In a sea of dominating and colorful personalities like Kanye West and highly experimental, cultural icons like Kendrick Lamar, Canadian rapper Drake carefully crafted a softer, “boy next door” sound that made him hugely successful across almost all social groups. Sometimes mocked and often praised, Drake straddles the line between self-confidence and hedonism, praising his friends and his lovers as often as himself.
So it’s no wonder that his first single since 2015’s surprise mixtape, “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late,” was a return to the melancholy sweet style that made him so memorable: rapping and singing to the girls in his life. “Hotline Bling” is ostensibly a song in the same vein. Drake reminisces all the ways a woman he used to talk to has changed, and voices his regret over leaving her and allowing them to splinter and grow apart.
Well, I’m sorry to break it to you Drake, but people change. It’s understandable to feel lonely and left out when a fling burns out, especially when the other person starts “wearing less and goin’ out more.” You might even feel a bit envious of how they’re “running out of pages in [their] passport.” Initially I sympathized with Drake for feeling lost after someone who only called him up when she needed his love stopped calling him up at all.
But it’s the third verse where Drake goes from merely missing good times to entering “that guy” territory. He starts complaining about her having relationships with other guys, telling her “you don’t need nobody else” and wondering if she’s “getting nasty for someone else.”
Back up, loverboy. Who are you to tell her what to do with her guy friends? After all, you’re the one who “left the city,” do you expect her to wait patiently for you at home while all her friends go out and have fun instead? Actually, that’s exactly what Drake expects of her. “[You] used to stay at home, be a good girl,” Drake grumbles, quietly simmering at the fact that he’s lost control over the way this lady lives her life. What about going out and having fun with friends isn’t being a “good girl”?
If Drake’s point is that letting loose and “gettin’ nasty” is wrong or shameful, that’s a pretty rich sentiment coming from the guy who claims to have taught her those very things himself. But where he has an opportunity to redeem himself, Drake goes all in and gives the most ironic line of the entire song: “You should just be yourself, right now you’re someone else.”
Isn’t she being herself by going out and doing the things she wants? It sounds like Drake’s former lover is going out with friends more, dancing, and traveling all over the world. Yeah, Drake, that sure sounds awful. Here’s a thought: Maybe it’s you who wants her to be a certain way. She’s grown up and started doing what makes her happy, and it burns you up that you haven’t done the same.
The jury is out on whether Drake is aware of the irony of “Hotline Bling”; if he is, then the song could be a brilliantly crafted piece of commentary on modern day dating culture. He might also intend to play the lyrics straight and simply be marketing a love song for all the lonely guys out there.
“Hotline Bling” is undoubtedly a good song, infectiously catchy and well-produced. I’ll keep listening to it, and if you enjoy it, so should you. But like with any artistic endeavor, it’s important to critically analyze the things we love and the underlying messages they carry. Drake’s feelings are, as always, the soul of the song and what gives the lyricism its nostalgic punch. As for the phone calls that caused those feelings, though, everyone involved is probably better off just letting them go to voicemail.
Reach writer Alex Bruell at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @BruellAlex