Drake made it cool to be emotional in a genre where “money, cash, hoes” has been the holy prayer. But his whole Nice Guy schtick can be kind of annoying and creepy. Has he finally ditched that persona on his new mixtape? By Kristen Cochrane.
Outside of his incredible musical influence, Drake is a really confusing person to think about in terms of the relationship between his lyrics and gender. Drake’s hotly anticipated new mixtape, “Views,” definitely showcases some sexist classism. Yet, it also seems to meaningfully respond to criticism about being a bitter, Nice Guy bro.
In Meaghan Garvey’s viral 2015 piece in Pitchfork, “I’m Breaking Up with Drake,” Garvey pointed out that Drake is kinda whiny—in other words, he often embodies the “Nice Guy” archetype—which has been argued to be not conducive to allyship of women. (An archetype Amy Schumer also made fun of in her infamous “M’Lady” sketch.)
Garvey wrote, “That’s the thing about charged-up ‘nice guys,’ though: their manipulative strategy is surprisingly effective, because you don’t want to see it coming. … I’ve fallen for enough scheming, overcompensating nerds who’ve used hoarded knowledge and projected empathy to distract from their terrible personalities to say this with authority.”
Sometimes, it’s so easy to love Drake—for instance, when listening to his 2011 track “Proud of You,” in which he’s applauding the woman who works her ass off, the woman who also didn’t sell out and go to an elite, white university. “I want a woman with a future and a past,” he says in “Proud of You.” He’s saying that he wants a woman who has her own things going on, but also, it doesn’t matter if she’s had premarital sex, which is a nice ode to dismantling the Madonna-Whore Complex (a theory that has been argued to still affect people in our current cultural moment, where women are either pure, “virgins”—or at least give off that performance—or “whores” who are not relationship or marriage material, but strictly relegated to the Hookup Zone. That’s why it’s concerning when Drake fetishizes the Good Girl trope, especially when most of us would not be considered “good girls,” especially if you have pre-marital sex and drink).
Another thing: Drake loves his mom SO MUCH—he’s always posting about it. This can add to the Nice Guy trope in good ways and in bad ways—he’s showing the importance of strong, independent women and their support of men they care about. But it can also be argued to add to the disingenuous Nice Guy performance:
One of the many pictures and shoutouts that Drake throws out to his mom.
Drawing from Views, here are some examples of Drake’s lyrical proclamations of respectful emotional and sexual consent, and then some examples of where the lyrics are not totally cool. In the interest of not writing a novel on it, we’ve kept it to five tracks.
1. Hotline Bling (Track Twenty)
In “Hotline Bling,” a track that dropped last October (but that is featured on Views), Drake lyrically grumbles about a good-girl-gone-bad he once knew—that is, if you think “bad” means wearing less clothes and going out to The Club.
“Got a reputation for yourself now” he sings in the catchy verse. But like, doesn’t everyone have a reputation, even the people who don’t leave their house? In this song, Drake seems like he goes beta-bro whining—like, “woe is me, feel sad for me, because you’re going whoring around and I’m a Good Guy, alright?” Most women have experienced a guy like that. Girls do this too, sure, but it’s been argued by social critics and psychologists alike that the Nice Guy imposing his Madonna-Whore Complex on women disproportionately happens to women by men. Maybe Drake can re-release it as a sex-positive feminist anthem? (Lol).
2. “One Dance” (Track Twelve).
This will probably be one of the songs of the summer, and good, because it is a banger and Drake is the Cool Consenting Patient Lover in this song. Drake sings, “I need to know where do you wanna go/Cause if you’re down, I’ll take it slow.”
Verses from it remind me of a recent conversation I had with my friend on BDSM — “it’s all about downloading the other person,” my friend said, which means, BDSM is all about learning what the person wants and what they’re comfortable with. This is an especially strong example of where Drake throws away his “Nice Guy” mask, while being sex-positive and sexually experimental, which is something we all need more of.
3. “Controlla” (Track Eleven).
In “Controlla” Drake sings, “I do it how you say you want it” and “She said we do it rough tonight not smoothly/Mi love how you unruly.”
OK, now here’s my interpretation of those lines: “Girl, we do what you want to do in the boudoir because our white supremacist puritanical heteropatriarchy has dictated that only men get to call the shots in bed, so if you want it vanilla tonight? We’re doing it vanilla. But if you want it rough, yeah girl, I’m yours.”
Super cute and romantic, right? Maybe Drake has been reading all of the thinkpieces about his songs and thought, “damn, my lyrics have NOT been the most lit in the past, and now that I’m lowkey reading Matt McGorry’s social media posts and Bell Hooks’ corpus of literature, I’m going to change it up on Views.” Maybe?
4. “Keep the Family Close” (Track One).
This is going to sound rich coming from someone who writes about gender and sexuality so much, but a lot of problematic things don’t annoy me that much anymore because I’m just so used to them. But this song actually makes me mad. The musical intro is SO good, but then come the sexist, classist verses, which furtively fall into the Nice Guy complex. Nice Guys come in all varieties, and so do Nice Girls, which definitely exist too. One breed of Nice Guy/ Girl are the kind who discreetly don’t date people who come from low-income areas, or people of different social classes and races from themselves.
“You’re so predictable, I hate people like you
Kennedy Road taught me not to trust people like you
How you supposed to figure what I’m going through
You can’t even figure out what’s going on with you”
That Kennedy Road reference is disturbing. If you’re reading this and don’t know where Kennedy Road is, it’s a road in Scarborough, a place in Toronto that’s been plagued with stereotypes. It is seen as having a high crime rate and is generally seen as undesirable. On the well-known website blogTO, Jerrold Litwinenko wrote that he’s heard Scarborough referred to as Scarberia, Scarlem, and Scareborough, which he claims are “completely derogatory nicknames that are clearly products of racial and socioeconomic stereotypes.” And now, Drake is reinforcing this refrain.
In short, it’s disrespectful to say or imply that women (and other genders or nongendered people) are less valuable because they are from a marginalized area, duh!
5. “Fire & Desire” (Track Eighteen).
I’m going to conceive and birth my children to this song. Drake is completely deferential here. He’s like: “Tell me should I cut these other girls right out of my life?/Cause we never decided?/Tell me how you feel inside.”
Dude, can Drake lead some consciousness-raising classes for men on this one? Damn! This is fire (like the title). The title itself also sounds like one of those old 80s songs where the men were sentimental, had mullets, and from the way they sang, they really felt bad for what they had done to women. Instead of just metaphorically weeping, Drake says “You a real ass woman and I like it/I don’t wanna fight it.” The only problem is that we need more clarification on what it means to be a “real ass woman,” but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.
But please, can we chill out with the sexist classism?
Drake, we all make confusing steps in this fervent era of identity politics, but your dedication to the emotional and sexual reparations that women deserve is mostly on point. We need you as our ally Drake, because you’ve made it cool to be emotional in a genre where “money, cash, hoes” has been the holy prayer. But we need those emotions to also not fetishize the impossible-to-achieve archetype of Good Girls.
Kristen Cochrane is a writer and academic in Ontario, Canada, who’s researching some very interesting things, like queer Latin American cinema, and the fetishization of the female tennis body. Read her most recent essay for Slutever, “IS OUR GOD JAMES FRANCO A QUEER HETEROSEXUAL OR A QUEER TOURIST?” HERE :)