet he chooses none of them. You might call it versatility; he calls it “genre dysphoria”.

But despite the staggering breadth of his work in the space of less than a year, many are only familiar with what d4vd sees as his opening act, “Romantic Homicide”. Let’s set the scene: A blindfolded figure in a black suit with a red tie is caught in a downpour of rain, sleeves smeared with blood. The night is illuminated only by stark flashes of lightning and flickering candles. His lover lays on bloody bedsheets, and in his hand is a knife. “In the back of my mind / You died / And I didn’t even cry / No, not a single tear / And I’m sick of waiting patiently for someone that won’t even arrive”, he confesses, voice swooning over the inky guitars of this doomed ballad. It’s a love story on its way to the gallows, amassing almost 200 million streams after being smiled upon by TikTok’s algorithm and earning him a place on the roster of Darkroom Records, the label of Billie Eilish, who have marked d4vd as their star in ascent.

Though he is New York-raised, now living in Houston, it feels that d4vd exists behind a digital veil. He is active on Twitter insofar as leaving a trail of snippets, often leaking and deleting his endless experiments – but until recently, his face has been absent from the project, still learning to be comfortable with the adjustment of being a front-facing artist. “I was gonna leave that blindfold on for my entire career,” he shares. “I just wanted people to connect with the art instead of focusing on my face, but people need to see you to feel something for what you’re trying to express.”

DSC05751 2 PC Nic High

His love affair with music is an unusual one. Having grown up in a devout, Christian household where he was home-schooled since the eighth grade, he gravitated towards gaming as a means of escape. He would make montages of his Fortnite gameplay on his YouTube channel where he had fanbase of fifty thousand subscribers, but started having his videos taken down due to copyright violations from the soundtracks he was using. It was then that his mother suggested writing his own music to use instead. And so began his lifelong alliance with BandLab, an accessible music-making app which allowed d4vd to easily execute his vision without any technical know-how. His gaming fans were coming for the montages – but found themselves staying for the music. In December 2021, due to demand, he started releasing songs officially. “I don’t think I would have ever done music if it weren’t for the copyright strikes,” he shrugs. “So thank you, YouTube.”

Reflecting on “Romantic Homicide”, d4vd admits that at first, he didn’t like it. He had made the track only two weeks prior to releasing it. Usually, he’d drop a track without a second thought, but with this, he stalled. “Then I got bored, so I made the full song and released it. I wasn’t expecting anything, really, because I didn’t even like it myself,” he tells me. It was only after he saw the initial spark that he decided to revisit it, to understand what people were attracted to in his own song. It was different to anything that had come before it: “This was so stripped back, with one lead vocal and two background vocals. It’s so basic, and yet dark at the same time. I didn’t think people were going to like it based on my past work."

Asking d4vd about the headspace that birthed this darkness, and it’s like waking up a sleepwalker. After emerging from his sister’s closet, he has a curious detachment from what he creates in there. It started with the initial lyric, “I’m scared…”, and he ran with it, in a way that his words can’t quite seem to convey: “I don’t even know what was going through my head at that moment – especially when I hit the ‘In the back of my mind’ lyric. That was just out of nowhere.”

But the one thing he consciously chases is storytelling, eternally looking for ways to convey emotion through these isolated universes he creates. The writing is what’s done when “the instrumentals tell you what needs to be said”. And as far as “Romantic Homicide” is concerned, the story is not even halfway finished. There are still two further chapters to be told.

Dv4d video stil

That closet, the place responsible for all his released material thus far, is more than a makeshift studio but a sanctuary. “Sometimes, I’ll be in there and not recording anything. I’ll just be sitting there, staring at the wall. Just thinking…” he tells me. “Sometimes that sparks a song, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s nice to not be stimulated by sounds and noises. I can bring my imagination down to a level where I can hear myself, because when I’m writing music, I’m hearing everything: lyrics, visions, visualisations. Being in there is like meditation, especially when I’m not even thinking about anything. It’s cool to just be quiet, to sit in there -until my sister comes in and ruins it.”

The visual element of his music is tied irrevocably to the music. In his mind’s eye, it’s like a film reel begins to whir and the soundtrack serves the scene. “If I don’t have a vision for the song that I make, then I’ll scrap the song,” he says. “Because if I can’t connect visuals to audio, then it’s incomplete. I’m always thinking about the evolution of not only putting a song out there, but how I can create its own space. It’s a living thing, when I make music.”

The gothic theatricality of “Romantic Homicide” was drawn largely from the anime adaptation of the manga series Tokyo Ghoul. The sharp colour palette of a violent reds against blots of black and white, narrated with kanji subtitles, is a direct reference to the show. Every visual choice he makes is loaded with symbolic meaning. “I had the idea for the character with a suit and blindfold before ‘Romantic Homicide’ was made,” says d4vd. “I just didn’t know what song to connect it to. But as soon as I wrote, ‘In the back of my mind, you die’ – I knew. It was going to be me walking into a warehouse and I illuminated the scene as I walked through it. I wanted the blindfold to burn a little bit, as well. I’m trying to drive home the idea that love is blind, with everything happening in the back of my mind: it’s not real, but it feels like you’re walking into something blindly.”

