Drake Shouts What I’m Too Embarrassed to Whisper
THE SANTA CLARA
December 5, 2015
Drake poured a dumptruck of cement around the foundations of his stardom with “Hotline Bling.” In the delightfully self-indulgent music video, Drake executes alone-in-your-bedroom dance moves, shimmies in glowing interdimensional gaps and nestles into the convexities and concavities of cartoonishly thick women.
He sadboi stunts the whole time. He makes “bling” an onomatopoeia for receiving a phone call. He spurns any semblance of professional choreography for improvised cheese and pulls it off through sheer force of personality. But the moves are less important than the packaging. The video’s long cuts make for easy chopping into viral snacks. By providing irresistible source material for Vines where he plays Wii Tennis, wields a lightsaber or dances to “Suavemente,” he ensured his online omnipresence.
The single also keeps Drake’s sound fresh. It zags away from the confrontational chest-beating in his label-breaking mixtape and the double-tap blasts to Meek Mill. “Hotline Bling” sounds effortless, like Drake hummed the melody on the way to the bathroom, sung the hook in the shower and thought up the verses before breakfast. That dreamy huffing organ and those skipping tick-tocks make the track sway like a coastal palm caught in a soft evening storm. The requisite, hygienic, irregularly rolling snares encase his gooey feelings.
“Hotline Bling” continues Drake’s winning streak, but it’s about something silly. Drake is pouty that his former booty call has moved on after he left their city years ago. He’s upset that she is doing the sort of things we might imagine a woman would do if she were good-looking enough to catch the attention of the world’s biggest male musician — namely going out with her equally bad friends and attracting the attention of other well-to-do men.
Drake squints and grimaces and pines for past days, but his pained coos cover up a simply ridiculous demand. Drake wishes that his dimepiece had entered a period of high-commitment, low-reward romantic suspension, rebuffing any other suitor and uncomplainingly awaiting his return from world tours where he samples women like Anthony Bourdain does delicacies.
There’s a couple ways you can take this. Drake might be the evolution of misogyny in rap music, exercising subtlety as he disregards his ex-flame’s dignity. If you don’t listen hard, this song sounds like a melancholy ode to a past love. He seems like he cares about her, but this isn’t love — it’s a plea for submissiveness wrapped inside coconut-scented crooning . Old heads hit it and quit it. Drake abuses and reuses, parlaying his stardom for unreciprocated devotion.
He tortures. He’s a wishy-washy worshiper, a central puppeteer stringing hordes of women along. He forces them to question whether a sliver of a culture-shifting icon is better than the undivided attention of a normal man, who will, like, listen to you and care about you on a consistent basis.
It’s the groupie’s dilemma: how long is it economically feasible to stay a strand in the intricate tapestry of Aubrey Graham’s love life? Because you got to get out eventually. If you linger, you’ll realize Drake didn’t bling you when he stopped in town, and that your spot in the V.I.P. harem was taken by a gal who looks like you used to five years ago, only with a bigger ass. There’s only so much space behind the red velvet rope.
On top of this, Drake lays out an existential dilemma. He tells the girl that she’s compromised who she is, that she’s no longer a “good girl” and that getting a “reputation for (herself)” separated from him is somehow a bad thing. To Drake, this state of perpetual sexual servitude isn’t only better for him — it’s better for her. He acts like he wants to save this girl, but really he wants to enslave her, and have her thank him for that. It’s an ugly desire, and one that I share.
I never want my ex to move on. Ever. No matter how amicably we split, I want my amorous effect on her to be so life-ruiningly terrific that she’ll build shrines of me in her closet long after I’ve left. It doesn’t make any sense, and probably would overwhelm me if it ever happened, but I want it. I want her to crumple into nothingness and woe without me.
And you can taste that odd longing during the tinkly piano breakdown when Drake delivers “You don’t need nobody else” with hopeless persistence. He can’t possibly believe he would be a satisfactory life partner for this woman, but he wants whatever modicum of attention he flicks her way to be enough. To Drake, outdoing any other suitor without even trying is the ultimate proof of prowess and prominence.
This is an emotion that’s so petty nobody talks about it. It’s one thing to be jealous about an ex moving on when the wounds are still scabbing. That’s justifiable. But to still be bummed that a former lover has plugged the space you once occupied, even after years of decisions taking you away from her, is so thoroughly selfish, completely irrational and absolutely human.
As a global icon, Drake’s wants rarely go unmet. Tomorrow, he could probably eat condor omelettes and white rhino ribeye steaks for breakfast, if he wanted to. But as his ability to attain has grown, he seeks increasingly absurd forms of gratification.
Just as other rappers upgrade their superficial tastes — thicker cuban links, higher-acreage mansions, flossier whips, etc., Drake’s chasing higher and higher highs of what another person will do for him. His voracious appetite demands the cultish levels of romantic devotion we all want, yet would never ask for. But when your corny, personalized dance moves anchor the most popular, public thing on the planet, you can afford to be bold.
Contact John Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.