Drake is a generational pop star who has won the hearts and minds of millions around the world. His position at the top of the charts is largely due to talent, catchy songs, and a brilliant marketing team, but at the same time he also acts as the perfect ideological object, reinforcing his position at the top. Not only does he constantly espouse the underlying ideological values of neoliberalism on a global scale, he fully believes in them too. Through his catchy melodies, soothing voice, and vague-enough-to-be-relatable lyrics, Drake provides an ideal distraction, a form of escapism, and a staunch defense of the status quo all rolled into one.
In this piece I will use three of Drake’s hits, picked rather arbitrarily, and expose the ideology behind them. Since Drake has no subversive material, these songs are by no means an exception. You can pick any of his songs at random and uncover the workings of ideology close to the surface.
Every good social order needs a mantra to stand behind and Drake provides this mantra in his song The Motto. It’s here that he gives us the infamous acronym YOLO, and in case you were looking for a simple phrase to live your life by, Drake makes it easy: “You only live once, that’s the motto.” So relax, enjoy yourself, and take pleasure in simple comforts as your life goes by and repeats itself “everyday, everyday, everyday.” Don’t question power, don’t criticize the social order, don’t think about things you can’t control; life is short and fleeting. Work, consume, and reproduce. Fulfill your desires.
There is nothing outside of desire because desire is the thing in itself. Drake is the ultimate object of our desire: an uninhibited, transcendent consumer. If you feel lost, the song is quite clear on what you should be focusing on: “clubbing hard, fucking women, there ain’t much to do.” In the face of ecological catastrophe, growing economic inequality, and a return to authoritarianism, there simply “ain’t much to do.”
Started from the Bottom
In Started from the Bottom, Drake espouses the neoliberal value of meritocracy. Starting from the bottom and becoming successful is, literally, the American Dream. To rise from the working class and live a life of luxury in the Land of Capital is the carrot on a stick for the working masses. This is a dream that most of the population has woken up from, but not Drake. Drake believes in you because he needs you to justify himself. There is a fetishization of struggle in Western culture and privileged people whose merit is called into question are quick to point to examples, even to the point of fabrication, of their tough beginnings.
The decadence and power of the rich must be justified over and over again in order to strengthen the social order. We are given the illusion that we can all be rich if we just try hard enough, some of us even believe it wholeheartedly. Drake is quick to lay out his struggles before us: living at his mom’s house, borrowing his uncle’s car, driving home from work in traffic. You know, the same “struggles” we all have to go through. Working class signifiers that we can relate to and that give Drake his apparent authenticity.
In the God’s Plan music video, Drake attempts to wash himself of the sins of decadence. He uses the video’s budget to hit the streets like a capitalist Mother Teresa and hand out wads of cash to poor people. He blesses downtrodden folks with charity, bringing on tears of joy in the viewer. Truly a master-work of capitalist PR.
However, once you wipe the tears from your eyes, you are able to see that, essentially, Drake used a music video budget to create a music video. The perfect propaganda film to show us the benevolence and generosity of capitalism. Not only does Drake preserve the social order, he buys for himself peace of mind at the same time. He can rest easy knowing the people love him.
The manifestation of ideology
If you still had any doubts, Drake’s ideology has recently come to a peak. His brand (OVO) has partnered up with the Royal Bank of Canada for some sort of creative entrepreneurial summit where the bank will try to appeal to the fantasies of young artists and then load them up with debt. Young people will come to the summit following the siren song of Drake’s lyrics about meritocracy, success, and decadence. They will dream big and the bank will be there with predatory capital to fuel their dreams, as art and aesthetics mingle with the status quo. Billboards promoting the partnership display bold ideological phrases such as “EARN IT” and “LIVE IT” in enormous font.
This partnership has much deeper implications beneath the surface, however, with the summit being just a small part of it. The partnership is an example of the merger between art and capital, a process that completely neuters art of its subversive elements. While art was once used to criticize the status quo, it is now its biggest champion. This merger of art and capital functions as ideology in itself because it implies that there is nothing left to question and criticize. Why have subversive art if we live in a free and democratic society? Why should art challenge the status quo if we have reached the end of history?
At this point, I want to clear the air of any conspiracies or paranoia. I don’t believe Drake and his team are part of some secret capitalist cabal that are trying to subvert political change through carefully crafted propaganda. They are simply reacting to market forces. When people come home from work, they, naturally, want to spend their leisure time kicking back and relaxing. As a result, the popular media we consume is curated to satisfy this need. Drake satisfies this need. Few people are spending their free time learning new languages, picking up new crafts, or furiously looking for meaning and truth to their lives. And who can blame them?
Who wants to do something stupid like look for the truth behind ideology? It is far more comfortable to watch Drake having fun and let his songs lull you into a euphoric state of ease. Looking at the messages behind ideology sucks and is, quite frankly, very depressing and exhausting. Some people will flat out refuse to do it, opting instead for blissful ignorance. But the catch is that the only way out is to expose ourselves to the pain. Because behind the false ideological values lies the hidden truth: the dictatorship of liberal democracy. Not only must you participate in the social order, you must do it willingly. You must choose to do it. Drake helps you make this “choice.”