It’s an obvious truth that most people raised in normcore fashion environments are going to have an awkward relationship with the world of high fashion, and in this regard Drake, who is nothing if not a reflection of “most people” and normcore, is no different. Sartorially, at least, he’s never tried to deck himself in anything that doesn’t suit him, and the clothes that suit him fall well out of the world swayed by the gestures of high-profile designers and luxury brands. There are no alarming juxtapositions in Drake’s hoodie- and sweater-dominated wardrobe: Everything is tailored to fit an image whose charm depends on blending in long enough to be missed once it’s gone. Which didn’t mean, of course, that the clothes couldn’t provoke in a different way:
Sinatra lifestyle, I’m just being frank with you—
I mean, where you think she at when she ain’t with you?
Wilding, doing stuff that’s way out of your budget;
Owl sweaters in her luggage, you gotta love it.
As the same quatrain above from the 2013 loosie classic “5AM in Toronto” demonstrates, Drake, however unfashionable when it came to attire, could be an exceptional trendsetter in terms of tone and subject matter. Before Drake, the norm when it came to attacking others tended to be physically threatening. Drake, less able to be taken credibly when it came to violence, changed the game to fit his strengths: He couldn’t make his enemies bleed, but he could hurt their feelings by stealing their girlfriend and having more money. Shifting the primary mode of insult from assault to cuckoldry was just one of the ways that Drake’s emergence helped to transform rap. His dispossessive mockery wasn’t only personal, but business-related as well: Thanks to an ingenious combination of Noah “40” Shebib’s hazy yet precise production, and lyrics focused on romantic regret and careerist aspiration, Drake, by 2013, was dominating his street-rap competitors in terms of record sales. Coming on the heels of Take Care’s commercial and critical success, “5AM in Toronto” was a well-justified victory lap.
It’s strange but probably intentional that over four years later, a reference to “five in the morning” shows up on “Signs,” Drake’s latest song, which premiered at the Palais Royal in Paris as backing music for Louis Vuitton’s Spring-Summer menswear fashion show. Drake’s current brand of music, it turns out, is a better fit for high fashion than one might have expected.
On its own, the song, though enjoyable, isn’t too substantial. In keeping with the predominant sound of Views and More Life, it sounds like something Caribbean abandoned inside a large refrigerator set somewhere between one and six degrees above freezing, and the lyrics are incredibly vague even by Drake standards. Something is going on in a relationship, and the signs point in every direction: toward, away, on hold. The only constant is the tone of resignation which separates More Life from its unloved predecessor, Views. “Five in the morning and it feels like you’re mine,” Drake sings, but the tone doesn’t fit the meaning. Happiness, if that’s what it is, has rarely been presented in so numb a fashion.
Of course, that’s also what makes “Signs” ideal for the Vuitton show, which like much else in high fashion requires large amounts of negative and blank space to function properly. Marching to the beat of 40’s production, the male models, intentionally or not, highlighted the shared tendencies of fashion (or perhaps just recent Louis Vuitton?) and late-period Drake: a haughty mute neutrality carried out, as it were, briskly. Nicolas Ghesquière’s LV and Drake find themselves in somewhat similar positions: Despite being former innovators and remaining commercial juggernauts, both have failed to adjust to the sudden rise of new, different aesthetic competition, Gucci’s Alessandro Michele and Balenciaga (where Ghesquière had originally earned a daring reputation) and Vetements’ Demna Gvasalia being to the one what Kendrick Lamar and (Vetements-citing) Lil Uzi Vert are to the other, kind of.
As the long flirtation between street rap and high fashion develops into a real affair, it seems that Drake finds himself, weirdly, on the sidelines, even if it is alongside one of the most venerable and renowned houses of Paris fashion. “Signs” is a good fit for a fashion show, but certain songs (Uzi’s fellow fashion hound and frequent collaborator Playboi Carti’s “Magnolia” is an exemplar) are fashion shows in and of themselves. Carti calls designer clothes “dirty laundry” and somehow makes it sound like a compliment: It’s hard to get more stylish than that.
As far as the “dirty laundry” premiered by Louis Vuitton went, it seemed unimpressive, though evidently executed with great competence. But was competence the most we’re meant to expect from someone once capable of striking novelty? For Drake and for the institution that his tastefully noncommittal song was tied to, the question seemed fitting.