By Ethan Shanfeld
Behind today’s top hits is a 20-year-old guitar prodigy from Tel Aviv named Omer Fedi. The multi-instrumentalist, producer, and songwriter has topped the Billboard charts and worked with pop royalty from Lil Nas X to Machine Gun Kelly. But just over four years ago, Fedi moved to Los Angeles with no connections to the industry, at a time he could barely speak English, with one singular goal: “I wanna make my friends the biggest artists in the world,” he tells MTV News, casually pacing around his Bel Air home.
Fedi started playing drums before he could walk. His dad was one of the most accomplished and well-respected drummers in Israel, introducing Fedi to music at a very young age. Inspired by Drake Bell from the mid-aughts Nickelodeon series Drake & Josh, Fedi decided to pick up the guitar at age 10. After wandering into a nearby CD store and listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik, he knew that music was the only way forward. Later, Fedi embraced jazz from listening to Steely Dan. He was enthralled by the incorporation of sophisticated chords and distorted riffs in pop music.
At 16, Fedi moved to the states when his dad sought to expand musical opportunities for himself and his son. Fedi enrolled at Calabasas High School and immediately joined the jazz ensemble, where his teachers were astounded by his technical chops. “He was so far ahead of everyone else in terms of his fluency on the instrument and his harmonic ability,” says Tod Cooper, a jazz clinician who volunteered at the school. “Nothing got in his way. He could speak through the instrument.”
Fedi was a guitar virtuoso; his extraordinary talent would fill school auditoriums for shows normally only attended by performers’ parents. Competing as a high school senior at the 2018 Reno Jazz Festival, Fedi won the single “Outstanding Performer” award in a field of over 9,000 young musicians. The summer after sophomore year, Fedi landed a gig playing guitar at a nearby church, where he met other musicians who invited him to jam sessions. About a year later, one of Fedi’s friends called him with an opportunity to meet Sam Hook, a hit songwriter who was looking to collaborate with a guitar player.
“I had never produced or written a song, but we just started writing together, and soon I’d go to his house every day after school,” Fedi says. Eventually, the pair wrote Ella Mai’s “Naked,” a smooth R&B ballad driven by Fedi’s soulful plucking.
Fedi started spending mornings in classrooms and afternoons at Glenwood Place Recording Studios in Burbank, California. After graduating high school, Fedi linked up with English alt-pop star Yungblud. During one of their sessions, Fedi met former Interscope executive Conor Ambrose, who would later become his manager. “He came in wearing a pink beanie and just sat in the corner of the room,” Ambrose says. “He started playing guitar and everyone literally stopped in their tracks, like this is easily the most talented guitarist we’ve ever seen.”
Later that year, a friend from high school invited Fedi to a USC party. There, he met Golden Landis Von Jones, aka 24kGoldn, then a student trying to make it big as a rapper. They exchanged phone numbers and booked a studio session a week later. Fedi and Goldn’s creative partnership started with writing the emo-influenced Iann Dior song, “18.” They continued making music together, putting out 24kGoldn singles like the moody “Lot to Lose” and seductive “Games on Your Phone.” Both songs are built around Fedi’s carefully crafted guitar melodies.
“We always start from scratch,” Fedi says. “Goldn writes the lyrics — he’s one of the fastest writers of all time — and then we write the music and structure it together.” Fedi helped push Goldn to incorporate rock into his style with “City of Angels,” which pairs an angsty electric guitar progression with a steady drum machine. The song blew up on TikTok and dominated alternative radio for months. The duo continued collaborating on Goldn’s debut EP, Dropped Outta College, and are currently working on the artist’s first studio album, El Dorado.
In late 2019, Fedi performed as a touring guitarist during Goldn’s opening run with Landon Cube, playing a handful of shows across the country. However, when Goldn’s 2020 headline tour plans were thwarted by the coronavirus pandemic, he and Fedi rented an Airbnb in Hollywood to grind out new songs. Though it was on a night off at Dior’s place when they wrote the biggest hit of their careers so far — by accident.
“We didn’t even think about making music,” Fedi says. While Goldn and Dior played Call of Duty, Fedi and producer KBeaZy spontaneously started making beats. “I didn’t even have my guitars, so I took Iann’s guitar, plugged it into the computer, and the first thing I played was the ‘Mood’ guitar riff.” Within five minutes, Fedi and KBeaZy laid down a beat.
“Then Goldn’s sitting on the couch and starts singing, ‘Why you always in a mood?’” Fedi says. “He probably didn’t even know he was singing because he was so focused on the game.”
Fedi heard something in Goldn’s subconscious hook and pleaded with him to pause the game, get off the couch, and record it. “I was like, ‘Goldn, I won’t be your friend if you won’t record this,’” Fedi says.
The song came together like magic and, after its release in July, almost immediately became a smash hit. As of this writing, “Mood” has spent over nine weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, hitting No. 1 on October 19. It has over 300 million Spotify streams and its music video has over 42 million views on YouTube.
“Mood” is grounded by a shuffling hi-hat beat and elevated by a catchy chorus and crooning verses, but the song is built around its euphoric guitar riff. It’s easy to understand why Fedi’s favorite band is Red Hot Chili Peppers: Like John Frusciante, he gives the guitar a distinct voice on everything he writes, so that after just a few notes, songs like “Mood” and “City of Angels” are immediately recognizable. “People know that when they work with me, it’s going to be a guitar-based song,” Fedi says. “Nothing can compete with the feeling of live guitar.”
One of Fedi’s goals is to bring the guitar back to the forefront of pop music. His signature cross-genre sound, evident on songs like The Kid Laroi’s “Go,” seamlessly blends guitar with hip-hop beats. The musician’s most recent creative endeavor was working on Machine Gun Kelly’s No. 1 album, Tickets To My Downfall, full of nostalgic pop-punk bangers. Fedi produced nine tracks on the deluxe album alongside Blink 182’s Travis Barker, one of his idols.
Recently, Fedi has been hanging out at Diplo’s house, making music with Dominic Fike, and playing jazz live from Charlie Puth’s Instagram. He’s also been working on Lil Nas X’s debut album and an exciting remix of “Mood,” coming out within the month. Last November, Fedi was nominated for a Grammy for his work on Ella Mai’s album. The first song he ever wrote was considered for music’s highest honor. But for a kid whose dream is to become “the best of all time,” this is only the beginning.
“I’m really happy and excited about everything that’s happening right now,” Fedi says. “But I try to keep my head down and just make good music.” In many ways, Fedi is the architect behind pop’s new sound. With a keen ear for crafting hooks and the technical training to execute them, no one is better suited to soundtrack the future.