How a song goes viral: Powfu on 'Death Bed' and its steady rise to the top
The song was released more than a year ago, and after blowing up on social media, it’s become a No. 1 hit
Powfu is the working name of Isaiah Faber, a 21-year-old musician from Mission, B.C., who found a beat on Soundcloud, added his raps to it, and ended up with a Gen Z anthem.
"Death Bed (Coffee for Your Head)" samples the 2017 song "Coffee" by U.K. indie pop artist Beabadoobee and tells the story of a man confessing his love while on his deathbed. It was uploaded to the popular YouTube page Promoting Sounds just over one year ago, and it has since accumulated hundreds of millions of views and become a viral song on TikTok, where it has been featured in five-and-a-half million videos, earning billions of plays.
That success earned Faber a record deal with Columbia Records and, as of June 13, netted him a No. 1 song on the Billboard hot rock & alternative songs chart.
The success of "Death Bed," and the path it's taken to get there, represents the new model for how a song from an unknown artist can travel through social media platforms and gain traction without any traditional label support. Musicians are creating their own success, one in which signing the record deal is often the last step. Just think of Lil Nas X, whose "Old Town Road" was an independent runaway hit on TikTok and YouTube before it became the longest-running No. 1 song in Billboard chart history.
Faber describes "Death Bed" as lo-fi hip-hop, a term that means the beats are unpolished, and are often sourced from unknown producers on YouTube or Soundcloud. The rapping has a mumbled, monotone delivery that allows the words to melt into each other, which feeds into the overall melancholy vibe of the music. It's been called emo "sad boi" music for Gen Z.
True to his sound, Faber also speaks in a relaxed, nonplussed manner, even when discussing his incredible newfound success.
"I started writing music about three years ago when I was 17 and it's blown up since then and now it's everywhere in the world, which is crazy," he says from his home.
We asked Faber to take us through the creation of the song and its journey to becoming a viral hit.
You come from a musical family [his father is Dave Faber of B.C. punk band Faber Drive]. Can you talk about your musical upbringing?
I started playing the drums when I was two because my dad really wanted us to be involved with music. He was in a punk rock band and would go away on tour for months at a time and stuff, which was the worst part about it. It was definitely a different life in elementary school. Kids would treat us differently because our dad was famous, so that was pretty weird.
Has he given you a lot of advice about pursuing a career in music?
Oh yeah, he taught us a lot and he still helps me out, he's my manager now. So it's nice that he's been in the business before and knows all of the basics and stuff.
You're 21, so what made you want to write a song about being on your deathbed?
I was just feeling emotional, I guess, and I just wanted to write something that was, like, deep and meaningful.
Can you tell us how you found the beat, and the sample by Beabadoobee?
I came across the beat [by Otterpop] on SoundCloud. That's where I find most of my beats. I didn't know who Beabadoobee was when I first heard the beat, but I looked her up after and she has a lot of cool songs. I really liked the beat just by itself, and my friend was like, 'why don't you try to write a rap to this?' I really didn't want to write about just coffee and sleep, I wanted to make it a deeper meaning, so I came up with the idea of me dying and I'm writing on my deathbed. I wrote the whole song probably in an hour or something.
After maybe four months it hit 10 million viewers [on YouTube] and I still couldn't figure out why it was still going up. - Powfu
What did you do with the song after it was recorded?
I just released it on SoundCloud. And then this YouTube channel called Promoted Sounds uploaded it as well. It did OK, but then a few months later I saw that it was picking up views on YouTube again. I thought, what the heck? That's kind of weird. And then it just kept getting higher and higher. After maybe four months it hit 10 million viewers, and I still couldn't figure out why it was still going up.
It's become a huge hit on TikTok, particularly with people wanting to confess their love to someone. How did it end up there?
At first I didn't even know about it on TikTok because I don't really use it, and I didn't upload it there myself. But I mean, I love it. I feel like a big part of why it's being used so much is because it can be used as a chill, happy background song, if you're not really listening to the lyrics, but then it can also be used as a sad song. That's why I feel like there's so many trends with it, because it can be used in whatever type of thing you're making.
Here is part 1, 2, and 3 of "Quarantine Cutie" all in one tweet <a href="https://t.co/L9pnEV4oZM">pic.twitter.com/L9pnEV4oZM</a>—@jerm_cohen
When did you first notice it was big on TikTok?
It started when Kobe [Bryant] died, and people were making videos about him with it as the background music. And then it started being used as, like, a way to confess love to each other. And then just a bunch of random videos as well.
I remember when it hit one million videos there, my mind was blown. That's a lot of videos made with my song in it, and then, just thinking of all the views that each one of those videos gets.
How did you end up getting signed with Columbia Records?
The song was doing good by itself, but I couldn't get it on Spotify or anything because the sample by Beabadoobee wasn't cleared. A little company that works with Sony Music hit me up, like, we can clear the sample so you can get it up on Spotify, which was kind of my main goal at that time. That's mainly what interested me in signing with a label. I haven't even heard it on the radio myself yet, so I'm still waiting for that.
Your EP, Poems of the Past [released May 29], has a Blink 182 remix on it. Can you tell us how that happened?
I just asked the label if I could work with Blink and they were like, yeah, we'll get in contact with them. A few days later it was like, they want to remix "Death Bed." All right, let's do it. I didn't really listen to them growing up but these past few years I've started listening to them a lot. I love trying to incorporate punk into hip hop and stuff. It makes it kind of into a whole new genre.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.