Hello Radio Runts! It’s time to get moving today!
In the lead-up to VIEWS, I said the album was shaping up to be Drake’s Age of Ultron: a potentially underwhelming project victim to its own hype, but said hype wouldn’t hurt it up front. This wasn’t wrong, but it wasn’t super accurate, either. Instead, VIEWS is Drake’s Jurassic World: brushed off by critics, but devouring the competition whole. In addition to going double platinum in virtually a month and breaking Beyonce’s streaming record set a week before, VIEWS has also managed to stay at number 1 since release, dethroning Queen Bey and stiff-arming pop competition like Ariana Grande, Meghan Trainor, and Nick Jonas. Hell, this Radio Rant is going up weeks after it was supposed to, and it’s still number one.
This is all according to plan, I’m sure. Assuming we take him at face value, Drake’s whole career has been a conquest from the bottom to here. You look at his beginnings, and sure he’s got a hit with “Best I Ever Had” but he’s still treated as a pop novelty, written off by critics, and seen as Lil Wayne’s version of “fetch” in rap circles. For him, nothing illustrates “the bottom” like being ignored. From there, So Far Gone and Thank Me Later established presence, Take Care shored up artistic merit and critical clout, Nothing Was the Same proved he could refine (or, less charitably, reheat) his process, and the SoundCloud tracks and mixtapes of 2014 and 2015 aimed to certify his rap credentials. Piece by piece, song by song, he started building his sad-man empire.
But he never went number one on the pop charts. And it bothered him.
This might at first look surprising. Drake has, technically, gotten to number one before (twice!) as a featured artist with Rihanna, and he has enough chart accolades to qualify for his own category at your local trivia night. Why sweat an accomplishment so trite we’ve given it to Maroon 5 a bunch of times? But he can’t sweat it, not at the level he aspires to. To Drake, a number one song would show his across the board, indisputable, Greatness; that he proved himself on the biggest stage possible in front of the greatest number of people. It’s like LeBron winning a title in Cleveland: to a(n annoyingly vocal) contingent of NBA fans, it wouldn’t have mattered if LeBron dominated in stats for both teams and sprouted wings for a half court dunk, if Golden State still won the Finals, the argument against his greatness begins and ends with “No ring” So it was with Drake: for all the Hot 100 entries and Rap Song chart records he had, there was still no number one song.
All of this is prelude to the acceptably tepid “One Dance,” Drake’s first chart topper as lead artist. After SoundCloud freebie “Hotline Bling” failed to top the charts for the most Drake-as-Charlie-Brown reason possible, and VIEWS advance single “Summer Sixteen” tanked, he returned with a designer hit to dethrone, er, Desiigner. “One Dance” is a tolerable grab bag of a bunch of trends: lots of dancehall/tropical electronica, a no-name sample big enough to merit a feature credit, loose construction, and a lack of presence by a singer leaning hard on this beat doing all the work. It’s obviously succeeded, as “One Dance” is in its 7th week atop the charts as of writing this, but as a song, it barely registers.
Any enjoyment you’re going to get out of “One Dance” has to come from that beat. Afrobeat artist Wizkid, Sarz, and OVO’s very own 40 and Nineteen85 made a track whose entrancing qualities come from the interplay between two or three different drums and somewhat 90’s synths/electronic keys with occasional synth guitar over it. It’s not a massive banger, but sneakily tempts you to dance the way “Hotline Bling” (also by Nineteen85) did, by putting space between its various sounds and inviting you to fill in the gaps with your own little tilts and sways. Honestly, getting lost between that constant thump, the reedy drums, house keyboards, and sampled Kyla is the ideal version of “One Dance.”
The most troubling thing about the song is how negligible Drake is. That’s a rarity: even early on, he was the main attraction in his music. He was present on sing-y cuts like “Hold On, We’re Going Home” or rap-offs like “0 to 100/the Catch Up”–hell, he holds the line on most of VIEWS. But here, he’s lost at sea in affected patois, strangulated melodies, and forgettable lyrics, completely dependent on the beat’s heady momentum. There’s nothing for him to latch onto, and you can see him fumble about when he does the song live. Instead of sounding sensual or mysterious, he just sounds lost out there on the dancefloor.
In fact, he sounds so adrift that the lyrics of “One Dance” come and go without an impression. The crux of things is that Drake, as is his wont, is facing problems with [issue unspecified], and trying to achieve [unspecified], and that’s why he’s drunk, and needs one more dance with you. Oh, and you need to text him back as soon as he texts you because he doesn’t want to use y’all’s limited time together fighting, and Drake totally seems like the type of guy who’d use “You didn’t text me earlier” to pick a fight (sidenote: I feel like Drake is a super-fast text responder with really wordy texts and generous emoji use. He’s probably even a frequent double-texter). But it’s hard to call any of this to mind unless you’ve got the “One Dance” lyric sheet in front of you. Think of it as Drake’s version of “Shut Up and Dance.”
It’s hard to tell where “One Dance” lands. That beat is a trend-chasing lowest common denominator, but it’s also pretty effective at its job, and the song has a broad appeal. At the same time, it sounds incredibly minor because of that broad appeal: even for pop music, “One Dance” is a mile wide and an inch deep. It’s too slight to properly hate on, but also too slight to lay on too much praise. Drake finally got his lead artist number one, and he did it with a song that’s not as good as “Hotline Bling,” “Jumpman,” “Best I Ever Had,” “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” “Headlines,” “Know Yourself,” “Forever,” “Find Your Love,” “Take Care,” “Too Much,” or damn near most of his singles (it is, at least, better than “The Motto”). I don’t know, maybe I’m overthinking it. It’s just a pop song.