Within hours of Drake’s “Hotline Bling” video’s release, it had cemented its status on every list of the most meme-worthy moments of the year. Drake was pasted into the climax of Guardians of the Galaxy, turned into the world’s most charismatic pizza maker, and played one heck of a game of Wii Tennis. Not only did the Internet’s usual meme wizards continue to attempt to one-up each other by taking the dance moves that Drizzy displayed–which were, ahem, less polished than what we’re accustomed to from dance-heavy videos from male artists like Michael Jackson or Chris Brown–but even other stars got in on the fun, too: Wiz Khalifa tweeted out his favorite Drake meme, while Mike Tyson performed his own interpretation of the dance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
Director X, who helmed “Hotline Bling,” has overseen plenty of videos for guys who can really dance. He was responsible for Usher’s “Yeah” video and Sean Paul’s “Temperature,” (among many others) and he has a message for those who criticize Drake’s dancing: “There’s always haters, if some dudes don’t like Drake’s dancing, who cares? They would trade places with Drake in a heartbeat,” X says.
That’s not all he has to say about it, though. Director X has given a lot of thought to dancing, both as an activity and as a performance medium, and especially its role in hip hop. “Whenever I can put dancing back into the mix, I’m definitely going to do it,” X says when asked about dance as one of the original “four elements” of hip hop (along with graffiti, rapping, and DJ’ing). “It’s definitely something that I have in mind. It’s an element that’s always been there, and people have lost it, for whatever reason. We’re all very used to Chris Brown being on our TV. But I support all dancing from anybody.”
To describe Director X as a man on a social mission to change the way that dance is perceived in contemporary culture–especially in hip hop culture–might be an exaggeration. But if that’s the role that’s been thrust upon him in the wake of “Hotline Bling,” he’s up for the task of challenging those preconceptions and stereotypes. “It’s what men are supposed to do. Dancing, one, is fun. Two, if you’re trying to attract women into your life, it’s only a positive. It’s all-around good. If you get out there and dance your dance step, and you don’t care, these are all attractive qualities,” X insists. “If someone’s like, ‘Oh, you can’t dance,’ and you’re like, ‘I don’t give a shit,” this is an attractive quality for a man to have. If you can dance, well, that’s another attractive quality. You’re always going to get more love out there having fun than you are holding a bottle by the bar, trying to talk to someone in a loud club. If a music video gives them the courage to go out there and have fun, then I encourage it. All that will happen is that they will be more attractive to everyone they know.”
If a video is going to challenge the way that men see themselves and see dancing, it should be no surprise that it’s a Drake video. Director X notes that, while men are busy making fun of the video, women seem to like it. “It’s probably because your male friends don’t dance, so it’s their loss,” he says. And Drake has always been at the forefront of introducing elements of vulnerability to hip-hop–and what’s more vulnerable than putting your authentic, unpolished dance moves out there for the world to see?
Taj Critchlow, who executive produced the “Hotline Bling” video and partners with Director X at the new production company Creative Soul, explains that doing this fits well into Drake’s persona. “When Drake approached X about doing this video, he wanted to take it back to that vintage era of just having a good time,” Critchlow says. “He’s the number one guy in the game, and he’s a leader. This was a situation where people are gonna look at him like, ‘If Drake can do it, I can do it.’ He always goes against the grain. People looked at him weird for his singing, people looked at him weird for his styling. Now they’re looking at him weird for his dancing. You may think it’s funny, but it’s also allowed people to have a different conversation about being an individual and not giving a shit about what people think, and just doing what you want to do.”
To create the space for Drake to create an iconoclastic video that let him challenge conventions, X built “Hotline Bling” as a true collaboration. Drake’s team approached X, who attempted to recapture the sort of spirit that music videos had at a time when music videos were well-funded and intent on pushing the culture forward. “This is the zone–if Drake had gotten that shot [in another era], it probably would look something like this,” X says. “Hotline Bling” was built around practical sets and a two-day shoot, and X brought a lot of ideas in to develop it.
“Normally Drake has ideas already in mind,” he says. “But this was a little bit different–he came to me and said, ‘We want to do a performance video, we want to do something in the zone of what you used to do with those Sean Paul videos,’ so I went off and put my thinking cap on and came up with this.”
What that involves for a director, X says, is listening to the song a lot, and getting ruthless with ideas. (“I’m very much over the “Hotline Bling” record,” he admits.) “Performance videos exist in a different kind of space–you’re trying to capture the mood of something, rather than just tell a story. I don’t know if it’s a sad song, but it definitely has a mood, and that’s what I’m trying to match,” X says. “You do that with camera movements, lighting, things like that–that plays a big part in it. But it’s also the artist. This could have been a very different video, just from how Drake performed it. It could have been a very different video, just from how that stage was set. He brought his element to it. You’re setting a stage for an artist to have their moment.”