On Monday night Drake released the video for “Hotline Bling”—his maybe inspired, maybe remixed take on D.R.A.M.’s “Cha Cha.” As he has rather consistently done for the past few years, Drake delivered in the most deliberately viral and Drake-y way: like a huge dork.
Only a handful of people across any medium have truly been able to make dorky things acceptably cool the way Drake has. It is therefore unsurprising that “Hotline Bling” is quite possibly his dorkiest video yet.
In the video, Aubrey Drake Graham slow cha-chas in a puffy jacket, prancing around like your tipsy uncle at a family cookout. He’s unironically wearing a turtleneck sweater, bobbing his neck around and doing a bit too much with his hand gestures. If this was almost anyone else, we’d look at them like the dancing clown that they would so very much resemble.
But, strangely, it works. Drake has buoyed his career by making corny things cool almost solely off of his unbridled enthusiasm and inability to accept that whatever it is he enjoys may not actually be particularly dope.
Consider that when we met Drake was a biracial, Canadian Jewish kid who was most famous for playing a tragically injured paraplegic on a teen soap opera.
On his second mixtape, he posed on the cover—blue steel-esque—in a damn peacoat, on what looked like a New England college campus during leaf peeping season.
For awhile, he seemed like Lil Wayne’s lame little brother who yeah, you liked enough, but sort of had to be friends with because you liked his older brother so much.
As his popularity grew and his music improved, our perception of Drake shifted to some degree. By that time, Drake was “cool” in the way that all rappers are sorta cool, mostly because they try so hard to be.
Drake’s coolness, however, is a much different brand than say, that of Jay Z, who may be the most effortlessly fly person on the planet. You could always tell that Drake was trying very, very hard and that he desperately wanted us to like the things he liked—even if those things were candelabras and gold-plated birds.
He ability to be forever meme-able lies precisely in the fact that he has tunnel vision about what he considers to be cool and good. Drake trusts himself, his talent and his palate enough to throw a song or a dumb motto out into the crowd and wait for us all to fall in line because yeah, when you give it a minute, it actually is pretty counterintuitively dope.
In this way, he has always been conscious dork. A lot of dorks don’t necessarily realize how they’re perceived. Sure, they know they’re not cool, but it may not occur to them that people actively consider them to be lame.
Drake knows. He has always known. This is the guy who put his mom in a music video.
I mean, the man’s mascot is an owl for Christ’s sake. A damn owl—perhaps the most dweeb-like animal in nature. (My high school mascot was an owl. One of our cheers went: “Nocturnal birds of prey, hey!” Clever? Yes. Cool? Absolutely not.)
With 808s & Heartbreak, Kanye West set the stage for rappers to emphatically discuss their feelings, but Drake perfected it. He rapped about how he felt no matter how desperate and self-conscious the lyrics made him look. He openly thirsted after women who weren’t really returning the affection—at least as publicly.
On “Charged Up,” Drake’s first diss track during his annihilation of Meek Mill, he rapped: “No woman ever had me star struck.”
He was rightfully mocked on Twitter because Drake has literally never been remotely shy with his adoration for the women he loves. We have multiple songs that are quite obviously about his relationship with Rihanna and the last fifty seconds of Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” video are a textbook example of, you’re cool, but I don’t like you like that.
Drake’s dorkiness works because he is always in on the joke. It’s OK for us to laugh and make fun of him because when it comes down to it, he’s laughing with us and we’re fans of the music. He’s sold over ten million albums, “Hotline Bling” currently has over 96 million plays on Spotify and it will likely hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100.
This works for Drake largely because he believes so strongly (at least ostensibly) in whatever he’s trying to sell us that eventually it doesn’t even seem uncool anymore and the next thing you know you have a self-proclaimed gangsta like The Game rapping about protecting “every nigga with an owl on his chest.”
With Drake you get the sense that behind all the bullshit that emerges with almost all artists who manage to sell ten million albums, he’s being himself the best he can. Drake definitely thinks all those dance moves in the video are cool, even if he knows on some level that they’re not.
Despite some of the weird, coded analyses of him, Drake is not a thug and hasn’t ever really pretended to be. Drake openly commits to his dorkiness, which, truly, is the most important part of making any art.
The beauty of Drake’s formula is that once everyone gets on board with his silly dancing and owl-branded sweatshirts, the dorkiness of it all is no longer noticeable. Because if he’s a big dork, then so are all of us dancing along with him.
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Top image via Getty, Drake cover via OVO, Drake’s mom/.gifs via screenshot, “Hotline Bling.”