There’s really only one thing I can’t figure out about Drake's new track “Hotline Bling”: When, exactly, should I be listening to it? In a conference room at work, after everyone in the meeting clears out, and it’s just the videoconference setup and me? When I leave work early and decide to take the long way home; the sun’s setting and so I pause for a minute, think about shooting a ‘gram, but don’t because I want to preserve the moment for myself? Or, is it in the morning, after a regrettable-yet-triumphant night, in the 3 minutes before the Advil kicks in and the caffeine hits?
I’m convinced the answer is yes, all of the above, but I’m still not sure how we got here. Drake as cultural phenomenon—the dude with the prayer hands emoji tattoo, who cha-chas through James Turrell-inspired dreamscapes? He’s been writing booty elegies since he was a Degrassi-disabled #teen and surely he’s talented enough to deserve the 98+ million Spotify streams, 4.7 million YouTube video views and thousands of sweetly profane comments, and the god-knows-how-many people singing “you used to call me on my cell phone” in their cars and showers and long walks home. What a time to be alive, I guess!
The fact remains, though, that the thing Drake does the best—and, I suppose, both the reason for his insane fame and the reason people really seem to hate him—is to be relatable. (This is, of course, the genius of memes. Drake is a human meme; don’t @ me.) He’s one of the first rappers/R&B artists who seems to be a real person, accessible almost, a shiny celebrity version of you or me. He’s got exes he misses, and so do you! You remember, don’t you, the last time they called you—it was late, and maybe you were a little drunk or a little high, and you picked up, because what could it hurt, right? And after you hear their voice you remember why it didn’t work, how and why you’re still sore. Or maybe you’re calling, hoping that they’ll pick up and hoping at the same time that they won’t.
“Hotline Bling” sets the feeling to a cha-cha beat, transmutes it into something accessible you can bang guiltlessly in the club: It’s cathartic to hear your story this way, and it smooths away any rough-edged hurt. The song is an Instagram of a feeling, and fuck yeah there’s a filter. Drake’s been doing this kind of emotional labor since the beginning of his career. I guess we’re finally ready to appreciate it. I know I am. And next time, I won’t pick up.