The Week In Pop: Drake, King Of The Memes

The Week In Pop: Drake, King Of The Memes

“Hotline Bling” is not Drake’s greatest song ever. Although the melody and groove have exerted their allure on millions including myself, the production sounds weirdly dinky. The lyrics find Drake at his clingiest and most insufferable, trying to control an ex by lecturing her about how she goes out too much and longing for the days when she still turned to him for booty calls. Even as someone who feels extreme fatigue at the outrage industrial complex’s endless cries of “mansplaining” and “problematic,” it’s some of the most problematic mansplaining I can recall. And in a world where “Marvins Room” and “I’m On One” and “Started From The Bottom” and “Know Yourself” and “0 To 100″ exist, it’s far from his best. But best or not, “Hotline Bling” appears to be Drake’s biggest song ever, and for a guy with 100 Hot 100 singles to his name, that’s a serious achievement.

What began as a presumed castoff remix during last summer’s Drake/Meek Mill beef now matches 2009 breakout “Best I Ever Had” as Drake’s highest-charting song to date. “Hotline Bling” has been lodged at #2 for a couple weeks, and thanks to its wildly popular new music video, next week it will almost certainly become his first #1 as a lead artist, an achievement Drake has proactively designated “the biggest moment of my career to date.” His guest verse on Rihanna’s “What’s My Name” means he technically went to #1 already, but Drake seems to agree with me that despite his dominant position in hip-hop and music at large, his trophy case looks incomplete without his own chart-topping hit.

Whether that hit is really his own has been the subject of much debate lately thanks to D.R.A.M., the buoyant Virginia sing-rapper whose slow-burn hit “Cha Cha” served as the inspiration for “Hotline Bling.” Like the rest of the world, D.R.A.M. heard Drake’s song and assumed it was a “Cha Cha” remix, so unmistakably does its chintzy Timmy Thomas flip resemble the Super Mario Bros.-sampling “Cha Cha” beat. It’s not quite “Under Pressure” vs. “Ice Ice Baby,” but there’s definitely a resemblance, one Drake basically acknowledged without actually crediting D.R.A.M. in any capacity. The “Hotline Bling” video cribs just as shamelessly from the work of 72-year-old Light And Space artist James Turrell, though Turrell wasn’t nearly as eager as D.R.A.M. to take credit for his contributions. Turrell’s humorous statement insists that “neither I nor any of my woes was involved in any way in the making of the ‘Hotline Bling’ video.”

Of course Turrell wasn’t involved. That’s not how Drake operates. Tom Breihan explained it well in a Status Ain’t Hood column about Drake’s curatorial muscle: “He’s better than anyone else at pulling in all these ideas floating around and transforming them into something tangible and salable.” Even when Drake contributes a verse to a preexisting song — like he did with internet hits by Tinashe, iLoveMakonnen, and Fetty Wap, helping them to become real-world hits in the process — he usually does so in secret, without consulting the original artist. Rather, he repurposes pre-existing content, flinging it back into the world with his own spin on it.

In other words, he treats music like a meme — and if anybody knows memes, it’s Drake. The man clearly loves memes; the climax of his beef with Meek was essentially a series of retweets. And with a frequency rivaling even some cats, he’s become a meme himself. From Wheelchair Jimmy’s goofy mugging to the lint roller incident to If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late cover art parodies, his career has contributed generously to the internet’s ceaseless quest for sight-gags. Drake’s own music often mirrors that process, basking in trends and refracting them through his own aesthetic. But his skill in creating a conversation around that music has been at least as impressive, and the “Hotline Bling” video is the apotheosis of that impulse. As former Stereogum writer Caitlin White noted, it was clearly developed with the vision for the GIFs and memes superseding the video itself. And lo, the content has descended:

😀 Blessed Morning @champagnepapi #hotlinebling

A video posted by @mon3y411 on

"We all dance like Drake when we're drunk" -Doug

A video posted by Doug The Pug (@itsdougthepug) on

Drake only benefits from the feedback loop that emerges as people continue to poke fun at his clip. Even the most mean-spirited of his mockers is creating more interest in the “Hotline Bling” video itself, helping to ensure it generates enough clicks to knock off the Weeknd’s five-week #1 “The Hills” on next week’s singles chart. Whether or not Drake wins the chart, he wins the week, and it’s our latest proof that he knows how to navigate internet-era pop music better than almost anybody else. How do you think the guy got so huge without scoring a #1 single in the first place?


