Drake, Post Malone and the art of universal songwriting

‘She said, “Do you love me?” I tell her, “Only partly”
I only love my bed and my momma, I’m sorry’

– Drake, “God’s Plan”

 

After breaking every streaming service record under the sun time and time again with each subsequent release, I’m pretty sure Drake loves a lot more things than just his bed and momma. Still, the fact that one of the biggest artists in the world claiming to have the same sentiments as us was refreshing. Even if it didn’t, the lyrics still made for a dope Instagram caption. And so illustrates his bread and butter in today’s overly-simplistic and blisteringly quick music scene.

Relevancy is key as social media has rooted itself in the ever-evolving publicity of music artists. Every day hundreds upon thousands of songs are released into the wild on streaming services, so imagine the staying power needed to stand out amongst everyone for not only a day but for the following years to come as these artists rush to reinvent themselves.

Though Drake hasn’t exactly ‘reinvented’ himself, he has found an effective way to feel fresh through each of his records. Stylistically, they are very similar to each other. The moody yet boastful rap/sung vocals have been a staple of his music since So Far Gone. Instead, his weapon lies in his heartfelt and personal but nevertheless all-encompassing lyrics. From the most unfeeling of women to the least emotionally stable of men, Drake has made a name for himself in writing relatable bite-sized quotables geared towards people from all walks of life.

 

‘I know a girl that saves pictures from places she’s flown
To post later and make it look like she still on the go’

– Drake, “Emotionless”

 

Anyone who’s been on Instagram for the past 5 years can attest that this line is painfully true. A universally known fact that is often unspoken of due to the mutual civility between users. But hearing Drake call these people out on such a simple yet ultimately embarrassing act of vanity just engages listeners in a way that is different from, say, lines about him admitting that he has a kid. On his latest release – Scorpion, the news cycle went overdrive as the media clambered to report on ‘Drake’s hidden son’, but after less a day, the internet dropped his child and focused on what they really came for – the lyrics. And sure enough, the internet embraced it with the trending term ‘when Drake said’.

 

 

Most Drake songs don’t have any overarching narrative to them. They often feel detached but still memorable as he crafts songs made specifically for the listener than ones that voice out the thoughts of the man behind the facade of Drake the celebrity. Even at his most intimate, his lyrics can still feel like a publicity stunt for fans to indulge in the melodrama that he often surrounds himself in.

Again on “Emotionless”, he confesses ‘I wasn’t hiding my kid from the world, I was hiding my world from the kid’. It’s a powerful line that exemplifies the love of a father that would protect the innocence of his child at all costs. Yet the context surrounding the entire issue instead turns it into a defensive counter to Pusha T’s scathing deconstruction of Drake’s painstakingly crafted public persona. The line feels disingenuous but at the same time strangely uplifting as he wears his defeat on his sleeve and clues his fans in on his personal life and decisions.

And that’s the beauty of Drake. With his style of songwriting, he doesn’t require listeners to consume every word he’s saying, rather just to grab on to a select few bars and makes it accessible for them to join the narrative. “Emotionless” clocks in at 5 minutes where he laments about some women in his life in the first half before addressing his child in the second. It is a strange trajectory to structure a song to, but it works for an artist of his caliber because he provides something for everyone. Satiating the hunger of his ardent fans that yearned for gossip while also satisfying the needs of his casual fans.

 

 

In the footsteps of his success, many tried to follow suit but only a few could really emulate what Drake did. Perhaps the artist that has come closest would be Post Malone. Drake’s influence is heavily felt on many of his more vulnerable songs, take “I Fall Apart” for example. He moans about an ex that wronged him and about how bitter he feels about it. A mood that many of his listeners would be familiar with. So attempting to take a page out of the Drake handbook, he pens down vague lyrics that unfortunately lack in personality in the hopes of appearing relatable to any one of his listeners (but still make for great Instagram captions).

 

‘She told me that I’m not enough (yeah)
And she left me with a broken heart (yeah)
She fooled me twice and it’s all my fault (yeah)
She cut too deep, now she left me scarred (yeah)’

– Post Malone, “I Fall Apart”

 

Though both artists employ similar techniques, Post Malone lacks the heart that Drake’s writing can provide (but unlike Drake, his performance can really elevate a song). Despite being seemingly impersonal, the many subtleties of Drake’s lyrics hint at a bitter, reclusive man that is unable to face his feelings. Whereas Post Malone’s can come off as, ironically, impersonal.

This isn’t to say Post Malone is a bad songwriter but the difference between having a celebrity admit to having similar but insignificant yet surprisingly resonant experiences as you, and one that attempts to relate with you on a personal level with their own experiences are notably distinguishable. Both cases aren’t better than the other, but it highlights the skills needed to make this type of songwriting, which many would call shallow, commercially and critically viable.

Now, as both artists are set to hold the top 2 highest album debuts of 2018, it’s pretty solid proof that bite-sized, universal songwriting is here to stay and confirmation that we are just suckers for recognition from our favourite artists.

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