He writes, he sings, he produces and he strums the hell out of his ukulele. Oh, and no one has the slightest idea who he really is.
BoyWithUke, an ascendant and anonymous 19-year-old artist living in Massachusetts, has become TikTok’s most famous masked singer, earning 3.5 million followers on the app (and 196.2 million U.S. streams, according to MRC Data).
His sweet spot is confessional alt-pop jams, candid tracks about bad friends and long-distance relationships, inspired by Twenty One Pilots, Milky Chance and Dominic Fike. He’s also mastered the impromptu one-minute song, spurred by TikTok commenter requests — “can you make a song about being the rebound” someone asks, he pens a sharp tune about frustration and longing. He lets commenters suggest song names for the ultra-catchy cuts recorded in his bedroom.
All of it is performed behind an opaque face shield, two unblinking LED eyes set onto black plastic. Why conceal his identity?
“Growing up, I was in a very judgmental environment and I was bullied for my voice,” the artist tells Billboard. “I was afraid of how people would view me if they knew it was me singing. Having the mask, it allows me to be myself without fear of judgment from others. And I want people to really pay attention to the music, rather than what I look like.”
Mysterious persona aside, his music is making waves. After his October single “Toxic,” skewering those aforementioned bad friends, went viral, BoyWithUke signed a deal with Republic Records at the end of 2021, joining a roster that includes mega-stars Taylor Swift, Drake and Ariana Grande.
“Sometimes I’ll wake up and it’s like I don’t even believe I’m where I’m at right now,” he says. “I’m really thankful.”
BoyWithUke announced Tuesday his major-label debut LP will drop April 15, just in time for a spring headlining tour — his first live gigs ever — in Europe. A few U.S. dates will follow, then he’s opening for AJR through May and June.
On the precipice of stardom beyond a phone screen, we caught up with BoyWithUke on a call from his Massachusetts residence, to discuss his origins, why he loves self-producing — and where he got that cool mask.
First off, congratulations on announcing your debut LP. What can you tell us about it?
So, as with all my music, it’s all produced by me on my iPad in GarageBand. There are a few other people that have worked on this with me. I’m really excited to show everyone. For the most part, it’s going to be all new stuff. “Long Drives,” I think, might be on it.
And where did “Long Drives,” your latest single, come from?
It means a lot to me, just because I’m in a long distance relationship right now. My girlfriend goes to school in Boston, and it’s just tough sometimes having to go on long drives to go and see her – and there’s some rational and irrational fears I have about long-distance relationships that are all covered in the song.
Let’s flash back: How did music become such a driving force in your life?
Growing up, my parents forced me to play instruments. Starting at age four, I learned piano, violin, guitar – and then a little bit of music theory – but then I stopped for a while. I stopped doing the traditional classical music. Honestly, high school was rough; we moved around a lot, so I guess that made me go back to music in a different form, where I would be writing songs as an outlet to get my emotions out. Which is a cliché, but that’s what happened.
Then, I was writing songs since sophomore year in high school, all the way to freshman year in college. My little brother convinced me to make an account on this weird app that he kept using called TikTok. He kept saying, “Oh, you got to download it. You could do all this stuff with it, it could be big.” I was so doubtful at first. I was just telling him, “That’s never going to happen,” like, “You’re just spitting fallacies.” Then, a few of my TikToks performed well and now I am at where I am today.
Where did the ukulele come in?
Around two years ago, I was talking to the girl who is now my girlfriend. She showed me a video of her friend playing the ukulele at a talent show, and she said, “Oh my God, it’s so cool. She’s so talented.” Then I knew, like, “Oh, my God, I have to learn the ukulele, so I can impress this girl.”
Did you make the mask yourself?
Nope. In all honesty, I just thought it looked cool. I got it on Amazon.
How did you learn to self-produce your music?
There was a class we had in high school where we learned very basic music production using GarageBand on our iPads. I think that was literally the biggest thing I got out of high school, the most important thing I’ve learned. It was more important than trigonometry. [Laughs.]
And you prefer that control, being able to create a song and record it from beginning to end?
Yeah, I like to do things my own way. So being able to do everything that I want to do in the way that I want to do it, it’s really helpful for me to be in with 100% creativity, rather than 50-50 with another artist or producer, whatever – which can still be a good thing. I’ve made really good songs with really talented people before. But usually, I prefer to work on my own.
Where do you work on your music?
It’s just my bedroom. It’s the same desk that I use to eat and play video games.
So, last fall, you were in your bedroom, working on a song called “Toxic,” which exploded on TikTok and now nears half a billion global streams. How’d that happen?
Honestly, I didn’t expect that song to do so well. I am a little bit tired of it, just because I’ve heard it so many times, but it’s a funny story. I used to do this thing where my followers would comment things on TikTok – like song ideas – and I’d write songs about them. This was during a time where I was going through some personal issues with friends and stuff. There were just a lot of toxic things about the relationships I had at the time.
So I have a second [TikTok] account that I used to comment on my [main] TikTok saying, “Oh, you should make a song about toxic friends,” and then I was like, “Oh look, one of my followers commented that. I’ll just make a song about that.” But no, it was a song that I wanted to make because it was an important thing in my life at the time.
How have you found TikTok as a platform to connect with new fans and promote your music?
TikTok’s such an interesting app, because even though you might have a lot of people and everyone’s saying different things, you could still address everyone in a way that makes it feel personal – especially with the minute-long songs. A lot of times the ideas of these songs do come from genuine followers’ comments. Sometimes I’ll spend hours just reading all the comments on some TikToks, old TikToks, new TikToks. In a way, it’s really easy for me to see what everyone is saying about me, and just reply with the content that I make.
Soon you’ll be taking the live stage for the first time. How are you feeling about it?
It’s very exciting. Also, very daunting. Had you asked me a few months ago if I was ever planning on playing shows, probably I would’ve said, “No, never.” But yeah, I’m pretty excited. I don’t even think my parents have heard me sing other than the songs [posted online], so that’ll be really scary.
Is it comfortable to sing and perform in the mask?
We’re still trying to figure that whole situation out, but it should be all good.
Is there a common thread in your singles and EPs so far that weaves your music together?
I think each project has its own theme — but this upcoming project will have a very distinct theme, I think, that ties everything together. It’s actually pretty cool — because, if you take a step back, this next project will connect all my previous projects together in this one story.
What story is that?
I’m waking up.