Selena Gomez’s sleek, shadowy Revival debuts atop the Billboard 200 this week, amassing 117,000 equivalent units (85,000 in pure sales) to become her second #1 album. In doing so, she holds off the Game’s star-studded The Documentary 2, which enters at #2 with 95,000 units. The only other new title in the top 10 is country singer Jana Kramer’s Thirty One, starting at #10 with 22,000.

As previously discussed, the Weeknd’s “The Hills” holds off Drake’s “Hotline Bling” atop the Hot 100, securing a fifth week at #1 with the help of well-timed remixes featuring Eminem and Nicki Minaj. Beneath them is Justin Bieber’s former #1 “What Do You Mean?” at #3 (a song that remains at #1 on Spotify’s global chart). Fetty Wap and Remy Boyz’s “679” (#4), Shawn Mendes’ “Stitches” (#5), and Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” (#6) reach new peaks, “Stitches” becoming Mendes’ first top-5 hit. Billboard expects we’ll be seeing Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Downtown” (#12), Drake and Future’s “Jumpman” (#13), Elle King’s “Ex’s & Oh’s” (#16), and Selena Gomez’s fast-rising “Same Old Love” (#18) in the top 10, but not this week.


One Direction – “Perfect”
“Perfect” is fine, but in a weird snake-eating-tail situation, the chorus reminds me a lot of Taylor Swift’s “Styles,” a song purportedly about 1D’s Harry Styles. Also, these guys have never looked more like a boy band than they do on the roof of that hotel, and I mean that as an insult. Pure regression here — did Zayn Malik take all the self-awareness with him when he left? It’s time to end this thing.

DJ Snake – “Middle” (Feat. Bipolar Sunshine)
After “Turn Down For What,” “You Know You Like It,” and “Lean On,” I am pretty sure there’s no such thing as “that DJ Snake sound.” But the guy is really good at getting the best out of his collaborators, a trend that continues on this Bipolar Sunshine collab. “Middle” is yet another jam from this guy.

Cam – “Burning House”
This is an extremely strong country ballad. And considering “Burning House” is about as far from Dipset as it gets, I’d say there’s room for more than one Killa Cam in the music business.

Jason Derulo – “Can You Feel The Love Tonight”
Man, is every song on this new Disney comp going to suck ass? These are classic songs; I’m amazed so many talented singers have bungled them so badly.

Simple Plan – “I Don’t Wanna Go To Bed” (Feat. Nelly)
The simplest plan would have been not recording this at all.

UPDATE: Did Justin Bieber really have to go and drop his new single less than an hour after The Week In Pop went online? I deserve an apology. And whaddaya know…
Justin Bieber – “Sorry”
Haven’t gotten to form an opinion on this one yet, but here you go!


  • Azealia Banks is going to be on a Fall Out Boy remix. [Twitter]
  • Here’s a preview of Rihanna on The Voice. [Miss Info]
  • Miley Cyrus played James Franco’s charity bar mitzvah event. [People]
  • Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” is now the most viewed video on Vevo. [EW]
  • Todrick Hall reimagined Peter Pan with Katy Perry songs. [YouTube]
  • Tamar Braxton recreated the “Rhythm Nation” dance on Dancing With The Stars. [Rap-Up]
  • PSY is feuding with tenants of a building he owns. [US News]
  • Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga are doing another album of standards, this time all Cole Porter covers. [Vulture]
  • A mere motorcycle crash won’t keep Fetty Wap from Chipotle. [TMZ]


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