“Look at the way we live.”
This statement, which Drake delivers from a soapbox between fragments of a disjointed Mariah Carey sample on Scorpion’s “Emotionless,” caps his assessment of our toxic relationship with social media. Despite what the song’s title indicates, Drake feels quite strongly about everything he’s getting off his chest. “Emotionless,” one of Scorpion’s standouts and the quintessential Drake diary entry, finds the ever strategic rapper playing defense following Pusha-T’s assail. “The Boy” is adjusting to the end of an extended adolescence thanks to an unexpected fatherhood revelation and he’s more distrustful than ever. Consequently, he’s more wary of internet culture due to the deceptive and excessive manner in which people use social media.
Travel pics taken to impress others. Distress signals disguised as demands for privacy. The guise of “perfect” relationships. Drake mostly characterizes this as an illusory exercise in validation. He’d know as well as anyone, because it’s his obsession: Proving himself has been the overarching narrative of Drake’s career. And since 2013’s Nothing Was the Same, he’s not only grown increasingly paranoid, but the paranoia has indeed turned into arrogance.
Drake (who was still harboring high school resentment on Nothing Was the Same’s “Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2”) has made success-as-revenge a way of life. The quickest way to display and weaponize his immense success is social media—namely Instagram, where he has over 43 million followers and counting. In spite of all Drake’s skepticism about social media, he’s adept at leveraging it. So when he’s condescending to women for hiding behind a digital smokescreen, he’s critiquing something he does. Often.
Artful deception is Drake’s forte. His evolution into the biggest rapper in the world has been greatly aided by his development as a cunning strategist. He’s well-versed in positioning, where the truth is whatever you can convince people it is. His success in this realm is equal parts tactics and social capital, the latter a seemingly endless source of wealth for Drake. Perhaps the foremost example is OVO Fest 2015, the pinnacle of his spat with Meek Mill, where Drake flipped Meek’s ghostwriter accusations into a resounding victory in the court of public opinion thanks to a Keynote presentation of memes. As annoying as the word “curator” has become (thanks, internet), gathering examples of someone else’s creativity and using them to your benefit is curation at its opportunistic peak. What’s more, Drake is just as skilled at using his own social media accounts to boost his profile. You can tell how important this is to him by the sheer amount of effort he puts into Instagram.
Everything about Drake’s Instagram—from the lighting, to the hookah smoke—is staged to perfection. The “candids” look as edited as the concert photos. The pictures with fellow celebrities, be they “friends” or childhood dreamgirls, feel calculated. The glimpses of his vacation exploits, both domestic and across the pond, feel choreographed. (Those Instagram habits he mentions on “That’s How You Feel”? He shares them.) He announces new music on the app just as he discloses his own musical tastes and inspirations. But, of course, everything is for show when you’re selling a lifestyle. It’s a showcase in branding, because that’s what Drake™ is: a brand. He’s spent years crafting the perfect brand identity because brands ultimately exist to sell a product or image, i.e. something to buy or buy into. So Drake, for whom image is everything and thirst is everything, safeguards his brand because appeal is essential to his operation. The picturesque reality he creates on Instagram must be widely attractive to others, and, on a personal level, wildly satisfying for a dude who’s built his brand around engineering an allure that inspires envy. Love Drake or hate him, he wants you to wish you were in his shoes.
Celebrity further clouds the false reality that social media can create. It adds a special glow to everything, something many starry-eyed fans hope to borrow. It makes life appear more interesting and, possibly, makes others jealous. “Champagne Papi,” the seventh episode of Atlanta: Robbin’ Season (and, by no coincidence, named after Drake’s Instagram handle), explores this dynamic. En route to a New Year’s Eve party at Drake’s mansion, Van (Zazie Beetz) desperately seeks a picture with him to revitalize her Instagram feed. She’s chasing the idea of Drake and what the illusion of celebrity, mainly proximity to it, can do for her. Her mission is ultimately a wash; things aren’t always as they seem. Drake, acutely aware of this, not only posted an Instagram Story while viewing the episode, but his “In My Feelings” sampled a portion of it—another effortless hit with a powerful viral component.
A large share of the song’s extreme, rapid popularity comes from comedian/Instagram star Shiggy promoting it for Drake via #DoTheShiggy. Drake knows: he thanked Shiggy for helping “In My Feelings” replace “Nice For What” atop the Billboard Hot 100—his sixth single to top the chart and the third from Scorpion to do so—through inadvertent, yet effective marketing. But as much as Drake benefits from social media, his moralizing observations regarding it ring hollow.
Drake’s admission of “scrollin’ through life and fishing for praise” on “Emotionless” isn’t exactly revelatory—anyone who follows his music knows he’s engrossed in his comment section. He needs all the praise he’s searching for. The ongoing joke is that his lyrics inspire infinite Instagram captions, but he’s actually as reflective of internet culture as he is influential upon it. From the posturing, to the trolling and pandering, Drake mirrors the internet. Any “insight” that’s come by way of another repackaged account of enemies, disloyalty, and mistrust is all but negated by every Instagram flex or the juvenile dance of follows, unfollows, blocks, and likes recounted on “Summer Games.” Considering that Scorpion is, in part, damage control, it sounds like Drake’s exhaustion with the court of public opinion stems from an inability to sway it to his liking—mega-success be damned. And for all his talk of who and what’s real, there’s an inconsistency between his social media presence and music at large: Drake’s Instagram is carefully arranged to make his enemies covet his life, but overall, Scorpion doesn’t make it sound like he’s enjoying it at the moment.
Unsurprisingly, Drake wants it both ways. The freedom to toast to more life, then wonder if there’s more to it. The liberty to chide women for being as fake happy on Instagram as he seems to be. But what more is pointing the finger at others while doing the very same than typical social media behavior?