He describes to me another one of his visual ideas for a song he drafted only the day before we speak, called “Walls”. He’s in bed and the walls are speaking to him. As he sings, “I’m hearing bloody voices”, blood starts to drip down the walls. “It’s really weird,” he says. “I used to write a lot of graphic novels and poetry. I remember when I was in, like, third grade, my teachers would be grossed out by my essays. They’d be like, ‘How is a third grader writing this stuff?’”

Dv4d video still candle 2

Poetry, before anything else, was his first love, and he feels that the material he writes without music are by far his darkest imaginings. “I was writing all the time, especially in school,” he shares. “If I have a thought and I don’t feel that it translates to a song, I’ll just write it down and maybe down the line, I’ll bring it back.” Three weeks before our conversation, he wrote a poem entitled The Mannequin. “It has to be extremely vivid, because when you read it, I want you to see it – just as vividly as if you were hearing it. The mannequin can’t speak, and through the writing, I want you to almost hear the mumbles.”

But d4vd is private about his poetry, despite the positive response The Mannequin earned. I ask if he intends to share more. “Oh, I want to,” he shrugs, “but I don’t want to get flamed for it. I might publish some online – maybe even whole books. But I keep the poetry close to my chest, at the moment.” But behind every metaphor, he insists, is a kernel of truth. “It’s detrimental to not express your own feelings,” says d4vd. “I mean, you could destroy your own mind if you just have thoughts sitting there – especially grudges, and stuff like that. You need to verbalise it.”

He has the kind of imagination rarely retained past childhood. “It’s annoying sometimes, I’m not gonna lie to you,” he tells me. “I literally will hear an iPhone notification sound and that will spark a song. It’s actually crazy when I think about it. The most random things can trigger visuals, a music video. I came up with ‘Here With Me’ while I was washing up.” His mind is always racing a thousand miles ahead: “I could be a director,” he ponders. “I want to make movies at some point…”

Dv4d video still dv4d 2

For fifteen years of his life, d4vd had never listened to secular music. His relationship with sounds beyond gospel is still in its infancy, which might offer an explanation for the restless, all-you-can-eat attitude he has towards pop culture. “I feel like I just got everything thrown at me at once,” he reflects. “It was like sensory overload. I’m just here listening to all this different stuff, and everything’s going through my mind at the same time and I want to do all of it. I love… everything. I love all music.”

Look no further than his SoundCloud archives, the home of all his experiments since he began, for proof of the extent of his versatility. You’ll never hear the same d4vd twice. “War” seems to nod to the rollicking choruses of Foo Fighters; “Dirty Secrets” is an exercise in shoegaze (“I put on the British accent. I don’t know why, it’s weird…”); and “GET BACK” is a sprinting drill track, with d4vd lowering his voice several octaves to a snarl. “I think I’ve done everything but country – and rage,” he says, before correcting himself: “Actually, no. I’ve tried rage.”

I remark on how impossible it is to reconcile these sounds to the same artist. “Oh, um, it’s my creative process,” he smiles self-consciously. “I’m such a weird person. I’ve been home-schooled for four years, so it’s like I’m cut off from society. I just create characters: every song is a different character, a different perspective, because I never want people to identify me with one genre. I want d4vd to be a genre in itself, so I try to be as versatile as I can with the sounds that I use and how I convey emotion. So that’s why you can hear one song and be like, ‘Yeah, there’s no way he made that.’”

"I want d4vd to be a genre in itself, so I try to be as versatile as I can with the sounds that I use and how I convey emotion."


Already, d4vd feels an affinity with certain sounds more than others – and none of them would be on your bingo card. He is infatuated with jazz and the Steven Universe soundtrack: “I could play that all day, every day”, but also went through a Jersey club phase after stumbling across its particular corner of TikTok. But above all, he loves the classic pop of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. “I promise you,” he says, “if that music was still prominent today, that’s all I’d be doing – I’m telling you.”

Only three weeks ago, he discovered Deftones after he released a rock snippet and someone likened it to frontman Chino Moreno. “I was like, ‘Who in the world is Chino?’” he laughs. “People compare me to things I’ve never even heard myself. It’s a sound I’m chasing, rather than an artist or a person.”

While the gospel community paved the foundations for his love of music, with his first distinctive memory of it as a child being the sound of a woman’s voice ringing over the organ. “It just sparked something,” he reflects. “It made me realise that music is a global, universal feeling, and it stuck with me ever since. I didn’t know I wanted to make it, but I knew I loved music itself.” Even now, he is an active member of the church choir.

