The Week In Pop

Drake Is Having Fun Again, And People Can’t Get Enough

Drake announced a new album this week, and depending on its tracklist, it may already be eligible for gold certification — never mind that it’s not out for another two months.

This conclusion presumes that the project, which appears to be titled Scorpion, will include “God’s Plan,” his biggest single ever. “Nice For What” — which debuted at #1 this week, making Drake the 13th artist to replace himself atop the Billboard Hot 100 and the first to do it with consecutive #1 debuts — will almost certainly be on there. The freshly dethroned “God’s Plan,” which spent its first 11 weeks atop the chart while racking up historic streaming totals, is less of a sure thing because Drake first shared it as part of a two-song EP called Scary Hours back in February.

But given the way blockbuster albums seem engineered to maximize the power of streaming these days, how could Drake possibly leave either track off? Anyone interested in commercial domination has every incentive to beef up their first-week album figures with all the statistical firepower they can muster, and one way to do that is taking advantage of an RIAA rule counting all streams and sales of an album’s advance singles toward the album’s debut frame.

Drake, an artist deeply committed to commercial domination, pulled that very trick by adding 2015 smash “Hotline Bling” to his 2016 album Views as a bonus track, funneling the song’s massive pre-Views totals into the album’s first-week figure. Since 1,500 streams equal one album sold, with “God’s Plan” now approaching 900 million on-demand streams, Drake would be giving himself a head start of more than half a million equivalent album units simply by sliding that tune onto the tracklist — and that’s not even counting the tens of thousands of album units he could obtain via “God’s Plan” track sales. By the time June rolls around, “God’s Plan” alone may well be enough to push Scorpion platinum.

Views ended up being 2016’s biggest album and probably would have been even without “Hotline Bling.” Although the math on all those streaming totals was kinda sketchy, there was no denying Views’ popularity — and that album was an insular trudge, the sound of Drake leaning into the worst aspects of his persona, portraying a disenchanted don surveying the world from the isolation of his penthouse. As DiCaprio roles go, it aimed for Jay Gatsby but landed on Howard Hughes.

I am one of the bigger Drake fans around. I’m perennially drawn to his seamless convergence of rap and R&B, his mastery of hooks both rapped and sung, and the immaculate aesthetic he’s developed with Noah “40” Shebib. I tend to cut him a lot of slack, and Views still gave me major 6 God fatigue. So I was surprised to see the album perform so well. Just when it looked like he’d fallen off, he got bigger. How long could he keep burrowing into luxuriant rumination without alienating the world at large?

Apparently we won’t ever know. If his singles so far this year are any indication, the Drake of 2018 has put that sad-boy business on the back burner and is gunning for the world’s attention like never before. Put simply, he sounds like he’s having fun again.

Drake already subtly swerved from the morose Views aesthetic last year. It was easy to read the title of his “playlist” project More Life as a mea culpa for his previous album’s drudgery, and indeed, the music therein coursed with an easygoing warmth. It was a welcoming mirage best suited for the hours just before sunrise and sunset, leaning hard on the most appealing parts of Views (pan-global pop tracks like “One Dance” and “Too Good”) while venturing into many other varieties of low-key party music. In doing so it reclaimed and repurposed the playful flexing that defined Drake’s material leading up to Views — his dual 2015 mixtapes If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and What A Time To Be Alive (with Future) plus his Meek Mill diss track “Back To Back” — the difference being those were all turn-up music whereas More Life is more of a comedown.

As with just about everything Drake releases, people lapped it up. More Life set a new streaming record upon its March 2017 debut, and it had enough legs to become Apple Music’s most streamed album of the year. On Spotify it was second only to Ed Sheeran. This was somewhat surprising, partially because More Life didn’t generate a monolithic single — the most ubiquitous was “Fake Love,” which peaked at #8 more than a month before the project’s release — and partially because from April onward the cultural chatter around Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. easily eclipsed it.

There were other reasons to think Drake’s hegemony might be in decline. He’d been functioning as the nucleus of mainstream rap for basically the whole decade, a reign arguably unprecedented in the genre’s history. The time seemed right for him to relinquish the zeitgeist and recede to the rung occupied by the like of Kanye West and Jay-Z, towering figures whose albums remain events even if they don’t make hits like they used to. Furthermore, while Drake spent most of 2017 in self-imposed relative seclusion, SoundCloud rap blew up and mutated the sound of hip-hop. Even a champion wave-rider like Aubrey Graham would surely be out of his depths in a scene filled with teenage dirtbags who made Lil Uzi Vert (23) and Post Malone (22) seem like elder statesmen.

