Drake’s “Hotling Bling”: what does it all mean?

By MOLLY KIEFER

“You can’t choreograph that, that’s just a man dancing,” said Canadian music video director Julien Christian Lutz – better known as Director X, or simply X – in a recent interview with Rolling Stone.

The interview centered on Director X’s involvement in Drake’s newest music video for his hit summer single “Hotline Bling,” which debuted on Oct. 19 via Apple Music. The video opens with several pans over the employees of a spotless phone sex operating center, before cutting to Drake dancing alone in a minimalistic set made of big white boxes lit in a variety of hues. Drake and a few of the girls also take turns sitting on some incredibly clean stairs.

The sleek sets of “Hotline Bling” bear a striking similarity to the light pieces created by veteran installation artist James Turrell, although both Director X and Turrell have denied any relationship between the artist and the video. In an interview with VICE’s music publication, Noisey, Director X claimed that any similarities to Turrell’s work were “not conscious,” attributing his inspiration for “Hotline Bling” instead to Sean Paul’s 2002 “Gimme the Light” video, which X also directed. Turrell released a similar statement in response to the media and fan speculation. “While I am truly flattered to learn that Drake fucks with me,” the 72-year-old installation artist wrote, “I nevertheless wish to make clear that neither I nor any of my woes was involved in any way in the making of the ‘Hotline Bling’ video.”

While the video is essentially set-driven, the force behind the clip’s popularity is undisputedly Drake’s dance moves, which have taken the internet by storm since the video hit YouTube a week after its original release. Drake’s intensely meme-able performance opened the floodgates to a wave of gifs and parodies, propelling the original video to almost 40 million views in less than two weeks.

Some of the most popular gifs include digitally manipulated clips from Drake’s solo dance portions of the video, in which he flails around endearingly with a tennis racket or light saber. There’s even a “Holiday Bling” Christmas sweater available online, which features a knit graphic of Drake dancing, accompanied by a cellphone and some snowflakes.

According to X, while Drake handed him the reins for both the set design and video concept, when it came to the choreography, what audiences are receiving is 100% authentic Drake. The dance moves consist mostly of Drake stepping around rhythmically and doing vaguely interpretive gestures with his arms, wearing what can only be described as Pacific Northwest dad clothes. He does all of this with the unabashed sincerity of your freshman year hallmate who’s gotten drunk for the first time off 2.5 cans of PBR and now ‘just wants to dance.’

The palpable unselfconsciousness of Drake’s average-guy dancing is at the heart of what we love about “Hotline Bling.” We’re bombarded with music videos featuring professionally trained dancers, coached by professionally trained choreographers, moving their bodies in ways that are both impressive and unattainable. The standards of beauty and expertise in these videos are completely unrealistic to the lives of their viewers.

“Hotline Bling” makes us realize that watching an airbrushed celebrity with a perfect hip-to-waist ratio or a $10,000 suit break it down, still pales in comparison to watching Drake swim his way through a gigantic cable-knit turtleneck sweater, doing his darndest to make giving the “hang loose” sign while windmilling his arms around his head look stylish.

The 2000’s have been plagued with too-cool-to-dance-syndrome, especially here in Portland. We’ve all seen the hordes of young people standing around at perfectly danceable shows and parties, hands in pockets, head-bobbing, paralyzed by their own unwillingness to take a risk.

We live in a culture that tells us if you aren’t 100% confident you should stay quiet, stay home; sip beer in the back, don’t dance. “Hotline Bling” reminds us that giving ourselves a break and having a little fun isn’t only acceptable, it’s admirable, that deep down we’re still all just that 18 year-old who can’t hold their liquor and wants to ‘get crazy’ to some Ke$ha or Kanye – and Drake is right there with us.

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