Photos by Frank Thomas
The richness of the Yiddish language stems from its ability to summon insults of extreme precision. The Jews have as many derisive adjectives as the Inuit have words for snow. Most start with a variation of “sh” or “sch”: shmeggie, schmo, schlub, schnook, schmendrick, schlemiel, shlimazel, shnorrer, and shvantz. Each conveys minute differentiations in meaning. All are different ways to call someone a putz.
Out of all the Yiddish pejoratives, the supreme epithet is the schmuck. There’s no English language equivalent. It’s less damning than “asshole” but much stronger than “jerk.” A schmuck can be a douche, a lame, or a cornball, but all three words conjure slightly different ideas. You can be a totally decent person but a complete schmuck. It’s an umbrella term that encompasses your supreme being. When in doubt, you always make the wrong decisions. You try to be good, but somehow you always find a way to fuck it up. That’s peak schmuck.
This is a long way to tell you that Drake’s performance at Coachella cemented his stature as America’s greatest schmuck. Maybe it reveals our inherent schmuckiness that we had to import a Canadian ex-teen soap star to steer our generation of schmucks.
“All I care about is money and the city where I’m from”: That’s the schmuckiest sentence written in the last two decades. Forget wisdom, empathy, art, generosity, virtuosity, education, tolerance, or charity. If a schmuck is the opposite of a mensch, Drake is the guy who sold his mixtape. His mantra summarizes the entire ethos of America since Reagan’s inauguration. Get money by any means necessary—be it manipulation, pandering, or Migos appropriation. “Where I’m from” takes supremacy over the rest of the world. As one of the guys from Das Racist once said, it sounds like the Tea Party platform.
You have to give Drake credit for making his schmuckosity a central part of the appeal. From Drake in Dada to “Drake the Type of,“ the innumerable memes and Vines Drake contributes to the Internet Industrial Complex are worth their weight in RTs and pageviews. Before his Coachella set, he Instagrammed a photo of an audience member waving a Wheelchair Jimmy cut out. He’s in on the fun, both an Internet piñata and firmly within the cultural pantheon.
He speaks to the inner schmuck in all of us. “I’m just here for the bucks and Bentleys.” If Rick Ross delivered that line (which I’m sure he has), we’d slot it into some whimsical Obese Cop-Turned-Bawse Miami Beach fantasy. When Drake says it, it feels sincere.
Of course, that’s also because Drake commenced his Coachella performance with video of him driving a Bentley through winding mood-lit canyons—while he narrated woe-is-me stories about sadness, lost puppies, and girls who work at the Walgreen’s Corporate Office. He arrived 25 minutes late and used a Kid Ink song to hype the crowd. Schmuck moves.
Then the operatic strains of “Legend” boomed over the Coachella speakers. Drake came out and told everyone that he’s too good with words, is a legend, and that it’s too late for his city. The VIP section melted into a frothing puddle of molly and Grey Goose. The neon basic bros on the field fist-pumped, head bobbed, and silently fantasized about condo ownership and upgrading from a Honda.
There was “Trophies”—complete with “let’s put on a show” jazz hands. He acted out every bar like an upper level improv class audition. He altered the lyrics of the song to, “Coachella, they don’t have awards for that.” Five flaming jets burst into the air. Drake is the world’s greatest Bar Mitzvah master of ceremonies, and Coachella is the world’s most expensive communal coming-of-age ceremony.
When “We Made It” came on, the convulsions and hysteria were as strong as anything all weekend. Drake’s ability to write anthems is undeniable. Despite a natural Muppet-nasal register, working with a voice coach has obviously strengthened his chops. He has genuine hits and a clear gift for songwriting. Every one of his bars is a complete sentence, a tweet in a lyrical form, a Gchat away message—fortune cookies of false profundity. “Why we wasting our relationship on a relationship.” That doesn’t even make any sense, but it sounds like it should be deep.
After the third song, he interrupted the concert to talk about his mom calling him earlier that day. (He had to pick up because she’s presumably terrified of being the next Voice Mail on that Coachella Jam Screen). Admittedly, talking about your mom isn’t a schmuck move. But the anecdote didn’t add any underlying meaning to the performance. She told him to kill it, but instead he made out with Madonna onstage and proceeded to do the “eww cooties” wipe-off move. That’s a schmuck move of A-Rod caliber.
You’re probably wondering how I made it this far into a story about Drake’s Coachella set without mentioning the Madonna thing. The truth is that I don’t even know how to incorporate it. It was one of the most legitimately grotesque things that I’ve ever witnessed. And I’ve seen the nude pictures of Vanilla Ice in Madonna’s Sex Book.
At at its core, the decision to bring out Madonna underscores the entire thrust of this article. Let’s say you’re Drake and you’re headlining the last day of Coachella, the biggest American music festival, which is vaunted for surprise appearances. Jay Z, Rihanna, and your fellow schmuck/woe The Weeknd are lurking backstage, ostensibly eager to soak up more spotlight and boost Tidal stock. YG and Mustard are the hometown heroes with whom you have a major local hit. Other options might include Big Sean or Future or Makonnen, who you can call up for “Tuesday,” thus boosting the star of your most successful OVO act.
Instead, you delineate yourself from your peers by forming a union of Material Girl meets Material Boy. Madonna attempts her dreary seduction with “Human Nature,” Hung Up,” and “Express Yourself.” Then she Britney Spears-es you while you look like you’re waiting for a lap dance at the Clermont Lounge. And then you wipe the kiss off in front of 100,000 people, as though Madonna hadn’t spent the last three decades going door to door trying to shock people. It went from epic to embarrassing real quick, real fucking quick.
It’s not like the set didn’t have its moments. “0-100,” “10 Bands,” and “Energy” worked just as well live as they do on the Soundcloud stream. But every time he told the crowd that he was here to “play the hits” and not that “romantic singing shit,” Drake descended into maudlin warbling. His ballads are bathroom breaks.
The guy is obviously a gifted performer, but his insistence that it’s “all me,” came at the expense of the set itself. Without any guests who aren’t eligible for the AARP discount, the energy dragged. A 75-minute performance felt like seven hours. Most rappers turn up like tornados. Drake turns up like an SAE Treasurer.
I’m sure there are people who will tell you that it was the greatest set of the festival. But those are the same people who will tell you that this is a swish. On a shuttle home, everyone around me kept mocking the Madonna-Drake meme photos popping up on their timeline and wondering why he didn’t actually bring out anyone legitimately exciting in 2015. Disappointing was the operative adjective.
He continually told the crowd, “You sound beautiful, I swear.” He wore a cutoff. He showed Instagram-filtered beach sunsets and cumulus clouds on the big screen. If there were any more time, we might have gotten a live screening of The Notebook.
There was something desperate and empty to it—not in an emotionally vacant and crying into a glass of Chardonnay way, but a deeply boring ennui. Drake is a dull guy with an interesting life. He’s a person who brags about the Advil Bottles full of Xanax that he’s procured for a girl, even though he doesn’t do them. He’s a generational enabler, our vessel for worst behavior and worse decisions. The set ended with a fireworks display because of course it did. It’s better to be awful than off-brand.
Jeff Weiss goes online, that's part of his day. Follow him on Twitter.