Let the mix tapes, the singles and the albums slip for a second. Drake created YOLO – a phrase so embedded in modern lexicon that at this point, even if a music-hating super-virus ate up Drizzy’s entire discography, his position in popular culture cannot be erased.
The five million plus record sales; the butt-load of guest-features; the constant imprint on both commercial radio and snot-faced blogs; the Young Money affiliation; they’re all a huge-part of Drake, The Icon. But without YOLO - a phrase thrown around by Sports Science students before necking a “mystery shot” the night before deadline – Drake, arguably, wouldn’t be selling out 20,000 seats at the O2 arena.
Before heading into the show, I wanted to meet these fans. This is the first guy I ran into.
Noisey: Hi! JAY Z took shots at Drake over the weekend. He said “Sorry Ms Drizzy for so much art talk / talking about shit that I really bought”. Do you have anything to say to JAY Z?
Luke: I’d tell him to fuck off.
What about if he was here right now?
I’d poke him in the bum with my willy.
Okay, and what does Drake mean to you as an artist?
It’s just a night out to be honest.
Luke was kind. When we took the photo he benevolently offered up a demonstration of poking a multi-millionaire with his dinky.
Noisey: Hi ladies, what does Drake mean to you?
He’s my life inspiration. Music, inspiration, creativity, motivation. He can relate to people, boys and girls.
Did you hear about this self-help thing that Drake does to help people out?
Yeah he has done from the moment he started. He made me open up my business.
Drake fans are unfairly characterised as lonesome men that won’t stop texting your girlfriend, but in real life they’re mostly a varied tribe. And mostly, they’re not at all sensitive.
Noisey: Why do you like Drake?
Because he’s cool. He’s creepy sick.
What are his best bars?
What does that mean?
Like, his best rhymes, his best flow, his poetic essence.
Oh, Started from The Bottom Now We’re Here. Hashtag YOLO.
If you had to pick a Drake lyric to sum up your life, would that be it?
If someone said fuck off to Drake, what would you say?
Fuck you too.
And if he was here right now… What would you say to him?!
I’d say, can I have a photo please? Yeah, I just need a selfie and that’s it.
Still, a few lone guys brought their phone for company, possibly favouriting your girl’s tweets, accidentally liking her posts on Instagram when trying to zoom in. We interviewed a bunch of other people and they were all really keen to GET A PHOTO CAN YOU EMAIL IT TO ME PLEASE.
Inside, the venue is littered with the luminous glow of smartphones. Guys get Turnt Up by way of turning their phone, holding it up, and fronting into it for a 15 second video. Girls assemble into the regulatory club-photo position, posing with the backdrop of the stage, a huge monster of construction built around what looks like a chopped in half UFO, or a polo mint.
The variety of the crowd that Drake can pull is apparent. Yes, a large proportion fit into the bill of passive music fans, club-goers, and people out on their one big Culture Event of the year - we’re at the O2. But as the verbal response to pre-show tracks like YG’s “My Nigga” and A$AP Ferg’s “Shabba” proves, hip-hop still rules, its power capable of rendering the charts permanently irrelevant. Then, the lights dim, it’s silent, and Drake takes to the stage.
The first ten minutes are wild. “Tuscan Leather”, “Headlines”, and a guest-spot from The Weeknd on “Trust Issues” speed by like a hyper-coloured TVR speeding down the motorway - beautiful, but gone in a flash.
Like his fans, Drake takes on many forms. At times he moves around the stage like a guy at a frat party, busting shapes at imaginary bros and shuffling with the discordant hype of someone that has had finished off the punch with dinner. But inbetween his energetic outbursts, he soulfully contemplates his next move, gazing into the distance, or sulking in a corner like his girl disappeared.
Pause. Is this is the only guy I know that can pull of a sleeveless hood without looking like they’ve stepped out of the Luton branch of Primark?
A lot has been said about live hip-hop shows and their inability to step up to large stadium tours, but Drake’s aesthetic game is on point. A TV larger than any featured on MTV Cribs dominates the stage, the visuals and corresponding light-and-stage show allowing each song to evoke an extended emotion. “Wu Tang Forever” features melancholic blue (and real life smoke), “Don’t Stop (Pop That)” is elevated by brilliant red (plus real life fire) and “The Motion” is tinged with a jealous emerald hue.
Drake’s key to success is that he makes each fan feel special, important and cared for. It’s the reason why people use his music as therapy and why a thousand memes are floating around the internet featuring pictures of him wearing a towel around his head. Tonight, he strives to ensure that each fan feels catered for; medleys of career-spanning hits are played, at one point a girl is brought on stage, but it’s a fuck-off lighting rig that really rams it home.
Drake ascends this rig and stands on it. He positions his gaze around the crowd, shouting out various people - “I see you with the homemade sign, the Drake t-shirt in the back row, wearing the black though”. This continues for, no joke, at least ten minutes. The O2 arena is fucking huge, and he’s only targeted one corner. We begin to sit down, deflated and bored. But by the time he finally reaches us, everyone is electrified, clamouring to be noticed. Of course, Drake doesn’t care. But it’s the illusion that he does, the thrill of a one-second connection, that keeps his fans striving on track.
This is a sign we held up. He didn’t notice us.
Drake is THE commercial pop-star that it’s okay to like. He’s responsible for YOLO and “Hold On, We’re Going Home”, a song that my Nan loves, but he’s also responsible for low-key cuts like “Uptown”, brilliant tracks that are non-existent to anyone wearing a YOLO hoodie. Essentially, Drake does what he likes, acts how he feels, and we can choose to connect with it. Tonight is evident of this, different people are here for different reasons and Drake reaches out to all of them. But he allows self-indulgence - the breakdown on “Too Much” is literally Too Much.
By the time he’s finished, we’re unable to remember how many songs Drake has played. It’s at least thirty though, his back-catalogue proving that he’s cemented his position as someone who could, probably, perform for at least three-hours without having to resort to the b-sides. Then we leave to get the train home because YOLO.