By Sennah Yee
Inside the next [James Turrell] installation, a LACMA guide named Jason says something like, "If you look long enough, you'll notice that your sense of depth begins to . . . ," but Drake is busy having his assistant snap pictures of him. In one shot, Drake throws up his arms in a crucifix pose; he gazes off morosely in another.
Drake didn’t need a tour guide to tell him that artist James Turrell likes fucking with depth and space in his light installations. All Drake needed was an instagram pic or three of himself. Because if you aren’t somewhere on instagram, were you ever really there?
Fast forward to a year and a bit later, and Drake’s got even better proof that he was at that Turrell exhibit, which is a music video. Inspired by, ripping off, paying homage to, fucking with—it doesn’t matter how you see it, what matters is what you’re looking at. Turrell says in an artist statement that “my work has no object, no image and no focus. With no object, no image and no focus, what are you looking at? You are looking at you looking.”
In Hotline Bling, Drake and Director X grant us these three things so we know exactly what we’re looking at. Object: water cooler. Image: sultry silhouettes. Focus: Drake dancing in Canadian-climate-appropriate gear. Somehow we still have no idea what’s going on. Where do those stairs go? What would my silhouette look like? Where can I get that turtleneck?
He’s dressed more like he’s going out less, sleeping on his dance coach’s butt like it’s a pillow, making faces I thought only I made when I do karaoke. Or yawn. At his most vulnerable, Drake has come out on top and fucked with everyone. Drenched in shifting neons, he’s fucked with Turrell. Dancing like the drunkest dad at the party, he’s fucked with us. And he knew all along we were going to gif him, meme him, fuck with him right back (Turrell also responded with a bunch of Drake references. Who’s whose fanboy?!). This kind of fuckery is fresh, fun, and not to mention so necessary for a song with such desperate, bitter lyrics.
When the song was first released in the summer, I twisted it into something that resonated with me. I didn’t feel for Drake losing his good girl; I felt for the freed bad woman he was crooning about. I wanted to clink champagne glasses with her and ask her to spill her secrets to living well. Thought of that subsequent and ongoing urge to exhibit your life as if it were perpetually at its very best, via carefully filtered A.M.-hour photos. Object: pricey drinks. Image: smiling, surrounded. Focus: your neck, some thigh.
Because again, were you ever really anywhere or ever really happy, if it isn’t online? How else will your ex know how well you’re doing? Though I suppose they can always call you on your cellular device. But make sure you’re so busy that they’ll just go to voicemail (Erykah Badu’s electric cover adds an interlude: “If you're calling to beg for some shit in general, press 4. If you're calling to beg for the shit but this is that pre-call before the actual begging, press 5. If you've already made the pre-call and this is the actual call to beg, press 6...”). Hotline Bling speaks not to being the one left behind, but to that quiet fantasy of leaving someone to become someone else. A better you, for yourself... okay fine, low key for everyone else too.
On the other end of the phone, there’s having the guts to beg, the confidence to be ugly and weak and admit that you’ve been hurt. Drake seems to feel like women are always changing on him-- inThe Motion, he lamented “try being with somebody that wanna be somebody else”. Two years later, Guru Drake advises, “You should just be yourself / right now you’re someone else". This is fine in small doses, but what if she likes being someone else? Let her change, like Turrell’s lightscapes that you love fucking with.
There’s something about that exhale of letting someone go. Something selfless about accepting that someone is getting better and better, precisely because you are no longer there. I’ve heard dancing it out helps.