Last week I wrote a tweet about Drake that wasn’t 100% fair to the certified lover boy:
It's been two months since Certified Lover Boy.
It broke all the streaming records, sure, but what will this album be remembered for?
That thing came and went like a news cycle.
— Dan Runcie (@RuncieDan) November 3, 2021
I tweeted this because CLB doesn’t yet have mega-hits like “God’s Plan” (Scorpion) or “One Dance” (Views). CLB’s lead single “Way 2 Sexy” still topped the charts, but it doesn’t hit as those records did, and I doubt it will.
But that wasn’t a fair comparison for several reasons. First, this was the first time that Drake released an album with no singles released ahead of time. This was all new music.
Second, I’ve spent relatively less time “outside” with every subsequent Drake release. My perspective on cultural impact has skewed. When Take Care dropped ten years ago, I went out multiple nights every weekend. I had more opportunities to hear “The Motto” and see how people reacted when it came on.
I now have fewer touchpoints to hear “Way 2 Sexy” in the same way. Your boy is in bed most nights by 10pm. My cultural impact gauge has shifted to streaming, social media chatter, playlists, TikToks, talking to people, and other metrics.
Yet for most artists today, the vast amount of good content created makes it harder for a single project to capture attention the way it once did. “Way 2 Sexy” may not hit like “The Motto,” but “The Motto” didn’t compete against TikTok, Instagram Stories, Apple Music, Fortnite, and more.
It’s harder for anyone to have a monoculture hit—even Drake.
The separation of song performance and cultural impact. In the streaming era, it’s harder than ever to use Billboard charts as a barometer of cultural impact. The Billboard Hot 100 in the CD era still had plenty of issues, but a song’s place on that chart was more correlated with its cultural relevance. If a song topped the charts, there’s a good chance that song was in heavy rotation on the radio and MTV, frequently requested to DJs, played in your CD player, and more.
But since Billboard charts are heavily weighted by streaming, it’s easier than ever for a song that hasn’t had much impact to top the charts. It’s great that fan consumption plays a bigger role in performance. But it’s shifted the meaning of the charts, how popular artists approach music, and what it means for record labels striving for market share.
In the past year and a half, Drake has dropped songs engineered for TikTok dances, a mixtape, an EP, loose singles, and Certified Lover Boy. In my essay, Nothing Was The Same Since ‘Nothing Was The Same,’ I wrote about how he’s adapted his game to the streaming era, and now he’s adapted to the post-pandemic era where attention is harder to come by.
Music performance and cultural impact are still connected, but the relationship is less causal. Gauging a song’s impact requires an evaluation of several metrics: streaming, radio play, TikTok memes, sync, interviews, live performances, discussions, and more. It’s always been that way. But the more data there is to measure each data point precisely, the less consensus there is on what “impact” really means.