Music

When TikTok Makes You Famous, How Do You Turn That Into IRL Success?

24kGoldn talks about trying to follow his Hot 100–topping breakout with a whole album of viral hits.

24kGoldn, wearing a maroon velvet button-down shirt, holds a microphone in one hand while gesturing onstage.
24kGoldn performs in Los Angeles on Nov. 22 for the American Music Awards. Kevin Mazur/AMA2020/Getty Images for dcp

It’s clear that, when he logs on to our Zoom call, 24kGoldn has just woken up from a nap. The 20-year-old rapper is sleepy-faced and cocooned in a green hoodie, the same shade as my T-shirt—a St. Patrick’s Day coincidence for us both. “We’re twinning right now,” he remarks. “I just woke up and got straight to the interviews, and I was like, ‘Ah, let me put a shirt on.’ ”

When we speak, 24kGoldn, born Golden Landis Von Jones, is only nine days away from the biggest accomplishment of his young life: the March 26 release of his debut studio album, El Dorado. Titled in reference to the mythical city of gold and adventure, it’s an on-the-nose parallel: Almost overnight, 24kGoldn has gone from a University of Southern California freshman to a major star of TikTok and hip-hop. Like many other rappers of his class, he started out with a small following on SoundCloud. But he was also luckier than most: He had a producer who was able to connect him to an industry exec who would eventually sign him to his label, Records, a Sony/Columbia Records venture.

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Soon came his debut EP, aptly titled Dropped Outta College. His SoundCloud beginnings got him signed, but 24kGoldn’s rise up the charts was a direct result of his TikTok popularity. In fall 2019, his music was discovered by teens all over the app, thanks to a viral video of someone dancing to his song “Valentino,” which is now certified platinum. He rode that momentum all the way to the release of his breakout hit single, “Mood,” featuring Iann Dior, which peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 back in October and has spent 33 weeks on the chart. The emo-trap earworm is reflective of the rest of his discography: ridiculously catchy, pop rock–tinged, sunny-sounding. Even his more somber lyrics are dressed up with a melodic backing so jovial listeners can’t help but bop their heads along to the beat or mouth the words. And despite a global pandemic keeping everyone indoors, 24KGoldn has now managed to produce a fun full-length record that makes it easy to forget about the less-fun reality we’re living in.

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The fun of fame isn’t lost on him, especially at his young age. It’s his charming, grounded sense of humor that plays into his appeal, a sensibility that persisted through our good-natured Zoom call. You can see it in his casual Instagram stories, where he still keeps his replies open to the public, which feature selfies where he dons undone twists—calling himself “Mr. Top Ramen”—clips of him brushing his teeth and jamming to music, and questions for his followers, like if they know a connection to buy the new Xbox Series S console from. You can see it in his TikToks, where he pretends to weigh his genitals on a scale and makes memes with his friends in front of his millions of followers. He keeps that high school class clown energy everywhere he goes, and just like a class clown, he’s hard not to love. Speaking with a preternatural confidence in a 2019 interview with XXL, 24kGoldn referred to himself as a “combination of Drake and Justin Bieber, which is essentially sliced bread—in every house in America.”

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Boastful as that might have been then, in 2021, he may well be right, thanks to the release of his first full album. El Dorado shows 24KGoldn’s comprehension of what music often resonates with kids these days: laconic, brooding lyrics and emo melodies that dance across genres. On the album, 24kGoldn is reminiscent of contemporaries like Post Malone; although the tracks each have a similarly lethargic rap-rock quality to them, it’s a sound that sells. Highlights include “Company,” featuring Future, which is a clear successor to 24kGoldn’s other radio hits. In the song, he refers to the blunts he’s been smoking and the hoes he’s been loving on it—what could be more classic?

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24kGoldn’s album capitalizes and largely reiterates on the hits that have won him all that social media clout and Billboard success. That’s not totally unexpected: As Rolling Stone noted in its three-star review of the album, it’s “pop engineered to sound good in the supermarket, social-media snippets, and played from a phone during bedroom hangs: big melodies in the foreground, beats that bounce, and guitar deployed as needed to juice up the tunes.” 24KGoldn plays it safe, which works for him in the age of the all-important viral TikTok sound bite. And hey, if it works, it works.

