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‘One Dance’ To Rule Them All

How can Drake capitalize on the lessons of his billion-streaming smash hit?

If you’re in the market for news that is in no way surprising, bask in the fact that Drake’s “One Dance” is the first song in Spotify history to have been streamed 1 billion times.

Which, like, of course. The song is light, catchy, and easy fodder for dramatic readings, making it universally acceptable regardless of whether you actually like Aubrey Graham — or, more specifically, how you feel about who Aubs has become over the last year.

Drizzy is not the same man we met back in January. 2016 delivered unto us a brief and highly publicized relationship with Rihanna; a short film in which Drake was the star; and Views, an album that made up in ego what it lacked in heart. It saw the remnants of Drake’s underdog mythos erased as the rapper climbed aboard a floating stage and eventually teamed up with Taylor Swift for Apple Music commercials. And worse, it ended with digs at Kid Cudi’s mental health in “Two Birds, One Stone,” a song steeped in the most petty brand of bargain-discount tea. Which is a terrible look for any person, least of all a multimillionaire at the top of his commercial game.

So of course we’d find ourselves playing and replaying a jam about the finer (see: funner) things in life. Of course we’d delve into one of the lightest tracks on Views and escape into the memories of who Drake used to be. Because “One Dance,” while proof of his current Top 40 clout, is also reminiscent of the cuteness Aubrey used to deliver via tracks like “Make Me Proud,” “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” and “Take Care.” It’s catchy like “Hotline Bling” and transparent like “Best I Ever Had,” and unlike both of them, it topped the Billboard singles chart. It’s not an avenue through which Drake lyrically explored how tragic his very fancy life is, nor an excuse to spin the legend of Drizzy the Man of Many Haters. Plus, it contrasted the feeling of 2016 in general: The world was falling apart, but at least we could wax poetic about strength, guidance, good friends, and a few drinks.

In other words: “One Dance” was the Cheers of 2016 pop.

As we look to 2017, Drake is guaranteed to be plotting ways to replicate the song’s record-breaking success. One obvious answer is that Drake should focus solely on making catchy pop songs and cut down on the whining. But in a way, that’s too easy. The fact remains that Drizzy is terrific at pity parties, particularly when they zoom in on his inability to date and interact romantically like a communicative, adult person. “One Dance” may be sweet on the surface, but it doesn’t take much interpretive stretching to see that it’s also a song about a drunk dude at a club who just needs one more chance, please, for the love of all that is good. It’s full of real-life, embarrassing vulnerability, as opposed to the self-serious type that Drake usually tends to drape himself in (ex. “Nobody respects me, my life is hard.”) It’s sad-sack music with a sense of humor set to a wonderful beat — and that’s the genre Aubrey now fits best into.

It’s easy to forget how funny Drake can actually be, or how proudly he wears his heart on his sleeve. And while I don’t doubt that his life as a famous person can be entirely stressful, his reality has shifted from a young man needing to prove himself to a 30-year-old nestled comfortably in his throne. So to hold on to that place, he must adapt. He must remember that the new generation of Drakes are coming, that prodigies and unsigned acts are boasting the potential he once showed, and that collaborating with Taylor Swift risks taking him all the way out of that game and into another.

But the new game doesn’t need to be creatively empty. As proven by “One Dance,” Drake can marry hip-hop and pop in exciting ways. And as evidenced by our reception to it, we want to hear him do it.

So let's hope that Drake is brave enough to embrace the new (actual) version of himself in 2017, and that he feels secure enough to let the real underdogs fight it out for the path to his throne. Because he can’t have it both ways: You’re either a king willing to grow, or your throne is just a corner booth at the Cheesecake Factory.