July 31, 2015. To some, it was just another day. And yet, to those who worship the 6ix God, and soon the general population, this became another momentous victory for the Torontonian rap superstar. This was the day that “Hotline Bling,” in all its glory, was unleashed upon the world. The song’s smooth soca beat and rhythm reminiscent of a poolside cabana soon peaked at the top of the charts. And Drake’s adorable, white-dad-at-a-barbecue-style dance moves only served to stoke his fans’ fervent devotion. The Internet gremlins worked feverishly day and night to crank out countless memes of the rapper’s dance moves, and in a publicity stunt unparalleled since possibly the dawn of time, the Trumpster himself graced the SNL stage in nothing less than a parody of the now legendary tune. Please make a note that despite the plethora of opportunities that exist at this point to deride the walking, talking Cheeto currently making his bid for the American presidency, I will take the high road and refrain from doing so.
Now, you may ask, where was I during all this? Well, I was no more immune to Drake’s wide, toothy grin and perfectly groomed five o’clock shadow than the next poor sap. But I found the tune a little hard to swallow (insert Archer saying “Phrasing. Boom.”). Maybe it was my feminist conditioning, but was I picking up hints of mansplaining and, shockingly, chauvinism, in a rap song? And more importantly, did no-one else notice it, or were we all tacitly glossing over these aspects of the song in favor of its damningly catchy tune? Regardless, I could no longer hear Hotline Bling whenever it was played at various social gatherings, grocery stores, bars, or Satanic ritual sacrifices (kidding—of course) without being reminded of how implicit the masses are in condoning subtle acts of douchebaggery, if they are disguised in a red marshmallow winter coat and have a voice like smooth milk chocolate. So now, I will go over, line by line, what exactly bothers me about the song.
For those of you who have just returned from a parallel universe and haven’t heard at least some of the song, the gist of it is that our man Aubrey seems to have beef with a young woman who, in his eyes, has changed in ways that he doesn’t like. The song begins: “You used to call me on my cell phone / late night when you need my love.” This clearly suggests some form of sexual relationship between the two. Moving on, we hear “ever since I left the city, you / got a reputation for yourself now / everybody knows and I feel left out.” As soon as I heard these lines, they rubbed me the wrong way. I mean, what business is it of Drake’s what people say about this young woman? Clearly, she is old enough to make her own decisions (one hopes), but Drake seems more concerned about his involvement in her image. But hey, maybe it gets better from here. Let’s listen further.
“Ever since I left the city, you / started wearing less and going out more / glasses of champagne out on the dance floor / hangin’ with some girls I’ve never seen before.”
Well. A few notes regarding those lines. First off, once again we see our protagonist seemingly snubbed by a woman who is no longer concerned with him, and, even worse, daring to “hang” with people that he hasn’t given his stamp of approval on. Clearly, this is infuriating for the poor guy, who returns to his nostalgic tone about when—let’s call her Lana, shall we?—“used to” call him. It is worth noting here that another possible reason for his reaction is that he no longer feels needed in the relationship. He also seems to take issue with her consuming alcohol. Note: this is in conflict with most of his other music, in which copious alcohol consumption is encouraged.
A few other lines that really grind my gears: “Going places where you don’t belong” (again, who is Mr. Graham to decide for this woman where she does and doesn’t belong?), “you got exactly what you asked for / runnin’ out of pages in your passport” (does Drake really have a problem with this girl widening her horizons? I mean, come on.), and “… doin’ things I taught you, getting nasty / for someone else” (he somehow manages to sound both patronizing and passive-aggressive). By this point, we are about three-quarters of the way through the song. And here comes by far my favorite part: “Why you never alone? / … used to always stay at home, be a good girl, you was in the zone / you should just be yourself, right now you’re someone else.”
Oh, boy. If someone- anyone– were to say this to my face, I would do a Jim Halpert-style deadpan glare into an imaginary camera and then, if they were lucky, walk away. Let’s face it, Drake is not the first rapper, celebrity, or indeed human being to say something off-color to or about a woman, but for some reason, this passive-aggressive, almost paternal (and yet so not) concern for the way this young woman conducts herself is somehow so much more annoying than outright sexism.
In conclusion, I hope I’ve succeeded in providing evidence as to why this song—and many others—should not be as popular as they are. I was first nudged towards writing this piece when I saw my seven-year-old cousin dancing aimlessly to the song, as children do, and wondered how her impressionable mind would interpret these subtle messages about how men would perceive her, who they would want her to be, and how they would be affected by any expressions of independence that she chose to make. I’m not afraid to admit that it even took me back to when I first saw Beyoncé’s Check On It video at the age of twelve and thought, ‘my God, that is how men and women interact? That is the role I have to play?’ This and a build-up of countless other experiences led to years of confusion about how to present myself to the world. Is that what we want for our girls and boys?
Guys, it’s 2016. Let’s do better.