OK, We Definitely Lost Drake
The music video for "God's Plan" may be the moment we see Drake cross the "too famous to be in touch with reality" threshold.
A version of this article originally appeared on Noisey France.
For awhile now, we've said that Drake was on the verge of falling into the "totally freewheeling" stage of his career. The warning signs have been present for a few years: First, he released the mixtape If You're Reading This It's Too Late entirely without warning; followed by the music video for "Hotline Bling" in 2016, which included dance moves that made all of us wonder if he'd developed whiplash; with the endless Views coming on its heels shortly thereafter; and finally, More Life, the non-album (or "post-album," which we'll get into later on, as it's essential to our understanding of Drake), on which the Canadian rapper dabbled with salsa, house, and lo-fi, playing with Jamaican approximations and opportunistic bossa nova elements.
But we haven't experienced the definitive click, that moment where we say, "That's it, we've officially lost Drake now"—until now. The time has finally come: Drake has gone to the other side, to the realm of absurd, screwy, uncontrollable delirium; a place that you, me, and even Drake himself know it'll be difficult to return from safe and sound.
With the video for "God's Plan," which was released out of the blue last week, it's a bit obvious that Drake has finally, totally lost his grip on the reins. The tone clear is set in the first seconds of the video: A title card announces that the rapper, who has visibly and successfully transformed himself into a devout champion of the poor, took the budget that was allocated to make the video and selflessly donated it to the inhabitants of a disadvantaged neighborhood in Miami. To be clear, we're not talking about a modest sum of money, but an amount that's close to one million dollars. One could've thought most people were immune to ego-marketing companies disguised as charitable organizations like Oprah Winfrey or Extreme Home Makeover (which is nothing more than an advertisement for Sears, a fact that is obvious but always bears reminding), both of which have set the bar for good deeds so high that we thought it was impossible to surpass. But we obviously weren't counting on "God's Plan" to come along and outdo everyone in the "flagrant charity" competition, and moreover, to do so in such a lax, easygoing manner that gives the impression that all of this is just business as usual for the rapper.
This is where it gets interesting. Don't take Drake's new video for what it's trying to do at first glance (i.e., a banal attempt to go viral through bleak and played-out storytelling, that, while well-intentioned at heart, simultaneously relegates real-life impoverished people to the role of video extras in a potentially problematic way) but by its details, each of which is crazier and more unhinged—and, it must be said, compelling—than the last. From rough memory, there's the shot where Drake looks out over the crowd and takes himself for the Pope, and the one where he squints as if the sun is in his eyes, bundled stacks of bills hidden behind his back as he waits for the producer's signal to hand it over to an underprivileged person, all the while looking like he wants to ask, "OK, can I go now?". There's also a close-up of a baby with a pacifier in its mouth and a bundle of bills in its hands—we suspect you can swap the two.
If we were to draw a common thread through these six striking minutes, it would be Drake's ambivalent relationship to money. In an article published shortly after the release of Nothing Was The Same in 2013, the critic, academic, and music theorist Mark Fisher, author of the noted k-punk blog and the book Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, tackles the ambivalent rapport with money that is inherent in the Canadian's work, something that is symptomatic of a new color in contemporary rap and R&B. Fisher discusses the state of affairs of a music that doesn't entirely dispose of longstanding machismo codes, but has instead integrated its own critique of them and knows how to play with its archetypes while abusing them when necessary. Drake would represent the rapper in this new, pure state: He's sincere, tender, sensitive, knows how to sing, wears his heart on his sleeve, but he's also someone who's endowed with a duplicity that causes him to wallow in the most exaggerated sort of hedonism while simultaneously being distressed by the same movement. Fisher questions the integrity of this approach through the lens of the "redemption through love" theme:
"Surely it can’t be as simple and sentimental as that hoary old chestnut: money can’t buy you love? Come on, is this really where rap was destined to end up: with the rapper as some romcom character, all the braggadocio and super-conspicuous consumption just so much bluster to conceal the boy-lack that the redeemer-woman will make good in the final reel? That old story, again? 'Next time we fuck, I don’t want to fuck, I want to make love… I want to trust.' Drake can’t quite believe this routine, can’t quite make us believe it. He knows perfectly well that this sensitive stuff can play as one more pick-up-artist’s ruse… He’s spent so long deceiving and then revealing his deceptions that he’s no longer sure when he’s trying to play us or speak openly, or what the difference is. Crying real tears with one eye, while winking over the latest conquest’s shoulder to the camera with the other."
If Fisher talks here of female conquests that are anything but metaphorical, one could argue that this development can be perfectly applied to Drake's artistic trajectory, and that the conquests in question can easily be replaced by his audience—after all, as Fisher says elsewhere, Drake has plenty of things to quench his thirst: food, alcohol, sex, drugs; in short, anything that is consumable—while his audience will always remain an immaterial horizon. But above all, one can't help but to think that today, after watching something as absurd as "God's Plan," this once vexed, ambivalent, and slightly sneaky relationship has reached an advanced stage of degeneration (or, as we said above, a state of unhinged delirium and madness). In "Started From The Bottom," which is without a doubt one of the rapper's more beautiful tracks, Drake opens up about his difficult beginnings by using "we" instead of "I" in an inclusive movement—a pretty pirouette that shoulders his relatively well-to-do origins while highlighting the generosity of his approach and his acute awareness of his own lack of credibility from his bourgeoise upbringing. In "God's Plan," it's something else: Drake exhibits a hubris that's simultaneously muddled and sick.
On "God's Plan," he always stands at a convenient distance, using "they" like a prudent, well-intentioned observer, rather than the "I" and "we" of yesteryear that would've included him more candidly in the world that he's describing. This allows him to avoid becoming too implicated and to keep his little nest egg cozy and readily at hand, but the gravity of the money is still there. It simply changes hands and is now pitifully plundered (despite all appearances) than it is truly disillusioned.
While not completely on the cutting edge, Drake has always positioned himself as a cantor of an accommodating post-modernism. Post-rapper, he also tried to introduce the post-album concept: More Life was nothing more than that, a self-proclaimed "playlist" that considered the format of an album in a new light during an era characterized by the dematerialization of music. But today, it appears that Drake has entered a new phase of his career, which we'll call "post-malaise," for lack of a better term. It's an embarrassment mixed up with crazy laughter and incredulous pinches, followed by a sort of fascination with this debauched show that makes one wonder if the Canadian isn't, deep down, the first viewer—and therefore the first victim—of his own honey-coated delusions of grandeur. In any case, from now own, the floodgates seem open.
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