Taylor Swift and Drake have gotten close, and they want us to know about it.
They want us to know that they work out to each other’s music. They want us to know that they attend each other’s birthday parties. They even want us to know — unofficially — that they’re probably definitely working together on Taylor’s edgy new sound.
Which, a mere three years ago, would’ve seemed weird. Back in 2013, Taylor was still country-pop at her core, just starting to take risks like the dubstep sprinkles atop “I Knew You Were Trouble” (which symbolized her intention to break from country altogether). Meanwhile, Aubrey Graham had yet to be baptized the 6ix God, but was well on his way there thanks to the success of pop-rap tracks like “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” They were two of the biggest stars in the world, making two totally different kinds of music. But in 2016, nothing about the Taylor-Drake connection seems groundbreaking. In fact, it makes sense for the two artists to come together and morph into identical business models. And not just because they’re both monsters in their respective industries, but because they’re actually, deep down ... the same person.
Regardless of your feelings for Drizzy or Tay, it’s only fair to acknowledge that they’re commercially head and shoulders above the vast majority of their peers. While it’s easy to argue for either of them being eclipsed in terms of creativity and artistic merit, both Drake and Taylor have established themselves as undeniable pop kingpins. They’re in a league of their own, standing alone, together.
But that’s not all. The evolution from successful rapper and super-popular country star to a single, all-seeing being has been a long time coming, and has ramped up especially over the past 12 months. Here’s how.
Few of us have anything in common with Drake or Taylor Swift. We can’t relate to their financial realities, we are not applauded or awarded for merely showing up to a place, and whom we date concerns no one but our immediate circles (and honestly, not even then). But despite this, both artists attempt to bridge the chasm between us and them by evoking a false sense of relatability. Taylor bakes, invites us into her home in glossy magazine interviews, logs on to Tumblr, and mingles with fans. Drake uses SNL appearances to mock his own zest for drama, loses his shit at Raptors games, and opens a store in Toronto (where he sometimes hangs out).
But that doesn’t make them “like us.” They are pop stars, and we are mortals. They are untouchable, and our names get spelled wrong on Starbucks cups. However, the higher they rise, the more they both cling to the myth that we’re all the same — despite the majority of their actions conveying the opposite. Taylor holds exclusive Fourth of July parties, while Drake waxes poetic about how he will accept “no new friends.” Arguably, their relatability is a tool that exists for the sole purpose of endearment: It’s age-old, with roots in the monarchy. If we can relate even slightly, we’ll be less likely to turn against them.
Admittedly, their realness is also undermined by each artist’s knack for painting themselves as victims through lyrics. Back in July, Taylor’s talent for playing victim reached a seeming expiration date after the world heard the backstory behind her name-drop on “Famous” courtesy of Kim K's Snapchat. More recently, Drake released “Two Birds, One Stone” and callously took aim at Kid Cudi’s mental health — despite typically painting himself as a guy so good he’s worthy of Rihanna.
Which, also, was very Taylor of him.
So, yes, Taylor Swift’s personal life tends to be on display. We know who she’s dating, we know what inflatable pool toys they align themselves with, and we know that at least one of her suitors has worn an “I ❤️ TS” t-shirt.
But Drake, until recently, had kept most of his romances relatively quiet. When he and Rihanna reconnected this summer, Aubrey put his own romantic life front and center in a way he’d rarely, if ever, done before. Suddenly he was making speeches about his feelings, smiling for the cameras, and generally milking his love life for all it was worth, public-relations-wise. Sound like anyone else we know?
Actually, maybe new friends?
On top of this, it often seems that both Drake and Taylor have less of an obsession with their actual friends and relationships than they do an obsession with showing the world which relationships they have. Like collectors trading Magic: The Gathering cards, they parade around their inner circles and demonstrate their power through numbers and affiliations. With one exception: While Swift has become synonymous with her celebrity squad, we’ve generally seen Drake latch on to smaller artists as a means of boosting his own credibility. However, they each use their associations as a power tool, demonstratively celebrating whom they know while leaving us to guess what precisely those connections mean. They channel Tudor royalty, leaving everyone to guess who’s next to fall into — or out of — favor.
While Aubs and Tay have different approaches to loyalty, their focuses are similar. Over the last year, we’ve seen Drake lash out at onetime friends (see: Meek Mill) by using his lyrics to shame and embarrass them. And on the flip side, Taylor’s adopted a side-eye approach, dropping members of her circle and even acknowledging frenemies in public forums, like when she called Kanye out for his “Famous” lyrics during her Grammy speech. Arguably, they both seem to see themselves as boss-like figures, doling out approvals — or the opposite — at the first signs of conflict.
Now let’s not forget what really matters: Once upon a time, Taylor Swift wore cowboy boots and A-line dresses, and Drake boasted a collection of varsity jackets that could engulf us all. Now, they use their stage and red-carpet looks to further cement their grasps on the sartorial landscape, all while keeping things casual daily (to maintain their realness).
And granted, good style also comes with age, practice, and the horror of remembering what you wore a few years ago. But Drake and Taylor have made remarkable leaps in the time it takes most of us to realize we need a new pair of jeans.
An enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a vest
But the thing about Drake and Taylor is that we have absolutely no idea who they really are. Their status as master media manipulators is unwavering, but neither person seems to be contained to a single character, outside of being a version of themselves that’s in a state of constant evolution.
Considering they both know exactly how to win over the masses (they wouldn’t be where they are now if they didn’t), it’s safe to assume that their transitions as artists and people are calculated and meant for us to observe. We’re supposed to notice the way Drake doesn’t hang out around Toronto as much. We’re supposed to pick up on the fact that at her Thanksgiving beach party, Taylor’s squad had quietly diminished in numbers. And we’re probably supposed to notice that Drake has begun subscribing to Swifty’s school of media mastery. Because, like I said, they want us to know they’re working together. Even if we're still scratching our heads about what exactly any of it means.