U With Me?: Drake, 'VIEWS,' and the Burden of Expectations
Drake is the only one in control of his destiny and if he can find closure he can get back to proving that we were all wrong.
Image via Complex Original
Watching Drake become the self-proclaimed 6 God has been a long journey. If you’ve paid even half attention you know that Aubrey is a student of the rap game and well aware of how easy it is to fall out of the spotlight. The tightrope he’s walked his entire career is a result of the hype he rode in on from his teenage acting days. And though he was far from an overnight success in music, Drake appeared out of nowhere to the mainstream with his So Far Gone mixtape, already trailing a loyal fan base. Of course, when people see you on top they always want you to fall.
The trailer for his fourth major-label album, VIEWS, suggested that it would speak to that journey—the jumps from Degrassi to Do Right and Kill Everything to nearly No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, the album falls short of the triumphant closure we thought Drake would give us. The man who spent the past couple of years flexing on us seems to have allowed himself a small nightcap of that very bitter pity potion with VIEWS. And while many are chastising him for a lack of nuance, or for revisiting old ideas and emotions, it should not be ignored that we, the audience, still treat Drake like he has a lot to prove. He is essentially a monster of our own making.
The Drake who gets mentioned alongside Beyoncé is a successful pop machine. But it's hard to forget that he used to be our school clown. (To be very honest, moving between those roles is a daily flip-flop on the Internet.) Even in his most celebratory moments—like catching major affection from Rihanna on stage—we watch and count the ways he looks like a fucking goof. He gives us an entire summer of pure fire and the memes won’t let him forget he’s our dorky friend. Though he welcomes and plays along with the internet jokes, you sense he got there after a long bout of letting it bother him. Sure, this is the life of a pop star, but few today are so openly hated for their success like Drake is. He has touched on this repeatedly, reminding us album after album that he "never needed any of us"; and while it bores us, he's not lying.
We sort Drake’s releases in one of two categories: classic or trash. This type of constraint stifles creativity and leaves little room to try and fail creatively. (The album’s strongest points are when Drake makes us feel like he’s making a summertime/Caribana playlist—but he doesn’t let himself stay in that mental space.) Worse, this unsophisticated either/or proposition makes an artist repeat past formulas rather than moving the convo along—Drake all but abandons the dancehall/soca/afrobeat vibes halfway through the LP for his conventional distorted beats, corny punchlines, and stories of paranoia. This feeling of wanting to experiment but understanding that there’s pressure to repeat past successes is familiar to many of us "millennials" who know what it’s like to wait for the game to catch up to us while the old pillars fall.
"I don't know how to talk to you" he sings to Rihanna on the waist-winding, tight-drum "Too Good," and it’s possible he's addressing the listener, too. How does he get through to us? How does he trust that we see him as a star when we continuously express the need for him to pay us back for the love. It's a question not just Drake is facing—everyone on the ride at the end of our 20s is wondering: why do people keep getting me fucked up? And how much more do I have to give before it stops? In this confusion and spiral into self-pity, it’s no surprise he seesaws between begging and lashing out at the Black women around him for affection.
At his worst, most somber romantic moments, it can feel like Drake is speaking from the mind of the women who date him. (Aubrey almost never mentions white women so it’s not unreasonable to assume he speaks to a specific demographic.) The strippers, working girls, and strong industry women he rails against are expected to handle the emotional labor and uphold the self-esteem of rich men who don’t have real friends in real life. Those women who constantly have to prove that they’re real people rather than tropes for musical misogyny.
The underlying capitalist nature of those relationships means they're not afraid to check him and they never buy his excuses. The “awkward silence” when he hides his Bugatti keys from his crazy girl on “Child's Play” (so she won’t drive to CVS for Kotex) suggests that he’s in trouble for crossing her, even in his “benefactor” role. The independent women he wants to need him don't actually need Drake to provide anything other than access they can use as they see fit. He is as callous to them as he is to us because they remind him of his insecurities—but unlike us, they've actually seen him in the dark. They know his flaws not from rumor but from actual interaction and it makes all the difference. They are way beyond babying him or pretending he needs anything more than embarrassment for being a manchild. We act that way, too—until we need a space to be in our feelings. Then we turn to him.
Drake isn’t so much trying to change his story—it’s more like he thinks he still needs to tell it right.
Though VIEWS is clearly the result of hard work, in many areas it seems like Drake is trying to make up for Thank Me Later. The return to singing and matters of the heart on tracks like “Fire & Desire,” a sweet ballad of dedication replete with a Brandy sample; and “Redemption,” a bitter litany for another woman who didn’t wait around for him to be rich, mirror the concerns of his debut album. It’s this repetitive, by this point almost scripted, exploration of his emotions that makes us feel restless. We expected a defiant declaration that he was no longer listening to our hot takes, that he’s become a man matured by time spent with goddesses like Rihanna and Serena. But his “who hurt me” attitude is forever tied into his story. It’s the narrative that gave him the juice.
Drake isn’t so much trying to change his story—it’s more like he thinks he still needs to tell it right. Trying to explain that if we hate these parts of him, maybe we've been barking up the wrong tree this entire time. VIEWS is a long sit in his comfort zone rather than a trek to the next level. (It doesn’t help that it’s a bit too long and his biggest weakness as an album artist remains sequencing.) It's an album for those who love him, not one to turn the tide of those who don't, and it shows in its reception. Cries of "this is garbage" have turned to "it's growing on me" in 48 hours.
This is why Drake albums sound best at night, in the dark when you can't stop the pity party even though you know it's delusional. When there are no demons after you accept the fears in your mind that threaten to destroy your sense of self, your sense of ambition. No matter how many times you experience self pity, you still indulge. “Keep the Family Close” resonates with anyone who has ever felt threatened by outside energy in their circle. Losing people you trust is not something that stops happening at any point in life. But it's an experience that forever alters your world views. Every heartbreak and loss is followed by days of "all xyz suck and nobody will ever love me again." You never really grow out of that response internally, you just get better at recognizing it and getting rid of it faster.
Many boast that they didn’t believe in Drake until Nothing Was the Same—the first time he fearlessly claimed that he basically didn’t give a fuck what we think. His braggadocio and real-time press release victory raps served as an outlet for all of us. For the millennials finding our voices as we went against the old ways that refused to even give us an inch. For the rise of movements that needed new language for old ideas. For cities like Toronto, where the youth were fighting to hold on to their culture and place in the world as gentrification changed the landscape. To those who were simply tired of paying dues. But like the nerd who doesn’t know when he’s won, Drake has lost the plot a little. “Nigga you made it,” but it seems we still have to tell you to grow up. Drake is our little Frankenstein and while the solution seems to be roasting him until he gets it together, the truth is much simpler. Drake is the only one in control of his destiny and if he can find closure he can get back to proving that we were all wrong. Hopefully by then it no longer matters to him.