The Week In Pop

Views From The Top: The Undying Popularity Of Drake’s Unending Album

Every time Drake’s bubble seems ready to burst, it just gets bigger instead.

From the jump, many vociferous haters mocked Aubrey Graham’s sensitive suburban solipsism, cracked jokes about the alleged absurdity of a Jewish Canadian rap star, and guffawed at his former life as a teen soap opera actor. It didn’t stop his potent hybrid of rap and R&B from becoming a revolutionary force in pop music. Veterans and upstarts alike imitated his fluid transition between plainspoken rap cadence and melodic singsong, to the point that by early 2013 Drake could rightfully rap that “every song sounds like Drake featuring Drake.” But those guys didn’t have Noah “40” Shebib, the sonic architect who creates such exquisite sonic environments for Drake’s passive aggression, nor could they match Drizzy’s knack for consuming trends and spitting them back out in his own image. So whereas even most brand-name rap stars have trouble generating hits these days, Drake dominated 2014 with nothing more than SoundCloud loosies.

Yet as far back as his kindergarten-level bars on “Forever,” the star-studded 2009 single intended as Drake’s coronation after the So Far Gone mixtape rocketed him to fame, people have been predicting his career’s imminent demise. His 2010 debut album Thank Me Later was a soupy bummer, but it still generated a fistful of hit singles, and he followed it up with Take Care, a bona fide classic that turned many of his critics into fans. In 2013 he testily dismissed Kendrick Lamar’s headline-grabbing “Control” verse and it looked like Kendrick might come after him, but that budding conflict never amounted to more than a cold war.

Drake’s errors usually do nothing to deter his seemingly unstoppable rise, and sometimes, as when Meek Mill exposed him for using a ghostwriter, he turns those presumed Ls into resounding Ws. This is, after all, the man who redefined “real” to mean emotional veracity. So even when my first reaction to Views was feeling like the throne was for the taking, I should have known better.

Instead, Drake’s fourth official studio album has now been #1 on the Billboard 200 chart for 10 nonconsecutive weeks. It’s the third-longest run ever by a rap album, surpassed only by early ’90s punchlines MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice. Views also generated Drake’s first #1 hit as a lead artist, “One Dance,” which has also logged 10 consecutive weeks atop the Hot 100 singles chart, surpassing “Best I Ever Had” and “Hotline Bling” to become his biggest hit ever. His dominant summer ’16 puts him in rare company; according to Billboard, only Adele, Santana, and Drake’s beloved Whitney Houston have previously scored a 10-week #1 single off a 10-week #1 album.

It’s worth noting, as Billboard did this week, that Views has lasted so long on top thanks to unprecedentedly massive streaming numbers, numbers that seem almost physically impossible, such as: 245.1 million track streams in its first week, 140.8 million in its second week, 186.1 million in its third week, and 166.2 million in its fourth week. It’s also worth noting that streaming services like Spotify, YouTube, and Apple Music — the last of which is in business with Drake — report their streaming numbers to Nielsen with no independent verification. So the figures could be artificially inflated — and Apple would have reason to inflate them — but that’s a conspiracy theory for another column!

In the meantime, these are the stats we’ve got, and they’ve allowed Drake to accumulate hundreds of thousands of equivalent album units even under the artist-unfriendly “1,500 song streams = one album purchase” formula, keeping Views at #1 even when albums by Dierks Bentley and Red Hot Chili Peppers sold more copies. And anyhow, Views is still the bestselling album released in 2016, with 1.34 million copies sold, so it would represent a new high point for Drake even without his amazing streaming stats. Plus we haven’t even mentioned his nine-week run atop the Hot 100 as a guest on Rihanna’s “Work,” part of 44 straight weeks with a song in the top 10, or the humongous tour with Future he launched last night. Even after a 2015 in which Drake released two #1 albums (the mixtapes If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and What A Time To Be Alive), starred in a zeitgeist-strangling music video, and won the biggest rap feud in recent memory, he still found a way to get bigger this year.

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Drake’s ubiquity has inspired countless meditations on why he resonates so strongly among his generation. Many of them noted the parallel rise of smartphones and selfies and social media, inventions that fuel the kind of deep self-absorption that is Drake’s specialty. My favorite example of this trope comes from Grantland’s Alex Pappademas, noting the change in attitude from 2011’s Take Care to 2013’s Nothing Was The Same: “Difference between musical selfie and musical dick pic: Camera angle.”

Yet the increasingly hostile and isolated NWTS did nothing to slow Drake’s rise. Neither did Views, an album that doubles down on its predecessor’s paranoid insularity. The further his music retreats into bitterness and ego and bleary after-midnight shimmers, the more popular he gets. Upon early listens, I was sure a turgid marathon lurch like Views would be his tipping point, the moment when he finally surrendered his place at the center of the the musical universe. Yet the world hasn’t abandoned Drake, and — possibly against my better judgment — neither have I.

As with all of his music ever since “Best I Ever Had,” I find myself coming back to Views again and again, magnetized by 40’s impeccable production and Drake’s ever-sharpening mastery of the hook. Even though he’s spinning his wheels thematically, his personal narrative is like a TV series I’m too invested in to quit, one that’s easy to nestle into when I’m seeking something familiar. And although it’s still all but impossible to finish the whole tracklist in one sitting, there is a really good Drake album in there somewhere. Views works wonders in EP-sized blips, the length of time it takes to drive to the grocery store or give a back rub or scroll mindlessly though Facebook while waiting for an appointment. The album is vacuous, sure, but if we’re honest, even the best Drake albums are vacuous. As a work of art, its fatal flaw is that it collapses under the weight of its own excess.

