Recently, as if acting of their own volition or by the direction of some cruel puppeteer, my hands navigated to iTunes and purchased Drake’s single “Hotline Bling.” At first I bemoaned this purchase, which I was certain would result in nothing more than the foolhardy loss of $1.29 and some extra data languishing on my laptop. But whether by the force of musical Stockholm Syndrome, the amusement I take in Sir Drake the Friendzoned, or, more likely, some pernicious combination, I’ve listened to the song ad infinitum. Were it possible to wear out an mp3, my personal “Hotline Bling” file would be in considerably less bling-esque tatters. My dreams play out against a Pepto-Bismol pink backdrop. I’m lingering on J.Crew’s website, contemplating the purchase of 10 to 20 turtlenecks for my husband.
A detox is in order. And to be quite honest, I welcome it.
After all, succumbing to Drake’s earworm du jour by no means implies agreement with its premise. The longer his lyrics are ensconced in my brain, the more certain I feel that Drake has brought the Rogers and Hammerstein gender politics to hip-hop. Chiding your ex-girl for “wearing less and going out more”? Tearfully recalling the days when she abided by the Victorian principle of domestic angel? Drake baby, sit down.
Lucky for me, for you, and for Drake, a coterie of fine woman performers has reinterpreted “Hotline Bling.” Some directly respond to the original’s tut-tutting, others revise the lyrics to address a male lover’s infidelity, and still others imbue the song with heart-trending pathos that would sound buffoonish coming from Drake.
An abundance of covers are at your disposal on YouTube, but I’ve included five of my favorites here, in no particular order.
We start with Ceresia who, in a cover simultaneously beatific and sensual, represents the perspective of Drake’s former fling.
As Slate’s Aisha Harris writes, “the perspective [of Ceresia’s version] is a bit more empowering...[painting] a picture of a woman who’s totally over the guy who feels entitled to her undying affections.” More significantly, Ceresia takes details that, in Drake’s version, imply cause for shame and renders them points of pride. Hell yeah, she’s filling up her passport and “gettin’ nasty with someone else”—why do you ask? I love Ceresia’s expression during these moments; she’s relaxed, but cocky in the best way. She knows she’s killing it.
This remix makes clear that Ceresia is someone to watch. Her voice is silky and mesmeric, the embrace of cool sheets in balmy night air. She’s a graceful performer and looks hot in flannel. I covet her beanie game.
But above all, I’m grateful to her for serving up this rejoinder. She claims the erotic indulgence Drake frames as unbecoming, even dissolute, and wears it like satin loungewear.
When Our Lady Erykah chimes in, we pause and we heed. This version of “Hotline Bling” features Badu channeling android sex kitten, her purr delicately auto-tuned. And yet, the narration makes clear that she’s nobody’s fool. Her man is up to some shit—“tryin’ to change the game,” she observes, more than accuses—and she won’t be at his beck-and-call. The cheeky automated message mid-song, ostensibly triggered by her absence, slyly indicates a woman in high demand who, though not unaffected by infidelity, summons insouciance through a calm awareness of her fundamental worth.
You must listen to this cover if for no other reason than the 2:35 mark when the the song untethers itself from its melody and swells into warm ether. Close your eyes, and you’ll tumble down an echoing rabbit hole lined with binary code.
Keyshia Cole rewrites a significant amount of Drake’s lyrics in order to craft an infidelity narrative chronicling a woman’s pained confusion as she attempts to make heads or tails of her lover’s alienation. With the beginning of each chorus she swaps pronouns, creating a bleak game of telephone as lovers, traitors, and the betrayed seek a love suspended just past their fingertips.
Cole’s voice, throaty and full, articulates the heartbreak of a woman who refuses to hand herself over to desperation. Although her lyrics imply the destruction of a long and sturdy love, she won’t be bested; in fact, the song ultimately transitions into a declaration of independence. “You just need someone else,” she tells her feckless lover, “I can be by myself.”
Go on, Keyshia. That’s the fucking stuff.
Kiana Brown reminds me ever so slightly of a young Mariah Carey. That said, I’m glad her cover lacks bells and whistles, instead foregrounding Brown’s voice with gentle piano accompaniment. There are no lyric adjustments here, just Brown’s melancholic interpretation: tremulous, lovelorn—a songbird abandoned as the first snow begins to fall.
The genius of the cover is Brown’s treatment of the beginning of the chorus. Each time she sings “I know when that hotline bling,” we hear not suspicion or accusation, but a resigned lover who cannot help but be relieved and—despite herself—happy, at the sound of the phone. We don’t all emerge from our booty call arrangements unscathed. Brown is singing to us.
Goddamn, Trina could eat Drake and his posse for lunch. Her version of “Hotline Bling” is quick and dirty, and almost entirely rewritten for Trina to deliver as a characteristically take-no-shit rap. She omits “love” from the song lyrics entirely, as if pointedly refusing her ex-man the pleasure of her vulnerability. Instead she laughs and laughs at his follies: “You wanna call my phone on the late night? When you drunk as fuck? You lame.” And of course she’s wise to him “fuckin’ bitches, going out more,” make no mistake about that.
Has Trina, recognizing her ex for the clown he is, emerged from heartbreak and into the safehaven of amusement and disgust? We don’t know, and that’s the point. Trina doesn’t offer us the privilege of accessing her sadness, or even knowing if it exists. We only hear a voice anchored in strength and power, one that finally dissolves into the laughter because she knows better than to waste her time.
Okay Drake, class is dismissed for now. But heed us: if you’re holding up the proverbial ruler to your ex-girl’s dresses and bemoaning her sexual renaissance, that’s your prerogative. Just know that we ladies will have something to say about it, one way or another. And on that note, I think I just might be ready to call a “Hotline Bling” moratorium. Pray for me, friends, as I finally endeavor this hotline cleanse.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Video via YouTube.