I spoke with the rapper about gearing up for his big release and what it was like to launch a career—and go hugely viral—during a pandemic. The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Melinda Fakuade: To start us off, I wanted to hear a little bit about your background and how you got your start in music.

24kGoldn: Well, I’m from San Francisco, California. I was born and raised there. And despite people’s notions of San Francisco people being in tech and getting hella money—it is really expensive, and there are a lot of techies, but that wasn’t necessarily my circumstances. Both of my parents were working in the service industry very hard to be able to provide for me and my sister, but they did such a great job of keeping me busy that I didn’t even realize I grew up in a bad part of the city until I was, like, 13. Shoutout Mom and Dad.

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Before everything kicked off, you went to USC, right? What was your experience like there?

I had a pretty great time. It was interesting, because I had never been away from home and college was a good training wheel. If you just took 17-year-old Golden, and then, boom, gave him access to a bunch of money in this new city away from his parents, I probably would have made more mistakes. So I think college was kind of a good in-between those two places. I was in the business school.

Your music career kind of blew up on TikTok. How do you feel the app has influenced your career?

It was August 2019, and I was back home in the Bay, because I just got my wisdom teeth removed. Have you got your wisdom teeth removed before?

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No. I still have them. They’re kind of crooked actually. I probably might have to get them removed at some point.

Heads up, it fucking sucks, OK? It’s painful. They got to dig around and crack into it and drill. It’s hell, but the nice part about it is afterwards, you can just relax in bed for like a week and people probably won’t bother you, ‘cause your face will be swollen.

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So I was just chilling in bed, not really doing anything, just watching shows and stuff. I had started using TikTok probably a month or two prior, but I wasn’t super big on there yet or anything. I checked out of curiosity’s sake, like, “How are my songs doing on here?” And “Valentino” was used in, like, 25,000 videos.

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That’s a lot of videos. I never thought people would be making videos of my song like that. I’m like, “Whoa, is this like a normal thing? Is this supposed to happen?” And I just kept checking back hour after hour, and it kept going up. Boom, another 100 videos, another 300 videos, another 1,000 videos.

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That was the start of my first big song, all because this girl Aviva Sofia decided to dress up like a nurse and make a little TikTok dance to it. From there I was like, “This shit is real. Let me get into it.” So I just fully got involved in being a creator on there, promoting my songs on there, linking with other creators, and just buying into the culture and community of that.

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Like a lot of people, I first heard “Mood” on TikTok. What was it like to record and write that song?

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It was honestly an accident. No bullshit: I did not mean to make that song that day.

It was the beginning of the pandemic, and I was so bored that I was like, “I gotta get out of the house. Let me go pull up on Iann [Dior].” And Iann had just been in his apartment for the whole week. It was like the first week [of lockdown] or so. Me and Omer [Fedi] pull up on Iann, and we’re all just chilling and vibing out.

Me and Iann started playing Call of Duty, and Omer picked up one of Iann’s guitars and just started strumming. I’m just playing the game, not really even thinking about music, but subconsciously I started singing, and I say, “Why are you always in a mood? Running round like I’m brand new,” and I remember it clearly to this day—Omer was like, “Stop! That’s hot. Come record that.”

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He drops his verse, I drop my verse. And then we kind of just take a step back like, “Whoa, this is a pretty good song.” But I don’t think any of us knew that it would go on to be the No. 1 song in the world.

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I don’t think there’s a lot of songs on the radio right now that are similar to “Mood.” A lot of things that are popular right now are weirdly dreary.

It’s emo, but it ain’t depressing, you know? I think there’s two types of sad songs though. There’s songs that let you wallow in your sadness, and there’s songs that help you get up out of it. I think “Mood” is just a “get up out of it” song, because it sounds so happy and we had so much fun making it. But it’s talking about people being in a mood, which we can all relate to, whether it’s your significant other, your family member, or your boss. Everybody be in a mood sometimes. It just sounds so happy in the way that it deals with it. You’re like, “All right. I guess it’s not that bad to be in a mood.”

