Music Video Breakdown: ‘Hotline Bling’

On Drake and ‘More Life’

Drake is misunderstood. He is, undoubtedly, one of the foremost musical talents of our generation. His music video for “Hotline Bling” is a subtle subversion of the roles that laziness, idiocy, and talentlessness play in each of the musical genres that Drake straddles: pop, rap, R&B;, and hip-hop. This humble critic is not stating that Drake is lazy—that would miss the point of the artistic merit of Drake’s music. This humble critic is stating precisely the opposite. Admittedly, Drake’s music and music videos may appear to have been produced by a wealthy 12-year-old after a tear-soaked middle school breakup, who’s asked his parents for money to hire a songwriter (the phrase “ghostwriter” would be derogatory to ghosts) to lament said breakup, convinced his parents to shell out even more money for studio time, realized that he does not actually want to record the song, half-heartedly recorded one take in the early hours of a Sunday morning, and released the lazy, poorly written, sullen song to the irrationally expectant public as his parents disappointedly look at the colossal waste of space that is their son.

Disregard that impression. Drake only gives one the sense that he expends little effort and barely cares about his music precisely because he is simultaneously subverting and complicating the role that not trying at all plays in music. To understand this act of artistic genius, look no further than the music video for “Hotline Bling.”

Courtesy of YouTube

Why does Drake move as if his crew only had time to record one take? Why does he wave his arms and legs in an apparent satire of ill-conceived, rhythmless dance? Why does he stand on a set that looks like it was designed by a minimalist 9th grader who was enamored with his geometry teacher and fixated on “Waiting for Godot”? Precisely to make the audience think that he has put minimal effort into the music video. The rhyming of “bling” and “thing” (not to mention the rhyming of “out” with “stressed out”) deliberately comments on lyricism’s descent into incomprehensible unintelligence.

The perceived lack of effort put into this artistic polemic is, in fact, a meticulously crafted expression of Drake’s own frustrations about the quality and effort put into the genre of pop(ular) music. It is as if Drake is saying, “This is all it takes to make ‘good’ music now? Maybe you, musically illiterate audience member, should reevaluate your incomprehensibly bad taste in music. Maybe you, listening fool, should ask yourself why you value the laziest rappers (no offense intended to Lil Uzi Vert and the artist formerly known as Kanye West) over anyone with a semblance of lyricism. Does it reflect the fact that you want to be successful in your life without giving any effort whatsoever? Or the fact that you want to be successful while wasting any talent you once had?” Drake demands that the audience think. Drake commands the audience to self-reflect.

If “Hotline Bling” presents a satire of pop within the scope of one song, “More Life” is satire in album form. It is a formless album that manages to produce not one above-average song in over 81 minutes. But implicitly, and quite brilliantly, it forces the listener to reevaluate the society and the state of a culture that allows “More Life” to be considered acceptable music—a culture that allows “More Life” to shatter any semblance of a streaming record in its first week. This is a cognizant effort on the part of Drake: he has meticulously crafted an album in which he has managed to convince each featured artist, from Kanye West to Young Thug, to present the worst, most atonal version of themselves in order to construct a sonic document that is a wide ranging argument for the death of rap, pop, hip-hop and R&B.; The lack of effort in every song is relentlessly consistent. The listener comes to understand that this piece of artistic brilliance is a conscious and clever thesis about the death of music, the death of effort, and the death of talent.

For that, this humble critic must thank Drake. He has constructed a piece of art that is nothing short of Narcissus' looking glass—it is the most honest reflection of the state of music today. “More Life” holds a mirror up to the idiocy of any fool that listens to Drake in their spare time (like your humble critic) and asks with disarming honesty, in the spirit of Jamaica Kincaid’s “Lucy”: How did you get to be this way?

—Staff writer Aziz B. Yakub can be reached at aziz.yakub@thecrimson.com

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