Have you heard Drake’s new song, “God’s Plan”? Hah, just kidding—of course you have. It’s everywhere. I can’t walk down the street right now without hearing “God’s Plan” emanating from somebody’s car stereo. One Ringer staffer attests to having patronized a bar this weekend where it was played four times in the span of about two hours and nobody was mad about it. You know that guy who was in The New York Times this weekend for living alone on a pig farm in Ohio and refusing to read the news? I bet even he knows the words to “God’s Plan.”
Drake’s ever-present single has been the no. 1 song in the country for the past seven weeks, and since we’re only 11 weeks into the year, it feels safe to call it 2018’s biggest hit. By the Billboard Hot 100’s standards, it’s already Drake’s most successful solo hit (the summer ’16 smash “One Dance,” which features WizKid and Kyla, spent 10 weeks atop the Hot 100 chart, and “Work,” the Rihanna hit on which Drake is featured, held the top spot for nine). By the ever-changing metrics of the ever-fluid streaming industry, though, it’s actually one of the most successful songs ever. According to Nielsen Music, “God’s Plan”—which, you will recall, has been out for only seven weeks—has already clocked seven of the top 10 best streaming weeks of all time. That’s massive. On its strongest week, March 3-9, “God’s Plan” was streamed 101.7 million times, a number bested by only Baauer’s 2013 “Harlem Shake,” the success of which, of course, was buoyed by a wave of viral videos. No wonder Drizzy keeps trying to make the “God’s Plan” challenge happen!
But even to Drake fans, there’s something a little puzzling about the ubiquity of “God’s Plan.” It’s definitely a solid Drake song—Instagram-caption-quotable lyrics, a hazily hypnotic beat, and a hook that finds the populist sweet-spot between Rapping Drake and Singing Drake. But it’s hardly his best, even of the more straightforwardly pop Drake hits like “Hotline Bling,” “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” and “One Dance.” Something about the smash-hit status of “God’s Plan” feels … by default. Why is this Drake song such a history-making smash?
It’s partly a question of timing. It’s been almost a year since Drake released his “playlist”-that-was-really-an-album, More Life. But in Drake Years, that’s a lifetime. Drake has become one of the savviest artists of the streaming era by knowing how to stay relevant between albums, keeping fans sated with a steady stream of surprise-singles even while he’s still plotting his next album-length move. Still, he always stops a hair shy of oversaturation. When Drake dropped his two-song Scary Hours EP at the end of January, he’d been gone just long enough that fans had begun to miss him.
But the bigger picture is more important: Drake has, at this point in his career, been so successful in aligning himself with—even becoming a cog in—the streaming machine that as it grows in power and popularity, so does he. In a May 2017 Ringer article about Drake’s streaming dominance, Victor Luckerson spoke with Dave Bakula, Nielsen Music’s senior vice president of analytics and client development. “I looked at the growth of the industry between Views and More Life,” Bakula said, “and the growth of the industry really did kind of reflect the growth of Drake.” Streaming has only continued to gain industry power in the year since More Life—hence those record-breaking numbers for “God’s Plan.” Drake is as synonymous with the era of the playlist and the digital drop as Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours was the vinyl LP; as Luckerson put it, “Who among us has even seen a Drake CD?” With “God’s Plan,” streaming’s prodigal son has returned to reap the benefits of another fruitful harvest.
It also helps that he’s diversifying platforms. Although Drake’s 2016 studio album Views was an Apple Music exclusive for the first week of its release, More Life was instantly available on other services (most notably, industry leader Spotify). Ditto Scary Hours—which poised its lead-off track to become a fixture on Spotify’s massively influential playlists. “God’s Plan” is currently on six of Spotify’s most popular playlists—including Today’s Top Hits, TGIF, and the taste-making Rap Caviar. In most cases, it’s at or near the top of these playlists, which means it clocks the most possible streams. Drake’s streaming dominance thus creates the kind of feedback loop that makes a hit of this nature even more massive as weeks go by.
Plus, how could we forget the “God’s Plan” video? It’s an irresistibly feel-good concept: Drake gives away the video’s near-million-dollar budget to people on the streets of Miami, grinning like a benevolent rich uncle. It’s impossible to criticize and parody-ready. (That’s also an edge that “God’s Plan” has over “One Dance,” for which Drake, rather curiously, didn’t release an official music video at all.) Like the video for “Hotline Bling,” it was all but predestined to be meme’d.
chipotle worker: "your change will be $2.25"— * (@deliberatedaily) February 24, 2018
me: "you can keep it"
*God's Plan starts playing* pic.twitter.com/DaOZ3752b4
Will “God’s Plan” stand the test of time as one of Drake’s best or most enduring hits? Who knows. But the game Drake has mastered is more about immediacy than legacy—tapping into the current frequency of what constitutes a hit rather than making something that sounds instantly classic. He might go down a G-O-D. Or he won’t. All we can say for now is that Drake is a savvy, quintessentially 21st-century hit maker who found a way to make the once-unpredictable digital music industry bend to his will.