Photo by Getty Images
OK, a few things off the top:
First, this gargantuan affair was one of the craziest motherfucking things I've ever seen in my close to three decades on earth. In the near three hours I stood on the floor of New York City’s Madison Square Garden, the 6 God bouncing before me like the buffoon of a pop star he is, I witnessed a wide variety of things I can only describe as terrifyingly exciting. Above us, in a giant rectangle, dangled thousands of glowing balloons that lit up at various moments throughout the show while dropping down and nearly touching our heads. Fireworks popped off like 17 times during each song—so much so that afterwards, when I looked in the mirror in the bathroom, my face was a little red from the constant flames. There was a carriage-like thing that kind of looked like a shark cage that Drake would use to stand in and fly above the crowd while he would sing one of his countless hits. There was also a massive structure at the back of the stage that Drake would sometimes stand on top of, reminding us, I guess, that he is not afraid of heights.
It was wonderful and stupid and perfect, and the closest experience I’ve ever had in my life to the Summer Sixteen tour was seeing Taylor Swift perform in front of 70,000 people at MetLife Stadium last year for the 1989 Tour.
Secondly, the Summer Sixteen tour, which is billed as a co-headlining tour with Drake and Future, is not a co-headlining tour with Drake and Future. The Summer Sixteen tour is a Drake concert (that’s really long) that happens to feature a few songs in the middle by Future. That’s why the majority of this piece is about Drake.
Thirdly, about halfway through the show, around the time Drake was performing a medley of post-Take Care turn up songs, I came to understand that Aubrey Graham Drake is King Millennial. He is, without a doubt, the biggest pop star in the world. To anyone under the age of 35, regardless if you’re a fan or not, this Canadian owns your jokes, your culture, your opinions, your language, and pretty much anything else you and this generation want to claim as your own. Drake may be the biggest schmuck of them all, but this Canadian ex-teen soap star still somehow manipulated his way to the top by creating a persona that is both incredibly easy to mock yet nearly impossible to criticize. Drake is you. Drake is me. Drake is everyone.
This isn’t a new theory, really. Being in on the joke has been Drake’s schtick for nearly his entire career, but there’s been a sea change in the last year, and I think you can pinpoint the “Hotline Bling” video (which almost has one billion views on YouTube) as the starting point. It was the first time he showed us that he understands, truly, how to turn himself into a meme—by making a video dedicated to screengrabs. Moreover, though, look at how his output has changed: Drake no longer makes hit songs. He makes hit catch phrases. In true millennial fashion, I’m not sure he really even cares about what his music actually sounds like, but instead, he just wants you to talk about him when you’re hanging out with your friends. He wants you to tweet about him. He wants you to say that you “started from the bottom,” and there are “no new friends,” and the party went “0-100 real quick,” and that you’re “with your woes,” and that you need a “one dance.” For the last five to six years, his words have become part of the cultural lexicon: Drake is omnipresent.
Drake’s taken the idea that he’s a politician masquerading as a rapper, and pushed it to Donald Trump level extremes.
That doesn’t mean he’s not an incredible performer. What I witnessed at the Summer Sixteen tour was a person who understands how human emotion works on nearly every level, and makes art to interact with each one of those moments. The gazillion number of songs performed each had a purpose: some for the ladies, some for the fellas, some for the loved ones, some for the friends. When he first addressed the crowd, he felt like he was speaking to each one of us individually when he said he wanted us to have the best night of our lives. It’s twisted, man. He has this uncanny ability to make you feel like you’re his best friend in the whole wide world, like he’s speaking directly to you and really, really does want you to have a good time. It’s complicated, because you want to believe him—you really, really do. Then, it gets more bizarre, because after he performs “Hold On We’re Going Home,” he spends a good ten minutes pointing to countless individuals in the crowd, telling them that he sees them. “I see you there in the grey shirt.” “Me?!,” you say. “Drake, you’re talking to me?! Because I’m wearing a grey shirt! Oh my god, Drake saw me!! The 6 God saw me!!!” He didn’t see me. It’s sinister.
Our culture did this to ourselves, or on a micro-level, maybe I’m mad that I did this to myself. Drake may have grabbed the crown for King Millennial, but we laid it before for him on a velvet pillow. And I know I’m guilty. Drake and I are the same age. I can rap Take Care front to back without a problem. I can tell you the significance of his usuage of the diamond emoji when he released What A Time To Be Alive with Future (who, again, barely performed). I can tell you the genius behind using the photo of the Toronto Blue Jay’s Joe Carter on the “Back to Back” single art (it was the moment Carter hit a homerun in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Philadelphia Phillies—Meek’s hometown team—in the World Series, the song releasing last summer on the same day that the Blue Jays squared off against the Phillies). I can tell you why sampling his grandmother on "Look What You've Done" is smart as shit. I can tell you why here on Noisey we once dedicated an entire week to Drake and called it "Drake Week."
Drake knows that I know all of this. Drake created this. He built a career on becoming the cool kid by being able to make fun of himself while still, somehow, pointing out that he’s cooler than you. And through doing that, he bizarrely transcends criticism. I can sit here and write about how much this bothers me, but if you put on “Know Yourself” there’s a strong chance I’m going to stand on some nearby furniture.
Seriously, remember this song? Of course you do!
Drake’s almost sociopathic in how he’s been able to use the cultural conversation to manipulate his way to success. As he performed countless songs that I know not necessarily because I’ve listened to them but because they’ve been fucking everywhere for the last six years, I found myself singing along and remembering what my life was like when these songs were at their peak, thinking about friends and lovers, old friends and old lovers, and whatever the hell else you think about when you get nostalgic. He’s harnessed the human emotion that desires acceptance, and then made it into music.
And at the core, that inherently is the problem with Drake, and will be the root of his downfall. Because the second half of his career has been built on making music that sounds like the moment, becoming essentially the sonic form of a retweet, the product offers nothing except diminishing returns, even though it sounds Fucking Awesome™ the first time you hear it. Great art is supposed to challenge the way we think. Instead, seeing Drake in concert just feels like a celebration of yourself and your feelings. And unfortunately, there’s nothing challenging about a sing-along.
This tour is called Summer Sixteen. Drake’s claimed 2016 as his own, looking for revenge on an unspecified person, doing his best to make every night he performs the greatest night of your life. And it will be! Until you forget that it ever happened next summer.
Eric Sundermann enjoys 'VIEWS.' Follow him on Twitter.