As it turns out, even the ungodly length may be a virtue where Drake’s chart performance is concerned, another L turned into a W. Brand loyalty helps explain why Views has been such a big seller and why people keep streaming it when they aren’t sure what else to listen to. Once they press play, though, Views keeps going, and going, and going. It is the Energizer bunny of impenetrable, immaculate penthouse-suite brooding music. And in the context of zoning out online, when the words start to blur away and music becomes a form of mental wallpaper, it’s easy to let an album like this one keep unspooling for 82 minutes — maybe even longer if your service loops you back around to the beginning and keeps going. In that sense, Drake’s discography is still moving in parallel with technology. He’s delivered an opus for a lives wasted staring blankly at screens.

Schoolboy Q
CREDIT: Mark Horton/Getty Images

CHART WATCH

What else is happening on the charts this week beyond Drake’s continued domination? Well, Schoolboy Q enjoys a #2 debut for Blank Face LP, which boasts 74,000 equivalent units and 52,000 in traditional sales — another album that would’ve debuted at #1 if not for Drake’s streaming figures. Blink-182’s California falls to #3 after briefly dethroning Drake last week. Rockers Chevelle start at #8 with 33,000 units and 31,000 sales for The North Corridor. And Switchfoot’s Where The Light Shines Through debuts at #10 with 29,000 units and 27,000 sales.

Over on the Hot 100, Sia and Sean Paul’s “Cheap Thrills” ascends to #3, Sia’s highest-charting single ever. Twenty One Pilots’ “Ride” reaches a new peak at #6. And Adele’s “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” rises to #10, also a new high. It’s Adele’s sixth career top-10 hit.

POP FIVE

Britney Spears – “Make Me…” (Feat. G-Eazy)
That gurgling, sloshing chorus is really something, but “Make Me…” does not seem like the single to finally get Britney back on the charts. Sadly, G-Eazy’s presence might be enough to get her there.

Katy Perry – “Rise”
“Rise” is completely in keeping with the move toward inspirational ballads we saw on Prism. Unfortunately, it’s as blasé as you’d expect from an Olympics theme song. They should have just remixed “Roar.”

Snakehips – “Cruel” (Feat. Zayn)
This is a lot more fun than most of Zayn’s album, and it would have fit in fine with his chosen aesthetic. Maybe he should get Snakehips to produce his next LP?

Miranda Lambert – “Vice”
What a fantastic song — and now I’m hoping all the songs on Lambert’s next album are named after 21st century music publications. The one called “Stereogum” is sure to be a jam.

Hailee Steinfeld & Grey – “Starving” (Feat. Zedd)
“I didn’t know that I was staring ’til I tasted you” is a good line. “Don’t need no butterflies when you give me the whole damn zoo” is not, but at least it’s memorable.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • The Sun has reportedly heard the demo for “Song For Her,” the new song from (most of) the Spice Girls. [The Sun]
  • Pharrell cancelled an upcoming concert in Israel either because of scheduling conflicts, slow ticket sales, or pressure from Palestinian activists (who have protested him before). [Forward]
  • Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow finalized their divorce. [People]
  • A Colorado judge ruled that Taylor Swift will not be able to avoid a videotaped deposition in her suit against a radio DJ who allegedly groped her during a meet-and-greet in 2013. She won’t be able to prevent him from attending the deposition either. [Hollywood Reporter]
  • Also, Swift’s video director Joseph Kahn slammed Kimye in a series of vicious tweets, writing for example, “Ain’t the first time the Kardashians supported the murder of an innocent blonde woman.” [US Weekly]
  • Zayn got a glow-in-the-dark Star Wars tattoo. [US Weekly]
  • Page Six says Calvin Harris is dating Tinashe. [Page Six]
  • *NSYNC’s Joey Fatone performed “Bye Bye Bye” with 98 Degrees in West Palm Beach. [YouTube]
  • Celine Dion’s new album Encore Un Soir comes out 8/26. [Just Jared]
  • Justin Bieber hunted for rare Pokémon in NYC’s Central Park and no one noticed him. [Instagram]
  • Will.i.am and Justin Timberlake are seeking to dismiss a lawsuit claming their “Damn Girl” did not have authorization to sample the ’69 disco song “A New Day Is Here At Last.” [Hollywood Reporter]
  • Kesha announced a summer tour. [Instagram]
  • Hard Candy is suing CoverGirl for its Katy Perry makeup line that also uses the name Hard Candy. [TMZ]
  • Sheryl Crow, Celine Dion, Ariana Grande, Adam Lambert, Cyndi Lauper, and Nelly will perform on the season finale of ABC’s Greatest Hits next month. [Headline Planet]
  • Jennifer Lopez and NBC are casting for a new reality dance competition series World Of Dance that offers a $1M prize to one winner. [TV Line]
  • Meanwhile Iggy Azalea’s production company Azalea Street signed a deal to create original content for NBCU. [Instagram]
  • Kid Cudi will join the cast of Empire for season 3. [Entertainment Weekly]
  • Poor Jennifer Hudson was chosen to star in Adam Sandler’s next Netflix movie. [Hollywood Reporter]
  • Before the UK’s general election last year, former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg apparently planned to go viral with a remake of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “I Really Like You” video. (He wisely shelved it.) [The Guardian]
  • One Direction’s Liam Payne has signed a solo deal with Capitol. [Twitter]
  • Funny story in GQ: Prince once invited The Bourne Ultimatum cast to see him perform. Making small talk, Matt Damon said, “So you live in Minnesota? I hear you live in Minnesota.” Prince responded, “I live inside my own heart, Matt Damon.” [GQ]

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