Lots of weird things have happened at the top of the UK charts: Musical Youth informing the nation which way to pass a joint, one-hit wonders Brian and Michael appraising the work of Mancunian painter LS Lowry, and pop’s forgotten couple Eamon and Frankee spending seven weeks of spring 2004 literally telling each other to fuck off. But the fact that God’s Plan by Drake just spent nine weeks at No 1 in the UK – and is still top of the charts in the US – is easily one of the weirdest.
It’s a song that features two notes, a chorus that is just one line long, and lazy lyrical iterations of oft-visited topics for Drake: how much reputational shine he has given to his home city of Toronto, how non-specific haters wish non-specific ill upon him, and how he is pathologically unable to open himself up emotionally to a woman he has had sex with. Yes, it’s catchy, but he has done all this before with markedly more charisma, not least in 2016’s One Dance – another song that shacked up at No 1 for weeks on end.
These are just his most successful chart moments; Drake’s last major release, 2017’s “playlist” More Life, saw each of its 22 tracks hit the UK top 75. In the interim, the commercial fortunes of tracks that he guested on, such as Blocboy JB’s Look Alive, NERD’s Lemon, and Migos’ Walk It Talk It, have all been boosted by his presence. We have now reached the point where even the B-grade solo material of God’s Plan is a shoo-in for No 1. Why?
Drake has, of course, amassed huge star quality via a decade of often excellent music, but there are also more prosaic reasons: his gossip-mag visibility from relationships with Rihanna, Serena Williams and Jennifer Lopez, and his swaggering self-confidence in describing himself as “last name ever, first name greatest” before his debut album had even come out. Crucially, his identity and upbringing have also been key.
Aubrey Drake Graham was born in Toronto in 1986 to Dennis Graham, an African-American session musician whose power-moustache currently lights up his vibrant social media feed, and Sandi Graham, a white Ashkenazi Jewish teacher. His parents split up when he was five, his father moving away to Memphis. The family home was in the working-class west side of the city, before the Grahams moved to the more affluent Forest Hill in what Drake has claimed were still relatively straitened circumstances: “I went to school with kids that were flying private jets. I never fit in. I was never accepted.”