#MemeOfTheWeek: The Drake-ification Of The Week In Politics

24 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Director X on Making Drake’s Dance-Crazy, Meme-Ready ‘Hotline Bling’.

Director X has been making music videos with pop’s biggest stars for over 15 years — but he’s never seen anything like the reaction to Drake’s “Hotline Bling.” Released earlier this week, the “Hotline Bling” video became instantly memorable (and meme-able) for its hypnotic, minimal vibe showcasing Drake’s endearing goofball dance moves and X’s highly stylized sets. Ever since social media got a hold of the album cover for 2011’s Take Care, the rapper’s every move has been a subject for scrutiny, parody, think pieces, GIFs.

Released in July on his label’s SoundCloud page following a premiere on Apple Music’s OVO Sound Radio, it felt like a casual throwaway, a breezy compatriot to “Charged Up,” his anti-Meek Mill song, which landed at the same time. Considered a visionary by many, 72-year-old James Turrell was once arrested for coaching young men to avoid the Vietnam draft and he wears his snow-white hair in a Kris Kringle/Charles Darwin-esque beard. After the debut this week of the music video for his latest single, “Hotline Bling,” it’s safe to say that Drake has become a master at capitalizing on his awkward, boastful, at times slightly petty and emotional persona. As X prepares to shoot his first feature film — he won’t name it, but mentions it’s a dance movie — he took some time out to talk about musicians as directors, the talented choreographer Tanisha Scott, his relationship to the work of acclaimed light artist James Turrell and more. Keen observers were quick to point out the similarities between Turrell’s prolific work with light projections and the setting of “Hotline Bling.” Indeed, Drake has nursed a long-abiding artist crush on Turrell, as evidenced by a scene in his Rolling Stone profile that shows him entranced by the septuagenarian’s 2014 retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “I’ll f—k with Turrell.

Late Monday night, Drake released its video, mostly made up of long shots of him dancing in front of a plain background that’s constantly changing colors: mustard, lavender, baby blue, peach, chartreuse. He was a big influence on the visuals for my last tour,” Drake says before entering a work called “Perceptual Cell.” When he comes out, he exclaims, “All my questions about life are answered!” Though the music video’s director, Director X, told VICE that any connection to Turrell is accidental, the artist himself doesn’t seem to think so. The clip, directed by Director X, is both warm and slick, giving this song — part of the lo-fi catharsis segment of Drake’s catalog — the grand-scale sensation that thoughtfully minimalist approaches can trigger. Turrell responded Wednesday through his lawyer’s blog in a post headlined “What a Time to Be Alive” (ostensibly a nod to Drake’s latest mixtape of the same name).

Drake’s awkward dancing has been mashed up with the ’80s Latin classic “Suavemente,” the Peanuts theme song, even a ukulele in the spirit of this week’s Canadian elections. The statement reads: “While I am truly flattered to learn that Drake f—ks with me, I nevertheless wish to make clear that neither I nor any of my woes was involved in any way in the making of the ‘Hotline Bling’ video.” In a single sentence, this statement conveys a couple important revelations. First: Turrell has listened to — or is at least aware of one song from — Drake’s mixtape “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.” (For those who are less eclectically cultured, Turrell is referencing Drake’s oft-repeated lyric, “Runnin’ through the six with my woes.” “Woes,” according to Rap Genius, is either an abbreviation of “Woadie,” New Orleans slang for people living in the same geographic ward, or of “working on excellence.” It’s unclear which definition Turrell had in mind.) Alissa Walker writes in Gizmodo, “‘F—king’ must be the new ‘appropriating.’ Music videos are known for borrowing concepts from film and TV for sure but this is a little different — most of Turrell’s art isn’t even allowed to be photographed.” The statement from the grandfather of light art leaves many questions hanging in the air.

There are the lyrics, deemed problematic by feminist critics, in which Drake’s narrator trolls a woman for not living by his definition of a “good girl.” And there is the musical vibe: “Hotline Bling” borrows elements from Virginia singer D.R.A.M.’s hit song, “Cha Cha.” When Drake first premiered “Hotline Bling” on his Apple Beats 1 show, it was titled and socialized as a “Cha Cha” remix. In an unused excerpt from his recent FADER cover interview, published well after the original story ran, Drake says “Hotline Bling” — which is built upon a sample of Timmy Thomas’ 1972 R&B track “Why Can’t We Live Together” — is an example of when artists put a twist on a similar rhythm (or “riddim”), a practice popular in music derived from Jamaica. “In Jamaica, you’ll have a riddim and it’s like, everyone has to do a song on that. He once poeticized in an interview with The Guardian, “This wonderful elixir of light is the thing that actually connects the immaterial with the material — that connects the cosmic to the plain everyday existence that we try to live in.” There’s also the nature of the dancing itself, which is also more or less blank: a series of slight shifts of weight, quick hand gestures, head bobbles and side-to-side steps.

His co-signs and remixes have moved artists, some already on track for success, an inch closer to the mainstream, from D.R.A.M. to Migos to Fetty Wap. I like doing my own thing, but I also like it when an artist has a clear vision for themselves and you can focus on molding that idea into a full working piece. Within hours — minutes, really — Twitter and Vine and Instagram and Tumblr were filled with short clips pulled from the video set to other songs: Elvis Crespo’s merengue conflagration “Suavemente,” the “Seinfeld” theme, “Danza Kuduro,” various Vince Guaraldi ditties from “Peanuts,” and, most crucially, “Obsesion” by the bachata boy band Aventura. (If there is a style parent to Drake’s dance micro-moves, it is probably bachata.) Often these clips were accompanied by the hashtag #DrakeAlwaysOnBeat, though, strictly speaking, he wasn’t. Another replaced the music with the zippy horns of the later-seasons theme song from “The Cosby Show,” overlaying the video with a credits scroll for “The Aubrey Show.” (Drake’s given name is Aubrey Drake Graham.) Most technically impressive was the clip that superimposed lightsabers into the hands of Drake and his dance partner-choreographer, Tanisha Scott.

Transparency has always been Drake’s bailiwick, but this approach to content creation takes it past a place of emotional vulnerability and into an advanced space where an artist induces people to create their own narratives: The star is at the center, but not in control. I look at James Turrell’s stuff and I go, “Oh, I’m in that wheelhouse.” I came out of the Hype Williams school — I was lucky enough to have him as my mentor, and this was his style. Art has been on Drake’s mind since at least 2011, when, on the song “Dreams Money Can Buy,” he rapped, “I got car money, fresh start money/I want Saudi money, I want art money.” Like many rappers faced with growing wealth and outmoded options for what to do with it, he understands art as a different layer of class transcendence — something beyond expensive clothes, cars, houses. (In this, he follows rappers like Jay Z, collector of Basquiat and imitator of Marina Abramovic; Kanye West, who has collaborated with Takashi Murakami, Vanessa Beecroft, George Condo; and Swizz Beatz, a well-regarded collector and sometime artist.) Drake is something of a meme artist himself, or at minimum a meme archivist-historian. Miceli — who makes a T-shirt representing Drake lyrics in the style of Jenny Holzer’s “Inflammatory Essays” — curated a group show at Alt Space that included a handful of Drake-related pieces. Memorably, in 2013, a photo taken of him on the set of DJ Khaled’s “No New Friends” video, which caught him mid-pose wearing a throwback Damani Dada athletic outfit, became a web sensation.

It’s nuts. 2015 may not bring everything that Back to the Future II promised it would: flying cars, self-lacing shoes, we don’t see ’em happening over the next 12 months. (Then again, don’t bet against Nike.) But this year will definitely pack plenty of punch when it comes to cultural happenings.

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