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You’ve even worked with currently huge names like DaBaby, on your recent single “Coco.” What was that like?

I’m a big fashion lover. I always have been, as you could tell with “Valentino” and now with the “Coco” Chanel, but that song was also an accident, to be honest with you.

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You know how you get those “a year ago today” [notifications] in your Snapchat memories? It was the summer of 2019, and me and Omer were just chilling with some friends. I was going around freestyling, putting everybody’s name into it, and as we’re going around in the circle, Omer was playing a guitar. There was this girl there named Coco. So I’m like “Coco Chanel, Dragon Ball Z, you could tell,” because I had this Dragon Ball Z shirt on that day.

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Her friends thought it was funny, and I guess they saved it to their Snapchat memories. A year went by, and they sent it to us in the middle of the pandemic. Omer’s like, “Yo, this is actually kind of hard. We should run with this.” That same day, we went to the studio and we changed the lyrics. I changed the lyrics to not talk about my Dragon Ball Z shirt, because I don’t think a lot of people could relate to that, but we changed it into what it is now “You ain’t really ‘bout it, I could tell, double-C lock on the belt”—and just made it a vibe.

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After I finished my verses, I was like, “Yo, we need to get DaBaby on here, because he would body this beat.” So we sent it over to him and his people, and they were fucking with it.

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Had you previously been talking with him or that was your first time?

Nah, that was how we connected at first. He pulled up to the video shoot—real humble guy, real kind guy, and talented. Now we had another one in the bag.

And as for your debut studio album, El Dorado, are there any songs in particular that you’re super excited about?

That’s like asking a parent, “Which one is your favorite child?” I don’t know. I can’t say, but the oldest song on here is two years old. It’s been blood, sweat, and tears. There’s songs that we had to cut off the album that would be 90 percent of artists’ biggest hits. But I just held myself to such a high standard of quality and wanting to be able to tell a story and make it cohesive and fit in with my vision of El Dorado, which is me creating a world for my fans to live in and escape from reality.

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This album is coming out as the pandemic is ongoing, and a lot of your career has developed during the pandemic and periods of quarantine. How would you say that’s affected your career? It must be kind of strange to blow up during a time where you can’t necessarily have live concerts and go on tour, things like that. 

To be honest, it’s difficult. I’m an outside type of person. I like activities. I’m not a homebody by any means, but this quarantine has kind of forced us all into that life. I just feel like, damn, my song is so big. When this happens, you’re supposed to be able to travel the world. You’re supposed to be able to go on tour. You’re supposed to be able to meet the people that love your music. And I haven’t been able to do any of that.

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It’s been difficult for sure, but I’m just trying to stay positive, take it day by day, and see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know that as soon as all this is shit is over, the shows are going to be bigger and better, and the people that felt this song, “Mood,” they’re going to want to pop out to the shows too. I can’t wait for that.

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What are your plans for after the release of El Dorado?

I’m taking a vacation! I ain’t had a vacation in three years. I’m ready to relax. I’m ready to put my toes in the sand, drink a mimosa on the beach, or whatever it is people do on vacation, because, oh my God, I need it. But the grind is all going to be worth it.

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One day you were in school, and now you’re one of the biggest rising stars in the country . What is the best part of all this newfound success, and what is the weirdest part for you?

The best part is having a platform and the ability to create positive change in the world, just by doing what I love. It’s a blessing that I get to wake up and make music and be an artist on a daily basis, because millions of people would kill to be in that position. I’m really thankful for it.

The worst part is probably just the pressure and the expectations of those around you. I’m the type of person that likes to make everybody happy, but I’m having to learn that I got to set boundaries, so that I can preserve and protect my energy.

The weirdest part is just the fact that I exist in other people’s minds. People could be having a conversation about me halfway across the world, and I wouldn’t even know about it. I just exist out there as this kind of like a superhero, to people that I don’t even know. That’s just weird to me.

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