It never topped Billboard’s Hot 100, didn’t receive any Grammy nominations, and wasn’t among YouTube’s 10 most popular music videos this year, but in 2015 Drake’s “Hotline Bling” dominated online culture like no other song.
This huffy, nineteen85-produced one-off had an inauspicious mid-summer debut on Beats 1’s OVO Sound Radio, where it was overshadowed by the Meek Mill diss “Charged Up.” A vaguely tropical, mid-tempo lament, “Hotline Bling” was initially assumed to be a remix of “Cha Cha,” a D.R.A.M. single already garnering capital among the meme cognoscenti. But “Hotline Bling” sampled a sped-up old Timmy Thomas hit, not the Virginia singer/rapper, and Drake brushed off criticism of the similarity, explaining to FADER, “Like in Jamaica, you’ll have a riddim and it’s like, everyone has to do a song on that.” For his part, D.R.A.M. feels “like I got jacked for my record…But I’m GOOD.”
“Hotline Bling” had already hit #2 by the time its Sean Paul-inspired video came exclusively to Apple Music in October. The minimalist visual was another lowkey ripoff by Drake, with viewers wondering if the rapper and Director X had asked for James Turrell’s permission to repurpose his celebrated pastel lightscapes. The septuagenarian artist ultimately answered that question with a hilarious statement via his lawyer: “While I am truly flattered to learn that Drake fucks with me, I nevertheless wish to make clear that neither I nor any of my woes was involved in any way in the making of the ‘Hotline Bling’ video.”
But the real star of this video was Drake’s dancing. That’s how a song born of social media blues handily became the GIF of the year despite the fact that it wasn’t on YouTube in its first week. A little bit Carlton-from-The-Fresh-Prince, a lot drunk-dad-at-a-Bar-Mitzvah, Drizzy’s moves inspired thousands of Vine parodies, the most shared of which animated a tennis racket, a lightsaber, and pizza toppings in Drake’s hand or swapped the audio entirely with things like “It’s Not Unusual” and the Frasier theme. Trevor Noah mocked Drake’s dancing on The Daily Show and Ed Grimley took credit for it in an SNL short. A high school math teacher went viral doing the dance in his Drake Halloween costume. Mark Ingram, Justin Tucker, and Conner Sullivan brought it to the football field. Gwen Stefani, Sam Smith, Justin Bieber, and Sufjan Stevens were among dozens of artists who covered it. Drake’s red Moncler puffer flew off the shelves and an unauthorized ugly Christmas sweater (“I Know When That Sleigh Bell Ring”) has been doing “insane” sales. Air Canada Centre had no choice but to host a “Hotline Bling” booth for smartphone-wielding fans at the Toronto Raptors’ Drake Night a few weeks ago. Of course brands like Butterball and JCPenney found the memes very bae.
— JCPenney (@jcpenney) October 21, 2015
If you think this was Drake’s plan all along, you’re probably right! (The clip’s choreographer Tanisha Scott, who was more of a movement coach since Drake’s dancing was unrehearsed, claims that Drake predicted “[it] is totally going to be a meme.”) Still, Cash Money wasn’t thinking that far ahead when they forgot to submit “Hotline Bling” for Grammy consideration. And if Drake’s video had gone on YouTube just a few days earlier, it probably would’ve been his first #1 hit. Not that this has Drake down and stressed out: He made two of the best rap albums of 2015 and next year’s Views From The 6 is almost guaranteed to debut at #1.
As part of Stereogum’s 2015 In Review, I put together this supercut of the year in “Hotline Bling” with Stereogum contributor Matt Neatock. You know this song was everywhere this year, but maybe you didn’t know how everywhere. Enjoy.