This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.
By now we’ve all seen Drake’s video for “Hotline Bling.” It may have dropped as an exclusive on Apple Music a mere 36 hours ago, but it’s already been GIFed, Tumblred, and tweeted to the point that evading its presence on the internet is an impossible task. Even if you haven’t seen it, you’re aware of the core facts: Drake has released a video for “Hotline Bling” where he dances like an auntie at a wedding, a faded friend at a function, or an uncle at a family cook-out. The shapes he throws are mutable across cultures and instantly recognizable as the work of someone who can't dance trying to dance.
Our dissemination of “Hotline Bling” into GIFs, tweets and lists, is, we can assume, the outcome Drake anticipated. At this point, he recognizes he has the capability to break the internet with a simple, well-calculated video—which has served its purpose by plastering his name and face across the web. Yet it poses some interesting questions: Do we perceive mediocrity as greatness? Would we care if anyone but Drake released the exact same video? What is it about the video for “Hotline Bling” that makes it more than the sum of its parts, which is a boring, yet admittedly lush, series of ready-to-share images set to a colorized background?
The answer, at least to the last question, is Drake and his dance moves. Throughout the Director X-directed video, we see different variations of Drake (leather moped jacket Drizzy; sweatpants and pumpkin spice latte Drizzy; etc) engaging in oscillating movements (the compass rotation; you gonna finish those fries?; the Carlton Banks; the dual phone hands) that we can all imaginatively relate to.
These moves have rocketed the video into the public consciousness. They’ve been shared on social media, reimagined as new memes, embedded in articles across the net—we’re even feeding the leviathan meme-monster that “Hotline Bling” has become by writing this piece. But how could we not? Seeing Drake—a global superstar!—bust out your own embarassing dance moves is a fun idea. He’s just like us! Remove Drake, though—who is without a doubt the video’s primary selling point—and “Hotline Bling” isn’t dissimilar to any other middle of the road video sitting on a Vevo page with no views. It’s almost like Drake has evolved into a final excessively self-aware form, in which his special move is an ability to make a vast proportion of people adore something they would typically hate, or at the least find boring and average. He’s distilled a love potion within his demure pores.
The response to “Hotline Bling” is symbolic of the ubiquitous power Drake holds over his audience. Because whether or not the video is brilliant on an artistic, thematic, or conceptual level, isn’t the point; it feels irrelevant next to Drake's potential as a meme-able and familiar concept. He’s the guy we dated or had pursuing us, the lonely and misunderstood beta male, the well-dressed bottle popping man we want to be—and in “Hotline Bling”, he’s the uncle, auntie, or night out we vaguely remember.
He doesn’t really need to make an interesting video beyond creating a piece of easy-to-share, ready-to-GIF content. It’s a flex on Drake’s part: He can release a video like “Hotline Bling” where another artist would be ignored, and perhaps that’s the point. But is his position as the content overlord a good thing? Certainly not if you’re D.R.A.M who, earlier this year, released the track “Cha Cha”—who now claims (and perhaps quite rightly, given that Drake’s original title was "Hotline Bling (Cha Cha Remix)," but the latter part was removed from the ‘for sale’ version) he’s been bitten by Drake. However, like the Drake versus Meek Mill battle royale earlier this year—another key career juncture where Drake deftly manipulated memes to his advantage—the majority of Drake fans are too preoccupied with gassing off memes to care too much about D.R.A.M’s accusations.
Drake’s much-discussed capital as a sentient meme has been perhaps his saving grace this year. His chameleon-like ability to be everything to all people at all times ensures that his status as one of the most reported-on artists remains at a peak. In reality, Drake’s output this year pales in comparison to his previous work. His two mixtapes—If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and What a Time To Be Alive—_were both strategic releases, played to keep Drake in a spotlight where, time and time again, his position as the chief despot leering over the internet increases his monetary and social capital. Both were a massive commercial success, shooting straight to number one in several countries. In hindsight though, were they anything but a smart business move? Next to Drake’s back catalogue, _IYRTITL and WATTBA feel like soulless, sterile, empty boasts.
Like all online content, Drake's recent releases have predominantly been here today and gone tomorrow. What a Time To Be Alive took one of the biggest chart drops in history after its initial first week sales plummeted. On IYRTITL Drake’s career hit a critical turning point (it was the first time a Drake album consisted purely of hard-hitting bangers). Beyond the cynical, potentially monetary motives behind IYRTITL and WATTBA, they appealed to a new audience of Drake fans and to Drake himself—who, no doubt, made the records he wanted to make, to engage in rap as a sport, to go hard. Yet both releases feel temporary, as though they’re songs made for the moment, rather than forever. As the initial hive-minded joy at the surprise release of both Drake’s mixtapes this year fades, will they stand? In some respects it doesn’t matter. The purpose, which is to keep Drake at the forefront of the cultural conversation, has already been served.
The more the Canadian star becomes a meme, the more his work is shared or—in the case of WATTBA and _IYRTITL—_sold, regardless of whether it’s the best or most progressive thing he’s released. And it’s this hive-mind fanfare that is Drake’s biggest safety net. “Hotline Bling” could have been anything—a video of Drake eating tacos, a seven-minute epic featuring talking dragons, a montage of gigantic zits being popped—and it would still be “the greatest gift to the internet,” regardless of quality.
On "Hotline Bling" he's giving his audience exactly what he knows they want, which is Drake, being Drake, in a way that makes them relate back to him. That’s the purpose of the video, yet it feels like a cop-out. Drake is not the first person to dance. The concept isn’t genius. It’s wonderfully self-aware, but it’s also much too easy. Are we really praising Drake for releasing a video where he just dances? For giving us something that is so predictably exactly what we want? For GIFs?
The hive-mind has followed Drake to the point where he can practically disseminate lukewarm pieces of garbage into our timeline through his music, his Instagram, and his radio show, and we follow, claiming “instant classic” before we’ve even had time to assess what’s he’s released. After all, when something is dropped so instantly, as Drake likes to do, it’s far easier and quicker to lay automatic praise than to methodically criticize, which is emphasized in the way that to preemptively torch a link to a Drake release in fire emojis has become a meme in itself.
This is Drake’s biggest weapon. All his releases this year—the “Hotline Bling” video, the mixtapes, the “Back to Back” diss tracks—have been calculated to a tee and cater to an audience, yet it feels like none of them push a boundary or an idea beyond the lowest hanging fruit: That being to give the audience what they want, in the minimum, rather than challenge them. It's a great short term technique; it's an easy way to keep fans happy and helps to drive a narrative where Drake is a benevolent provider who can do no wrong. Long term though? It's perhaps unclear if his output from 2015 will age very well.
“Hotline Bling” is boring, but it doesn’t matter. The bigger Drake gets, the more he can offer his audience exactly what they desire, which in this case is a way to relate Drake tracks or videos back to themselves. As his fandom widens, the bar for doing that will become lower, catering to a basic, simple idea of Drake rather than challenging his audience.
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