Drake reminds me of Showgirls. He’s so over-the-top, so ridiculously dorky that he has to realize what he’s doing. And yet, self-awareness is a rare commodity—even when your self is a commodity—that it’s impossible to say for sure where intention rules and uncontrollable, ridiculous-looking expression supersedes. The great thing about Showgirls isn’t that it’s so bad it’s good, it’s that it’s so outrageous it’s practically unbelievable and yet it still exists. So is Drake at his most entertaining.
And so it was a particular delight when the video for his smash “Hotline Bling” dropped last night and featured the rapper-singer bopping with such dopey abandon that countless people on Twitter compared his dancing to that of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’s Carlton.
Does Drake know what he’s doing? Is he, as my colleague at Jezebel Kara Brown posits, in on the joke? In the absence of a music journalist with access to him and the courage to ask him about this, we may never have a definitive answer. I don’t want one, either. I would much rather luxuriate in these margins of dubious intention and watch the spirited conversations they inspire. How refreshing it is to not be spoon-fed by mainstream culture, to have someone who repeatedly (dating back at least to his “Best I Ever Had” video with its artificial set and Drake’s wild gesticulation) sparks the internal debate of “What exactly am I looking at?” just by showing up. In a low-key way that is divorced from its queer context, Drake brings to the fold a sensibility that resembles camp insofar as the multiple levels it seems to exist on and the ensuing untangling he provokes his audience to engage in.
Even Brown, who seems certain, per her headline, that “Drake Is the Biggest Dork in Hip Hop and He Knows It” concedes: “Drake definitely thinks all those dance moves in the video are cool, even if he knows on some level that they’re not.” Yes. That is what makes him fun. That’s what makes loving Drake a more interpretive process than loving virtually any of his contemporaries.
I mentioned the video and my idea to briefly highlight Drake’s transcendent ambiguity in Slack this morning, and opinions flew, as they do whenever the topic of Drake is broached in a group of culturally aware individuals. “I feel like he’s consciously toeing the line,” said Andy Cush, who cited the “Started From the Bottom” video, which features Drake jogging in snow and his actual mother.
Jordan Sargent had, as I suspected he would, a dissertation on Drake’s engagement with Drake’s persona:
He is percent aware of memes — he re-posted a bunch of memes regarding that Dada outfit on Instagram. He has demonstrated that he makes himself aware of, and revels in, internet reactions to things he does, so at this point i think it’s fair to accept that a lot of his visual presentation is anticipatory.
I think people are on the same wavelength as Drake. There’s sort of this feedback loopy thing where it’s hard to pull apart when it becomes cool and uncool and cool because it’s uncool. Drake is inherently cool. if he does something that is “uncool” it’s actually just cool. Maybe he’s changing the definition of “cool”
Sargent also pointed out: “I think the subtext of a lot of his persona is that even he can’t believe he can get away with it.”
At times, no one can. But that, really, is the joy of Drake.