Drake, Quarantined In Style, Makes Social Isolation A Public Spectacle
Written by Our Friends At NPR Music on April 13, 2020
Nothing in the world is more serious right now than social distancing. Yet musicians and other artists serve the collective psyche by engaging serious subjects with a playful imagination, and Drake, the master of inserting himself into music’s Web-driven conversations, seizes that opportunity with his new video for “Toosie Slide.” The song is a seductive confection engineered to cause an Internet stir — which it did after the Atlanta dancer for which it’s named (Toosie, i.e. @TheRealYvngQuan) teased it on March 29. Toosie’s short clip set off a dance challenge that continues to blaze across TikTok, where teens and others are offering variations on the Cupid Shuffle-like dance. The video, which accompanied the entire song’s release last night, shows the hip-hop superstar pivoting away from a simple social media challenge to engage with the current moment in typical Drake fashion — it’s obvious, artful and, despite its maker’s determination to keep things light, sneakily profound.
Directed by longtime Drake associate Theo Skudra, the video pans through Drake’s Toronto home, following the rapper-singer as he opulently self-isolates. He wanders through mostly empty rooms, occasionally demonstrating the song’s titular footwork with the goofy charm of a dad feeling casual at a party. (Drake also released the first official portraits of Adonis, the toddler son he has mostly sequestered in privacy, this week. The photos were taken by the cutting-edge fine artist Catherine Opie.) There is no party, needless to say: Drake strolls his manse alone, clad in the full face mask, gloves and camo jacket of someone trying to dodge whatever’s in the air.
His journey reenacts the past month’s all-too-common transition from public to private. He starts out in an anteroom where his many awards sit in trophy cases; through the door, a painting of China’s Chairman Mao by Andy Warhol, the art world’s most legendary skewed socialite, hangs on the wall. Drake passes by a table covered with the kinds of basketball jerseys he wears courtside for the cameras, including one emblazoned with the name “Bryant” — recalling the now-distant moment when Kobe Bryant’s death was the tragedy that held the headlines. In a foyer, he passes two sculptures by rap’s favorite surrealist and his occasional collaborator, Takashi Murakami. (No collaborations now, at least not in person.) He passes by a mysterious figure sprawled on one of his many sectional couches, also in protective gear: even in quarantine, apparently, a baller needs a right-hand man. Drake hops up onto the biggest kitchen island this side of the pandemic’s Instagram star Ina Garten and the camera pans toward the quarter-mile-long dining room table, where a Nike box and some markers sit alongside a glass of white wine. Is Drake crafting? It would suit the mood.
Our convivial ghost continues his solo turn through darkened rooms where portraits of lost and distanced heroes – Prince, Snoop Dogg – hang on the wall. His voice feels even more muted than usual as he spins out an internal monologue, addressing a woman he’d like to seduce, but really just dreaming to pass the time. His dancing is diffident. Everything inside points to an outside that’s out of reach. He dances through a door to the pool area, which, with its neon lighting and cabana-like décor seems like a public place, not a private one. (“Speaking of casinos does Drake live in one?” the writer Molly Lambert asked on Twitter.) Finally he ends up in total darkness, only his white sneakers visible against the eerily black Toronto sky. Then, fireworks: the epitome of a distanced spectacle, dazzling beauty originating miles from those who view it. The camera pans back to show the entirety of Drake’s building, looking like the kind of castle where a king hides from the revolution outside.
The song “Toosie Slide” is a bit of trivial fun that will probably become an inescapable hit on the strength of its marketing and its catchy chorus. The video is an instant artifact, a dream version of our world’s collective nightmare. Viewers may gaze in envy at Drake’s privilege, the luxury of space. But the boredom that leads to unboxing old mementos, the pensive moments in unlit rooms, the move outside for fresh air that only offers another kind of enclosure? Most can relate. Again, Drake has connected the trivial surface of our time to its lonely core, and found the mainstream.