That line of reasoning made sense to me. Once again I thought he’d reached his commercial peak; once again I was wrong. I should have known. The numbers don’t lie. Views was a really big deal. More Life was a really big deal. Drake, therefore, was still a really big deal. And beyond Drizzy’s continued statistical marvels, the recent success of superstars from Kendrick to Migos to Cardi B (if not traditionalists, at least torchbearers for the lineage of historical hip-hop hubs LA, Atlanta, and NYC, respectively) suggested there was still plenty of room for established brand names in this brave new world. Or as Drake put it on “Look Alive,” his buoyant hit with BlocBoy JB, “I been gone since late July/ Niggas acting like I died.”

Guilty! But Drake most definitely did not die. He didn’t even wither. Instead, one of the most popular artists of this generation has somehow gotten even popular than ever, and he’s done it in the most glaringly obvious way possible: by gunning for your pleasure receptors.

Drake began his 2018 campaign with Scary Hours, the two-song EP that gave us “God’s Plan.” It also included “Diplomatic Immunity,” a regal low-key shit-talk session born to be a B-side, which managed to debut at #7 mostly on the strength of inertia. The real draw, though, was “God’s Plan.”

There is nothing all that special about “God’s Plan.” It exists squarely in Drake’s wheelhouse, letting him rap in sing-song about his mom, his haters, and his “broskis” over a booming, shimmering two-chord vamp. Think “Headlines,” the lead single from 2011’s Take Care, chilled out and distilled to its essence — pure comfort food for Drake fans, in other words, and a breath of fresh air after two straight years of mood music. Given that Drake boasts one of the biggest fan bases in music, this translated to a feeding frenzy that has not let up almost three months later. “God’s Plan” was already a sensation even before Drake threw in a pandering and/or heartwarming music video in which he hands out almost a million dollars to people around Miami and captures their stunned, ecstatic reaction. Good vibes abounded. The king held court.

Fun has been the through-line of his music this year. In one of his signature A&R-vampire moves, he hopped on agile dancer and blunt-force rapper BlocBoy JB’s vibrant “Look Alive,” spitting more casual braggadocio and striking a bunch of corny, giddy poses in the video; it went to #5. He teamed with old pals Migos on a typically tourettic trap production called “Walk It Talk It,” replete with a Soul Train-parodying video starring Jamie Foxx; it went to #10. He joined longtime thirst object Rihanna on a remix of N.E.R.D.’s “Lemon,” and although it wasn’t a hit, it’s definitely a blast.

And now there’s “Nice For What,” another exercise in the accessible side of Peak Drake and one that just pounds you into submission — both musically and via another event video starring a parade of superstar women.

The song doubles down on his usual nostalgia for the rap and R&B of his youth. As ever, he liberally quotes from a New Orleans hip-hop classic (this time “Get Your Roll On” by his label head’s old group the Big Tymers). As ever, he samples one of the icons of ’90s R&B (Lauryn Hill, and not for the first time). The beat is loud and brash to an extent we rarely hear on a Drake song, but it’s not completely without precedent: Remember his appearance on A$AP Rocky’s “Fuckin’ Problems” or “Make Me Proud,” his Nicki Minaj duet from Take Care? (Come to think of it, is he just repeating the rollout from Take Care this year?)

Just like on “Make Me Proud,” he spends “Nice For What” emphatically singing the praises of an impressive woman. It’s the subject that first put Drake in the spotlight way back with “Best I Ever Had,” except here her glory is a self-sustained end in itself, independent of Drake’s approval. Add to this his acknowledgement of reliance on help from friends on “God’s Plan” (as opposed to 2013’s “All Me”) and his admission on More Life’s “Get It Together” that he’s the one who needs to “get that shit together” before romance can ensue, and you’re faced with a surprising prospect: Is Drake growing?

Maybe, maybe not. But his audience is — still, after all these years. For once, he seems to be enjoying it.

CHART WATCH

Cardi B has been a titan of the Hot 100 singles chart in recent months, and now she rules the Billboard 200 too. Invasion Of Privacy, her debut album, enters at #1 with 255,000 equivalent album units — the second best total of the year following Justin Timberlake’s 293,000 for Man Of The Woods — and 103,000 in pure album sales. Per Billboard, Cardi’s 135,000 streaming equivalent albums is the best-ever streaming week for an album by a woman as well as the best-ever streaming week for a debut album. She’s also one of only five female rappers to top the album chart (following Nicki Minaj, Eve, Foxy Brown, and Lauryn Hill).

Thirty Seconds To Mars are in at #2 with America, debuting with 62,000 units/54,000 sales. It’s the band’s best-charting album ever. Here are 3-9: The Weeknd, The Greatest Showman, XXXTentacion, Migos, Black Panther, Rich The Kid, Post Malone. And closing out the top 10 is Lil Xan’s debut Total Xanarchy, opening with 28,000 units/14,000 sales.

