Drake has just accomplished something that no other musical act has ever done – he is now the first artist ever to release three songs in the top three spots of the Billboard Hot 100. “What’s Next” is #1, followed by “Wants and Needs” ft Lil Baby in the #2 position, and then “Lemon Pepper Freestyle” ft Rick Ross is #3, all of them off his new EP Scary Hours 2.
To celebrate, Drake did was Drake does …which is celebrate. It’s a major accomplishment, and it’s not like Drake isn’t already one of music’s most powerful forces. What’s interesting to me, though, is the timing. Because of course Drake’s songs were charting during Grammy weekend, “music’s biggest night”, and there’s been a lot of conversation about just how representative the Grammys really are.
This is not to say that only #1 hits should have a place at the Grammys. The Grammys definitely have a responsibility to amplify new artists, artists and music who may not be monster jams. What Drake’s achievement exposes, though, is the kind of music that the Recording Academy considers “rewardable” and popular. Drake has called out the Grammys in the past. In 2017, he was on tour so couldn’t go to the Grammys but he said that he wouldn’t have wanted to be there anyway because…
"I’m a Black artist, I’m apparently a rapper, even though 'Hotline Bling' is not a rap song. The only category that they can manage to fit me in is in a rap category, maybe because I’ve rapped in the past or because I’m Black."
He’s right. “Hotline Bling” is pop. It’s pure pop. It was one of the biggest tracks that year, and it’s still a song that is instantly recognisable – we ALL know the chorus to “Hotline Bling”.
Drake did attend the Grammys in 2019 though, which is the year the Grammys cut off his acceptance speech when he won Best Rap Song for “God’s Plan” and that was the first point he made when he got on stage:
“Man, um. It’s like the first time in Grammy’s history where I actually am who I thought I was for a second, so I like that, that’s really nice.”
So basically he was shading the Recording Academy because yes, “God’s Plan” is a rap song, so he had no issue with its category – but clearly, for the Recording Academy, Black artists can only make rap music and not pop music, whereas other artists (the white ones) can go from country to pop to indie, and be rewarded. And he wasn’t done. He went on to pretty much challenge what the Grammys actually mean and that’s when they silenced his mic.
This year, after the nominations were announced and The Weeknd, whose album After Hours was indisputably one of the most dominant albums of 2020, was shut out, Drake trashed the Grammys on social media, posting:
“I think we should stop allowing ourselves to be shocked every year by the disconnect between impactful music and these awards and just accept that what once was the highest form of recognition may no longer matter to the artists that exist now and the ones who come after.”
Pretty sure you all know The Weeknd’s feelings on this. And Beyoncé hasn’t quite articulated her views on the Grammys as bluntly but I think it was clear in her actions this weekend – she was the most nominated artist, she did not perform, she did not thank the Academy, and she didn’t even bother to tell them if she was showing up and how long she’d be staying.
Now Drake’s owning the top three spots on the Hot 100 as the Grammys, like they have with Beyoncé, have never come close to representing through their recognition, what a huge figure he is in the industry. This disconnect is only going to become more and more pronounced over time as cultural currency appreciates while the Grammys’ currency depreciates. There was a time when Drake may have actually cared a lot about Grammys – and could have enhanced their value. Now though? When he’s branding his name into history books like this, with three songs debuting in the top three spots on the Hot 100, what more can the Grammys possibly do for Drake?