Apple Financed Drake’s “Hotline Bling” Video

Michael Nelson | February 16, 2016 - 3:03 pm

Drake’s “Hotline Bling” was the most iconic music video of 2015: Not only was the clip itself totally inescapable, so too were the thousands of memes spawned by those spartan, otherworldly, pastel-hued visuals. The video premiered on Apple Music, whose proprietary analytics resulted in the song failing to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, even though it pretty clearly deserved to top that chart. Considering the exclusivity arrangement, it should come as no surprise that Apple funded the video — however, neither Apple nor Drake ever revealed as much. Today, though, Re/code reports that Apple was indeed the bank behind the clip.

This is interesting for a few reasons:

1. As Re/code reports, “Hotline Bling” is an early example of Apple’s strategy of “financing video content it uses to market Apple Music — ‘to extend Apple Music,’ in the words of an insider.” This will be further explored later this year, when Apple launches the Dr. Dre-starring vehicle Vital Signs, the tech giant’s first original television series.

2. It’s not totally dissimilar to the Tidal/Samsung partnership behind Rihanna’s ANTI, in which the two companies teamed up to leverage Rihanna’s popularity to draw customers to their own platforms and products.

3. This minor revelation follows Kanye West’s plea to another tech behemoth — Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg — to “invest 1 billion dollars into Kanye West ideas.”

None of this is inherently evil, of course — musicians need to make money, and if old-school record companies can’t assist in that endeavor, it makes sense to enlist those services that might be able to help out. However, it seems to me like a shortsighted, self-destructive business model. Yesterday, Medium featured a compelling story addressing this very dilemma. The piece was written by Jesse Von Doom, and it was titled “Bandpage sold to YouTube. All your middlemen are for sale. Let’s do better.” The crux of Von Doom’s argument was that nearly all of today’s music-oriented tech companies aren’t really music-oriented at all; they’re just using musicians to bring attention to their brands, with an endgame goal of scaling and selling to the highest bidder (à la Pandora) or going public (à la Spotify). Either of these scenarios seems likely to bury the same artists who are being showcased in bids to attract new users and/or investors. Writes Von Doom:

Currently just about any service you use as a musician online is a for-profit startup or tech company funded by venture capital. I don’t have any particular beef with VC or startups in general, but their domination of the music space has filled it with a toxic sea of grow-fast/fail-faster services aimed mostly at the listener experience with no regard for the health and well-being of the artists creating the music driving it all.

That’s not to say musicians like Drake will wind up destitute, but there are a whole lot of artists who will be left completely in the cold when CFOs start looking at profit margins and bottom lines. FWIW, I agree almost 100% with Von Doom’s assessment, especially this part:

We need to ensure that artists build on top of infrastructure they can trust. Corporate mergers and acquisitions should never threaten the music that is such a vital cornerstone to our very culture.

I know Kanye is $53 million in personal debt, but I really hope he finds someone other than Zuckerberg to help him out, the same way I hope India finds someone other than Zuckerberg to bring internet to the hundreds of millions of Indian citizens who are currently without internet. It’s a Faustian bargain, man. You sell yourself to Apple, Facebook, Samsung, whoever? They own you. And once they don’t need you anymore? They’re gonna throw you the fuck out.