As you read above, Drake is enjoying a ridiculous run of success on the Hot 100. He currently owns the #1 and #2 songs in America with “Nice For What” and “God’s Plan,” which was #1 for 11 weeks prior. (“Nice For What” becomes his fifth #1 and 25th top-10 hit.) He’s also on the #5 song, BlocBoy JB’s “Look Alive,” which is functionally a Drake song for all intents and purposes.

Among his accomplishments: Drake is the 13th artist to replace himself at #1 and the first to do it with back-to-back #1 debuts. He’s the 18th artist to hold down #1 and #2 simultaneously and the first since Justin Bieber last summer on “Despacito” and “I’m The One.” He has three songs in the top five, something only the Beatles, 50 Cent, and Bieber have done before. He joins Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, and Bieber as the only artists with multiple #1 debuts. There is more.

Believe it or not, there are other artists in the top 10 this week. Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line’s “Meant To Be” is at #3. Post Malone and Ty Dolla $ign’s “Psycho” is at #4. Zedd, Maren Morris, and Grey’s “The Middle” is at #6. Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” is at #7. The biggest debut from Cardi’s Invasion Of Privacy is the Bad Bunny/J Balvin fun-fest “I Like It,” which starts at #8; it’s Cardi’s fifth top-10 hit, Balvin’s second, and Bad Bunny’s first. Lil Dicky and Chris Brown’s “Freaky Friday” remains at #9, while Bruno Mars and Cardi’s “Finesse” is at #10.

POP FIVE

Bebe Rexha – “Ferrari” & “2 Souls On Fire” (Feat. Quavo)
You might not have noticed it, what with all those Drake and Cardi B chart moves lately, but Bebe Rexha recently had the #2 song in the country (and remains at #3) with the Florida Georgia Line collaboration “Meant To Be.” I wouldn’t be surprised if she charts highly with one or both of these even without support from country radio. “Ferrari” trades on some of Rexha’s newfound country clout with subtle hints of twang in the guitar and vocals, even as she mostly slides into her monogenre comfort zone, matching trap drums with a huge festival-core chorus. It drives as well as its namesake. “2 Souls On Fire” uses many of the same tricks — I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a country-oriented demo of this song from before Quavo signed on — but substitutes that gargantuan chorus with some low-key guy-girl singsong that reminds me of the Chainsmokers of all people.

5 Seconds Of Summer – “Youngblood”
The new 5SOS sound is still a little too close to Maroon 5 for my liking, but “Youngblood” at least has some punch to it, and I like the line, “You used to call me ‘baby’/ Now you’re calling me by name.” Still, I’m swiping left on this one.

James Bay – “Us”
This man has found the midpoint between Hozier and Shawn Mendes, and it’s going to make him filthy rich. (Well, that and his pop-idol good looks will. And he’s been at this long enough that he’s probably already rich. You get the point.)

Cash Cash – “Finest Hour” (Feat. Abir)
This may strike you as standard EDM-pop fare, but when that chorus hits, none of that matters. She never said she was perfect; “Finest Hour” doesn’t need to be. It just has to give you that euphoric rush, a job it ably accomplishes. Also, to quote the noted musicologist Lou Bega: The trompet!

Taylor Swift – “September” (Earth, Wind & Fire Cover)

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Post Malone’s Beerbongs & Bentleys, out 4/27, will feature Nicki Minaj, Swae Lee, and G-Eazy, among others. Do you think he was gonna drop it on 4/20 until he heard about the J. Cole album? [Instagram]
  • Zayn was reportedly dropped by his management because he is difficult to work with. [Variety]
  • Regarding finishing her new album Avril Lavigne says: “Homestretch bitches.” [Instagram]
  • Drake commented on Instagram about that Atlanta episode about him: “😂😂😂😂😂 this shit is surreal I am too high for this.” [Complex]
  • Fresh off her Coachella triumph Beyoncé donated $100k to four historically black universities. [BizWomen]
  • BTS’ new album LOVE YOURSELF: ‘Tear’ is out 5/18. [ET]
  • DJ Khaled and his wife filed to trademark their son Asahd’s name on keychains, cosmetics, clothing, video games, etc. [TMZ]
  • Speaking of Khaled: He, Sean Combs, and Meghan Trainor will return for another season of The Four without music exec Charlie Walk, who faces sexual misconduct allegations. [Variety]
  • Zedd had to cancel a festival appearance in China because he was unable to secure a visa. [Twitter]
  • Logic and Marshmello lead an office revolt (and pay tribute to Office Space) in their “Everyday” video. [YouTube]
  • In other Marshmello news, he and Anne-Marie shared an acoustic performance of “FRIENDS.” [YouTube]
  • Walk The Moon released a video for “Kamikaze.” [YouTube]
  • Kelly Clarkson will host this year’s Billboard Music Awards on NBC. [Variety]
  • Harry Styles caught a gummy bear in his mouth onstage in London. [Twitter]
  • Kacey Musgraves shared an animoji video for “High Horse.” [YouTube]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME