In the beginning, Drakeâs âHotline Blingâ was a pure child of the Internet. Released in July on his labelâs SoundCloud page following a premiere on Apple Musicâs OVO Sound Radio, it felt like a casual throwaway, a breezy compatriot to âCharged Up,â his anti-Meek Mill song, which landed at the same time.
And yet âHotline Bling,â a song about romantic disappointment and shortcomings, which moves at a slow shuffle, has become a surprise radio hit and is currently at No. 2 in the country.
This week, though, the Internet decided it wanted âHotline Blingâ back. Late Monday night, Drake released its video, mostly made up of long shots of him dancing in front of a plain background thatâs constantly changing colors: mustard, lavender, baby blue, peach, chartreuse. The clip, directed by Director X, is both warm and slick, giving this song â part of the lo-fi catharsis segment of Drakeâs catalog â the grand-scale sensation that thoughtfully minimalist approaches can trigger.
The âHotline Blingâ video is also the moment when Drake fully becomes a meme.
No celebrity understands the mechanisms of Internet obsession better than Drake. Online, fandom isnât merely an act of receiving â itâs one of interaction, recontextualization, disputed ownership and cheek. For the celebrity, itâs about letting go of unilateral top-down narratives and letting the hive take control. For fans, itâs about applying personalization to the object of adoration.
The âHotline Blingâ video is built exactly for that task. Itâs important at its full length, but even more so in the screenshots and few-seconds-long GIFs that itâs designed to be broken down into. Itâs less a video than an open source code that easily allows Drakeâs image and gestures to be rewritten, drawn over, repurposed.
In part, that has to do with the unclutteredness of the video, which mostly surrounds Drake with blank space. Thereâs also the nature of the dancing itself, which is also more or less blank: a series of slight shifts of weight, quick hand gestures, head bobbles and side-to-side steps. Theyâre small moves that he repeats â in essence, heâs making a GIF of himself, anticipating what will inevitably happen to him online.
Thereâs also nothing contemporary about the moves â no dabbing, no whip, no hitting the quan. Instead, theyâre concise, universal, more about implication than full expression. Theyâre also relatable and a little bit goofy, another mechanism of approachability.
Continue reading the main story Video courtesy of YouTube
Because of that, they can be mapped onto almost anything, which is exactly what the Internet did. Within hours â minutes, really â Twitter and Vine and Instagram and Tumblr were filled with short clips pulled from the video set to other songs: Elvis Crespoâs merengue conflagration âSuavemente,â the âSeinfeldâ theme, âDanza Kuduro,â various Vince Guaraldi ditties from âPeanuts,â and, most crucially, âObsesionâ by the bachata boy band Aventura. (If there is a style parent to Drakeâs dance micro-moves, it is probably bachata.) Often these clips were accompanied by the hashtag #DrakeAlwaysOnBeat, though, strictly speaking, he wasnât.
The most ambitious memes, however, did more than marry the video to new audio; they tweaked the video. One took a segment where Drake was swatting his arm and put a tennis racket in his hand, making him thwack away balls fired at him. Another replaced the music with the zippy horns of the later-seasons theme song from âThe Cosby Show,â overlaying the video with a credits scroll for âThe Aubrey Show.â (Drakeâs given name is Aubrey Drake Graham.) Most technically impressive was the clip that superimposed lightsabers into the hands of Drake and his dance partner-choreographer, Tanisha Scott.
Drake, of course, knew all of this would happen. âWe were looking at playbacks, and he was like, âThis is totally going to be a meme,â â Ms. Scott told Complex.
Transparency has always been Drakeâs bailiwick, but this approach to content creation takes it past a place of emotional vulnerability and into an advanced space where an artist induces people to create their own narratives: The star is at the center, but not in control. Making a meme of a celebrity can be a way to sort through complex feelings of fandom. Itâs an act of devotion, and also undermining. Drake, more than anyone, understands that this will happen whether or not he wants, so why should everyone else have all the fun? He wants to play, too.
Continue reading the main story Video courtesy of YouTube
This moment of full meme absorption comes just as Drake and the art world have been dancing around â and sometimes with â each other. Last year, he took a writer for Rolling Stone to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to see an exhibition by James Turrell, whose influence is strong on the âHotline Blingâ video. This summer, he partnered with Sothebyâs to help promote a gallery show of contemporary black art.
Art has been on Drakeâs mind since at least 2011, when, on the song âDreams Money Can Buy,â he rapped, âI got car money, fresh start money/I want Saudi money, I want art money.â Like many rappers faced with growing wealth and outmoded options for what to do with it, he understands art as a different layer of class transcendence â something beyond expensive clothes, cars, houses. (In this, he follows rappers like Jay Z, collector of Basquiat and imitator of Marina Abramovic; Kanye West, who has collaborated with Takashi Murakami, Vanessa Beecroft, George Condo; and Swizz Beatz, a well-regarded collector and sometime artist.)
Drake is something of a meme artist himself, or at minimum a meme archivist-historian. That was clear in August at his OVO Fest in Toronto, where he definitively ended his squabble with Meek Mill by displaying a slide show of savage memes pulled from the Internet behind him as he performed âCharged Upâ and his other Meek Mill attack, âBack to Back.â
He also recently appeared on the cover of W magazineâs art issue, where part of the feature involved five artists â Kaws, Jim Joe, Mark Flood, Henry Taylor, Katherine Bernhardt â offering artistic interpretations of Drake.
Credit Brett Rosenfeld
This is a clever solution to an old problem: how to differentiate one celebrity magazine cover from all the others. But itâs also consistent with the appropriative license many artists online have been taking with Drakeâs image for years now. Thanks to Tumblr and Instagram and a generation raised on the cut-and-paste values of the Internet, Drake art has been ubiquitous online for some time. Mostly, it lives at the intersection of high art and fan art â high fan art?
A year ago, the Brooklyn artists Grace Miceli and Shana Sadeghi-Ray curated a collection of Drake-themed projects on the website Art Baby Gallery. Over the summer, Ms. Miceli â who makes a T-shirt representing Drake lyrics in the style of Jenny Holzerâs âInflammatory Essaysâ â curated a group show at Alt Space that included a handful of Drake-related pieces. And on Saturday â Drakeâs 29th birthday, as it happens â Living Gallery in Brooklyn will host a Drake-themed party and art show featuring the work of five artists, including Daren Chambers, whose work as True Minimalist is popular on Instagram.
âHotline Blingâ isnât the first time Drake has become clip art for social media. Memorably, in 2013, a photo taken of him on the set of DJ Khaledâs âNo New Friendsâ video, which caught him mid-pose wearing a throwback Damani Dada athletic outfit, became a web sensation. One company even began manufacturing polo shirts with the picture embroidered on the chest.
Of course, what did Drake do when he found out about those shirts? He ordered some. What did he do with the video of him dancing to Aventura? He posted it to his own Instagram account. And True Minimalistâs sketches? Theyâre there, too, along with all sorts of Drake fan art. You donât meme Drake; Drake memes Drake.
That tail-swallowing has accelerated to the point where the original content almost begins to blur. And yet not, because all of these videos â the Vines, the Instagram shorts, the YouTube clips â they all spanned the songâs reach. Drake got âHotline Blingâ to No. 2; maybe the Internet can get it to No 1.