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Drake's 'Hotline Bling' memes bring hip-hop and gaming fans together

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Two reporters talk Drake, memes and gaming culture at-large.

Like most of Twitter, a few Polygon staffers became obsessed with the various "Hotline Bling" memes making the rounds online. To talk about the effect the memes had on gaming and internet culture as a whole, reporters Allegra Frank and Julia Alexander sat down to discuss what made the video the sensation it is.

Allegra: So Drake's latest single — "Hotline Bling" — came out in...September? But its music video just premiered a few weeks back, right? Julia, you're our resident Drake expert, so maybe you can talk a bit about the release history there?

Julia: October's a really important month for Drake. It's not only his birthday month, but it's also the name of his label, October's Very Own (more notably known as OVO). When Drake released "Hotline Bling," a one-off single back in July, there were two questions people had: 1. Did this signal Drake was closer to releasing his anticipated Views From the 6 and 2. When was the video going to drop?

It's rare for a music video to change how one feels about a song

Rumors started trickling in that Drake was going to hold off until after he released What A Time To Be Alive, the mixtape he collaborated on with Future. Finally, on October 4, Drake announced the music video via Instagram the same way he announced the mixtape with Future. The video was finally released on Oct. 19, and now here we are.

Allegra: Clearly, I'm massively behind when it comes to music — it came out in July? Womp. Well, I first heard it not too long ago, anyway, but the video has certainly reinforced my affection for it. It's such a weird little clip, right? Serving primarily as a showcase of Drake's ... questionable dance moves, it has this really striking aesthetic that combines the stark backdrop — Drake on this futuristic-yet-barren set — with a colorful light show and, later on, some dancer companions.

When I first watched it, I was immediately struck by, well, the dancing for sure — but also the look of it. I mean, it's completely without the bombast that Drake himself has exhibited in prior videos, or that someone like Kanye [West] would likely display in his latest single's clip. There's something about that, that dropping of pretense, that I find really attractive. What did you make of it?

drake

Julia: Drake's fondue party-inspired dance moves and turtleneck aside, I love the video. Music videos should be about promoting the song while giving an audience something to look at instead of hiding the song in a mini-movie or with outlandish visuals. This was directed by Director-X, who also hails from Toronto, and who's directed music videos for a variety of artists, including hip-hop's current elite — Jay Z, Kanye and Nicki Minaj.

He's not afraid to play with colors and explore the aesthetic of background, as you can see with the way he uses light and space to frame Drake. He's done it before, most notably with Minaj's "Your Love" video, and I think for a song as basic as "Hotline Bling," which is essentially just sped up elevator music and Drizzy's voice laced over top, it's important that the video can help spruce up the overall feel. It's rare for a music video to change how one feels about a song, but this is a perfect example.

Allegra: I totally agree with your last sentiment there — the video definitely has a major influence on my appreciation for the song itself. That's interesting that you call it basic, and I am inclined to agree, but I think that simplicity might be the point? Drake's voice is rarely modulated, any emotion is invisible to the listener, but to me that strikes as a conscious artistic decision, a suggestion of a distancing from the relationship in the song, of an emotional deadness.

The video encourages this pop culture collision

But I think what's most exciting about the video/song combo is how it affords the person engaging with it the chance to totally immerse themselves in it, not for its own sake but as some kind of impressionable text. This is exhibited by that collection of memes that sprung up: People have taken to Vine to create little mash-ups of Drake dancing to various songs, or with different objects.

Most interestingly to me, as someone who writes and thinks about games for a living, is the intersection of this pop culture object with another — that is, pop music/hip-hop and games. Some of the best memes I've seen have taken Drake inside of Wii games, or to the world of Metal Gear Solid.

As a representative of the entertainment side of Polygon, what do you make of the two worlds colliding because of this video? Do you think, as I do, that the video makes itself available for this? There are tons of artistic choices in the video itself aside from the most base level amusement of it that I find encourage this collision, but I'm interested in your perspective as someone who plays games but is more of a movies/TV/music person.

Julia: It's funny you ask that because what I think this video perfectly represents is the height of remix culture at the height of the internet age. It's never been easier to add your own brand of comedy or your own personal touch to something and it's never been easier to share it with the world. And while remixing is not new to music, the idea of taking a video and morphing it in some way for the single purpose of getting retweeted or circulated on Vine is an ideology that has only existed over the past couple of years.

What I think this video really represents is what audiences are going to do with every other video going forward. This is the starting point. Even Adele's most recent video was remixed a bunch of times — using Lionel Richie clips or other popular Vines — and then shared out on social media.

What's interesting to me is that we've now made these videos interactive, we've made entertainment interactive, when it wasn't designed to be, and I'd be interested to know how that will affect future directorial decisions and concepts for music videos going forward.