The calibre of musicianship within the church, however, meant that his perception of what qualified as an artist was very prescriptive. “I would’ve probably tried to make music earlier if I was exposed to a broader scope of sounds,” he says, “because I thought that you had to know how to sing, do vocal runs, have vocal and breath control – all these different techniques. And if you tried to do something else, you’d get laughed at.” Even still, d4vd doesn’t feel he can ‘sing’: “I feel that I’m more of a vocalist than a singer – more of a song-builder. I know how things should sound.” His parents encouraged him to take up piano lessons as a child, but he soon dropped them. “I didn’t like people telling me what to do with the instrument,” he says. At the moment, he is trying to learn both piano and guitar on YouTube so he can extend his capabilities – on his own terms.

Dv4d video still rose 2

The BandLab app allowed him that creative freedom. Despite having had sessions in LA recently, he still uses it every day, and that’s where the vast majority of his work continues to be brought to life. “I feel like when I go to the studio, it should be a one-time thing to make something special,” he tells me. “Maybe I’m immature musically, in that way, because I know I should be recording everything and getting it to where it needs to be. But I don’t think that’s a necessity for me, right now. I feel like I have more of a connection to a song when I can work on it myself. I’m going to use BandLab forever, because I have ideas constantly. I want to be able to just pull out my phone anytime, anywhere, and just record an idea.”

d4vd is also aware that something is lost in a studio – “the flaws”. He’s under no illusion that it’s in the DIY ethos of his work that the charm lies. “I feel like ‘Romantic Homicide’ connects – and a lot of my older music connects – because you can hear the flaws as much as the perfection, especially since I’m using Apple earbuds for it, too. The EQ was a little off, it’s not perfect. I feel that the magic that makes music what it is, and what conveys a feeling, is lost when it sounds super professional, super on-key and super perfect.”

For an artist who has earned enormous internet success, d4vd is exceptionally grounded. He hates the term ‘fans’: “I mean, I don’t want to have a following. I want to have a tight knit group of people as passionate about music as I am, where we’re in it together. I don’t want them to be fans. I don’t like that word. I prefer to call people community members.” Does he feel things shifting as his popularity is escalating? “Slowly,” he acknowledges. “But I try to answer every DM, every post, every tag. It’s exhausting, but I want to keep connecting with the people who enjoy my music.”

DSC06023 2 PC Nic High

He credits his environment to his down-to-earth state of mind. Having grown up in Queens, New York in an extremely condensed neighbourhood, he has learned to appreciate the space and clarity his home in Houston affords him. “My mom has an entire garden jungle back there, which I take some Instagram photos in,” he smiles. “Having space frees up your mind. I know that sounds weird but being able to look at something and have it not be congested plays a big part – especially in a neighbourhood where I can walk down the sidewalk, smell trees and have oxygen to breathe. I used to have friends here, but I don’t talk to them anymore since I got home-schooled. I haven’t really connected with anybody since then. But being by myself is far better for my creativity because I don’t have any distractions. In public school, I had no time to express myself, I guess.”

I ask him why he made the decision to leave everything he knew behind for such a solitary lifestyle. “It felt like a prison, to be blunt,” he shrugs. “They tell you what to learn, when to learn and how to learn it. With the curriculum that I’m doing now, I’m learning what I need for the real world. I learn all the same subjects, just in a different way. I have a philosophy that if you go to a regular school, it only helps you if you want to be a teacher; if you’re learning for yourself, it has to be tailored to you and how you learn.”

He insists that while at school, he loved having friends, hanging out at lunch together - and at one point, he even begged to go back, but then he learned how to love being alone. “I feel like creativity-wise, they held me back, just because I was trying to do what everybody else was doing, always having that group mentality. I had to step back and cut everything off, so I had time to really think for myself rather than everything else that was around me. I’ve learned how to meditate on certain thoughts, exclude other thoughts – and it’s only brought good things.”

“For the longest time, I was someone who just made songs – but now I have a vision, I feel that I’m becoming an artist.”


It’s a mindset that he describes as “anti-viral”. He laughs, “I’m giving away the sauce, but seeing what everybody else is doing and choosing to do the exact opposite works – especially with the Alvin and The Chipmunks covers that I used to do. A lot of people would say, “I got hate, I’m not gonna do that anymore’, but when I got hate for the first one, I continued to make eighteen other videos.”

He never loses sight that of the fact that his success is earned. “Whenever I see the algorithm did something, God saw it fit. I mean I’m only…” he counts the months on his fingers, “almost a year into this, and I didn’t take the approach most people did. I wasn’t throwing things in people’s faces all the time. I just wanted to make music for a gaming montage and people ended up liking it. My philosophy is: if the music is good, it will promote itself. A term you hear all the time is ‘get yourself out there’ – but you really don’t have to do that, especially with TikTok and the way the algorithm behaves. I’m a very analytical person, I look at this stuff all the time. I could do a whole masterclass on it.”

The way d4vd chooses to define success, however, is not by numbers but by the response of the people. “There’s such a thin line between a real artist and someone who makes songs, if that makes sense,” he says. “For the longest time, I was someone who just made songs – but now I have a vision, I feel that I’m becoming an artist.”

Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next