When our favorite artists disappoint us, when the hypnosis of their greatest work is suddenly broken, we find ourselves feeling disoriented, a little betrayed, and perhaps for the first time doubtful of the basic facts of their appeal. Last week, Drake put out the lengthy, dolorous, way-too-hyped Views, arguably the first lackluster release of his career. It’s a tough record to get through in its entirety, and over this particular weekend it felt like a true act of will power not to sigh and say, “Oh, let me just put on Lemonade instead.” I wanted Views to be better, and in the wake of this letdown, I found myself asking an unexpected question: “Wait … has Drake ever actually had a girlfriend?”
I realize how bold a question this is. “Girlfriends” (perhaps second only to “Drake”) are the driving theme of Drake’s music. To say, “I don’t think Drake has ever had a girlfriend,” is like saying, “I don’t think Elena Ferrante is a woman,” or, “I don’t think Jack London has ever gone outside.” But hear me out.
“I’m not unrealistic with none of my women,” Drake raps on “Redemption,” right in the middle of a song — and an album, and a career — that strongly suggests otherwise. Drake loves to chastise women for behavior he himself engages in, which I would say is the definition of “unrealistic.” He wants a girl in every city who is loyal only to him, who spends her days staring at her phone, waiting to respond to his texts whenever he happens to blow through town. (“I know you’re seeing someone that loves you,” he also says in “Redemption,” “and I don’t want you to see no one else.”) His biggest hits of the past year have undercut their breezy beats with a thick, curdled air of possessiveness: “You know you gotta stick by me, soon as you see the text reply me,” he pleads on the currently ubiquitous “One Dance.” He bemoans the girl who started wearing less and going out more and might possibly be “bending over backwards for someone else,” as though he had sworn off the club and taken a monklike vow of celibacy. C’mon, brah. We all follow you on Instagram.
Maybe these are the (somewhat emotionally stunted) politics of high school hookups, but this is not how mature-ish 29-year-old humans behave in reciprocal adult relationships. (Ideally.) Of course, Drake is not a normal 29-year-old human. He is obviously going to have more short-term, star-powered situationships than most people; that is part of his job. But so much of Drake’s music is about the supposed “realities” of love and relationships, and on Views in particular, he is starting to sound very divorced from the reality of the very thing on which he’s supposed to be an expert. This is because I don’t think he’s ever been in a serious relationship.
And so I began to test out my hypothesis with Science. A quick Google search of “has drake ever had an actual girlfriend” elicits amusing but inconclusive results: The fun but notoriously inaccurate site Who’s Dated Who lists a number of one-off hookups and dalliances with women I refuse to believe are real people, such as “Tammy Torres,” “Lira Galore,” and “Rita Ora.” Rumored interactions with actual celebrities like Taraji P. Henson, Rashida Jones, and Kat Dennings all seem to have been easily and definitively proved false, and can be summed up by this Drake quote about his 2012 “relationship” with Tyra Banks: “I went on a date with her one time, yeah. We went to Disneyland in disguise actually, which was fun. I don’t know if it was a date. It was a get-together. We’re close as well.” And of course, Drake has been spotted here and there (though never lastingly) with the kind of celebrity women who seem gloriously and blithely ungirlfriendable, like Serena Williams, Zoe Kravitz, and his most winning duet partner, Rihanna. “Rihanna & Drake Officially Dating: He’s Calling Her ‘His Girlfriend’” read a 2014 story on Hollywood Life, a website so unreliable that a contemporaneous Drake story cannot seem to confirm whether his age is 28 or 26. The truth evades us still.
My research turned up little evidence of a long-term adult relationship (except for perhaps an on-again/off-again thing with Zineb “Nebby” Samir, the alleged dedicatee of “Best I Ever Had,” and that pairing seems to have ended back in 2009), so as a final attempt I took to the streets. At a party on Saturday night, this question elicited such responses as, “Hahaha, no,” and, “Damn, son.” When I posted the poll “Has Drake ever been in a relationship?” to Twitter, 21 percent of my 641 respondents said “yes” and 79 percent chose “nope, no way.” An anonymous source at Ringer HQ added, “Drake is the only rapper we’ve ever talked about like a freshman girl. This is an achievement.”
Accordingly, I’d like to propose a solution for Drake that was recently deemed good enough for Malia Obama: Take a gap year. Go out and live a little. Fall in love for real. Put your phone on “do not disturb,” or maybe if you’re feeling really dramatic throw it into the sea. See the world, my man. Step outside yourself; listen to other people and hear them out. Feel real grown-up feelings. Come back and make some (better) music about them. We’ll still be listening.
This piece originally appeared on the Ringer Facebook page on May 3, 2016.