We've already seen it start to happen with short films. Like last night, when a director Periscoped the first ever live horror movie that relied entirely on engagement and interaction with people online via Twitter.

Allegra: Right, I definitely agree about this video coming at the right time and representing the grandiosity of remix culture at the moment. Making entertainment interactive in this way to me almost confirms that this sort of thing NEEDS to intersect with gaming, the interactive entertainment medium. That was once the purview of video games — some of them are literally movies that you can play! Gaming is about exercising control over a medium that was previously only yours to engage with in one direction.

So with a video like this that practically invites you to do something with it — c'mon, Drake cannot be serious with those dance moves — and to take it and apply the paint of entertainment's biggest interactive component with the burgeoning and similarly huge social media landscape makes so much sense to me.

And it's even more interesting because I don't know that all of the people making these videos are even necessarily gamers — like, take the Wii Sports meme, which might be the most iconic. That guy is more known as a Vine star and a Tumblr guy, right? So what do you think of that, that this meme is in some sense revealing that gamers and hip-hop fans might be more closely aligned and have more in common than one might have previously thought? I mean, does Drake play games?

Creators are the audience and the audience are becoming creators

Julia: And there's an obvious audience for it. The best memes that came out of the "Hotline Bling" video were all gaming-related. The most popular was Wii Sports Tennis, but like you mentioned, the Metal Gear Solid video was great and even the most recent one you shared with me of Drake dancing to the Wii menu music was hilarious. That's just it. It used to be that there was two distinct groups. There used to be the audience and the creators. They were extremely separate. Now, in the age of YouTube and Vine and Snapchat, that's changed. Creators are the audience and the audience are becoming creators. We're seeing a new-found freedom to explore creativity that wouldn't be possible without the internet and new apps.

And I mean, it's not news that gaming has become mainstream. In the same way hip-hop has. If you look at Drake's audience at a concert, it's a beautiful mix of so many different kinds of people. Hip-hop-heads, to be sure, but there's a whole new audience of people who may not have typically been into hip-hop but are discovering it now.

And again, I think that's because we're living at this intersection of culture. Everything is available in one place. We can explore and discover and that's changing how we access different types of media. We're all tiny bits of different media cultures instead of just one. For example, we're all a little bit of a gamer, a little into hip-hop, a little into indie rock, a little into specific styles of comedy, and now we can share that with like-minded people.

Allegra: I love your last point — this really isn't anything new, not in the way that it feels like it is. While it might be a questionable practice to define ourselves based upon our cultural interests, people have always been multifaceted in that way. Madden NFL titles sell super well because, contrary to some outdated stereotypes, gamers are often sports fans, too.

People have always been multifacted

I'm a big fan of rhythm games because I love the music, not just the gameplay — think about how important the setlists of Rock Band and Guitar Hero are to gamers, not because we think of how fun those songs will be to play necessarily (although that matters), but because we have personal favorites we want to see represented. Now that it's much easier for the audience to create its own content, we are seeing the multiplicity of our interests broadly represented in things as dumb as Drake dancing memes.

So last and biggest question: We have both talked about our favorites, but if you had to pick the number one defining Drake dancing meme, which would you pick? My vote is for the Wii Sports one, because it was the original and nothing matches how novel and hilarious it is. But I am a really big fan of that Wii background music one, too. Your pick?

Julia: Exactly. The idea that you could only belong to one collective subculture (i.e, gaming, hip-hop, etc.) is dying off as those various subcultures begin to merge. Pop culture is just culture and this is a perfect example. Ten years ago, this wouldn't have been covered to the extent it is now because the audience simply wouldn't have existed for it. Now, however, the audience is everyone and its relevant to quite a few people's interests.

But as for my favorite? I think it's still the Star Trek one. It's got the nailed down unimpressed, almost disgusted look from Spock and Jim (Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine) as Drake dances in the cell, having the time of his life. It's so stupid, and it's mashed together so well, that it still manages to crack me up now. Even after watching it a hundred times.

Allegra: Ah, yeah, that one's great, too! Okay, one more: What makes for a good mash-up?

Julia: In my opinion, it's when the remix material works with the source material instead of trying to replace it. Like the Wii Tennis one works because it goes along with Drake's movements instead of trying to make Drake's movements go along with the new footage. Same with the Star Trek video. Spock and Jim are reacting to Drake, but the video is still focused on Drake and Drake's dance moves. It's respectful, not overbearing.

Allegra: Respectful is key. I think a good remix comes from a creator who has a genuine love for the content being combined. There’s no doubt in my mind that the person who made the Wii Sports Tennis mash-up really likes "Hotline Bling" and probably put a ton of hours into Wii Sports. Respect matters, but love is what strikes me as most important.