Humanity, we need to have a little chat about Drake. Actually, no – it’s not really just about Drake, it’s about a lot more than that. But for parity’s sake, let’s focus on Drake. Sorry you have to play scapegoat this time, Aubrey Drake Graham, but them’s the breaks, because apparently now you and Michael Jackson are the only male artists to hold the #1 song and album for seven consecutive weeks on the Billboard charts. For Jackson’s part, it was during Thriller. For Drake, it’s Views.
Let’s clear one thing up first: I hate all those hand-wringy, anti-popular music “thinkpieces” claiming music was better “back then” than it is now. That’s not what this is. I enjoy popular music from a myriad decades, even if I simultaneously note that it doesn’t have a lot of artistic merit (although a lot of the time, it really does). If people genuinely are enjoying Views on a musical level as much as people enjoyed Thriller, then I have no beef, even if I personally don’t feel the same. You do you, and all that. But I really, really don’t think that’s the case.
Two things have fundamentally changed since the Thriller era: the way we consume music, and the way we engage with celebrities. Back then, we (well, not me – I wasn’t even a twinkle in my parents’ eyes yet) bought albums if we wanted to hear them. Now, we can almost always stream entire albums whenever we want for free – legally. Celebrity gossip was a thing, sure, but celebrities were alien-like icons, like fictional characters – there was very little in the way of candid moments, direct communication, or the like. Now, we have unique insights into the minutia of their every day lives, fan interaction has risen to an all-time high, and there’s a pervasive sense that these people are not just fictional characters – they are #goals, or even worse, our friends. But even though what we’re seeing might seem real, it isn’t. Many celebrities – like Drake – have cultivated a superhero-esque persona that hides them under yet another layer, and allows them to be glorified even further while still seeming accessible and #relatable. Starting to see the problem?
As our writer James Tait recently noted, when a person like this – like Champagne Papi – releases music, he’s not just releasing music. He’s releasing another epithet of his “personality”, and Views was surrounded by deafening hype and recycled memes. It was impossible to escape entirely, even if you didn’t fully engage with it. And so, when the album dropped and it wasn’t really that worthy of any of the confetti, outlets as prestigious as Pitchfork still scrambled to find some way to praise it via abstract parameters like “effort” even while maligning it musically in the same breath.
That’s not to say the PR machine surrounding big-name artists like Drake is inherently bad. If one thing is for certain, it’s absolutely doing its job exceedingly well. It’s just important to question whether placing Drake’s Views next to Thriller in this new milestone in music history is a result of merit or hype. More than likely, it’s the latter. So where does that leave us? The future of the music industry is murky at best. Perhaps “records” like this one simply don’t have any real significance anymore. Celebrities will always sell well – but we already knew that. Of course the “merit” of music will always be subjective – but maybe it’s time we start to think more critically about separating out the two.
Image: Andrew Chin/Getty Images via Hot New Hip Hop