Drake performs at Staples Center in L.A. in 2018.(Maria Alejandra Cardona / Los Angeles Times)
UC Berkeley

Concert Review: Drake reimagines passion in Oakland

“Grown-ish,” a spinoff of wildly popular ABC sitcom “Black-ish,” centered around Yara Shahidi’s Zoey Johnson and her foray into college at the fictional Cal U. As a show unapologetic in its comedic critiques of college life, it often speaks on the many trends that infiltrate pop culture and transcend into the lives of college students.

In an episode in their sophomore season, the crew is attempting to solve the puzzle of a mystery artist behind the perplexing music video that captivated the attention of the whole student body. 

“There can only be genius behind this. Champagne Papi!” Francia Raisa’s Ana and Halle Bailey’s Skylar Forster squeal.

With a plethora of references to Drake in the show, from a “Hotline Bling” parody, to reminding us his origins as “Wheelchair Jimmy” of Degrassi, it’s evident his permanence as an artist for the college aged generation. His music is everywhere, his influence is everywhere. 

Wheelchair Jimmy. Champagne Papi. Aubrey, King of Toronto.

“For the last 10 years he has been a hit factory and a style icon for mock turtlenecks,” “Grown-ish” declares.

With multiple songs at once easily infiltrating radio play and the music charts, Drake is easily the biggest star in the music industry right now.

His songs are a mixture of pop, rap, and R&B sounds, his music has enraptured millions, garnering the title of the most streamed artist last year. The biggest star in the music industry wrote a love letter to the Bay Area with his performance, a fever dream of larger than life visuals intermixed with unabashed enthusiasm for his craft.

The night is an entreaty into exploring the identity of Drake, an homage to hits from years past, to the success ever present in media conversation. The night begins with an evident fact: his undeniable triumph in the industry. At the end of the night, he’s begging the audience to look past the intermixing of identities responsible for his superfluity of haunting nicknames, and revel in the essence of his prosperity: his music. 

Arriving at the Oakland Arena meant being met with a maze of complex parking and my nervousness was evident, rolling in waves of sweaty unease. My eyebrows couldn’t quite stand the perspiration and steadily melted (a la Wicked Witch of the West).

I felt my heart pounding, partially from the lethal impact of dining hall chalupas. My L’Oréal eyebrow pencil made a bold attempt at staying strong, even when sweat mercilessly cracked the facade of perfectly sculpted brows. Even with the gaggle of Ubers mercilessly facing surrounding arena traffic without any semblance of patience, fans were still undeniably ecstatic amid the disarray. 

The show was ushered through the Migos’ set, filled to the brim with quotable songs that generated an overabundance of tired memes like “Bad and Boujee.” Yet, their performances were perfunctory, and painfully boring. Nothing noteworthy, as they fumbled through their hits with little fervor. Occasionally they would shout an incomprehensible reference to the Bay, and would be met with confusion from the audience.

It was a common theme throughout the night, being slightly bewildered. From a yellow Ferrari suspended above the audience during “Yes Indeed,” to the plenty of holographic elements that served to be more distracting than aesthetic, the audience found itself coalescing in feelings of disorientation. 

The start of the show commenced with ferocious energy that consumed both Drake and his sea of listeners in his “A side” first act. “Mob Ties” ushered in vociferations of a lethal magnitude. Bathed in electric red lighting, with an onslaught of explosions, he reminds the crowd that this performance was the best “birthday gift” he could get, as he sprints across the stage with the inextinguishable exuberance of a rookie artist, performing for the first time.

The amount of extravagant stage gewgaw was intense, distracting to his animated beltings songs like “My Way.” The whole show is an exhibition of the wealthy’s lifestyle coinciding with the illusion of spontaneity: from Versace haughtily reflected on the floor’s holograms, lasers, sudden explosions, drones with hazy lighting imitating fireflies, and swirling water and cloud holograms.

The holograms ranged from artistic excellence, to random shapes swirling about, almost begging the audience to find a deeper meaning as neon green triangles and squares circled the stage. 

Despite a barely entertaining opening, Migos is reintroduced as Drake’s “brothers,” with the addition of one of the show’s highlights: Bay Area native rapper Saweetie. Migos’ “Motorsport” performance was an amalgamation of raucous noise more than a coherent stage dedicated to elevating the sensational song.

Yet, Saweetie’s “Icy Grl,” utilizing the beat from Khia’s national anthem worthy “My Neck, My Back” instantly recovers the audience’s attention with her mesmerizing platinum blonde locks and the fan favorite track. Not only did Khia’s classic receive a celebratory homage, but Drake references inspiration Michael Jackson in a brief tribute to his legacy, the stage enveloped in pulsating in purple and green lights in his “B side” second half of the show. 

In the secondary section of his show, he stops at nothing to reel the audience back in with his classic, radio play hits. One after the other, “Controlla” leads the slew of his popular songs being played back to back, with “Work,” and then “Hotline Bling” blaring through the speakers as Drake prances on stage, running with seemingly endless energy from one end to the other. Firecrackers are ablaze, the excitement in both performer and audience amassed in a celebration of pop excellence. The concert begins to foray into a string of gimmicky stunts that simply were ridiculous.

There was the corny basketball game where an audience member had the chance to score $25,000 and a Nike jersey. During “In My Feelings,” the floor of the stage morphing into a monstrous iPhone, and a monstrous, holographic scorpion coming to life in keeping with the theme of memorializing all things great about Drake. He is opulence personified.  

There is an undeniable passion he has that is palpable among the larger than life, ephemeral stunts that seem to relay a more superficial perspective into his life. Everything about the pyrotechnics and the vast amount of extra details took away from the tangible adoration he had for his craft. Being at the show felt like a dip into an identity of Drake we see in the media: wealthy and unapologetically so. It almost feels as though there’s a sharing of feelings throughout the night.

Somehow, from pop star sensation to regular audience member, there’s still a moment of transmitting joy from the recesses of the audience chair to a goofy smile we see on stage as he belts notes in the middle of sprinting aimlessly around. The extra details bring forth an unpleasant onslaught of reality for the audience. In between the few moments of pure ecstasy, as everyone rushes to their feet and tunelessly yodels a line that’s become embedded with repeated radio play, there’s a reminder that this world is far too luxuriant for the majority to comprehend. 

At the end, both parties are left satiated. Drake’s intensity never meets an end, never is fluttering. He screams about being broken hearted before playing “Fake Love,” he constantly promises to create new content in honor of the Bay Area. Even after the bells and whistles, (I mean we got a Ferrari floating above our head) there isn’t a flashy conclusion to it all. It’s pleasantly surprising, the simple blue confetti that begins transcending from above, fluttering gently above the crowd’s heads.

Before, the audience was occupied with creating as much noise as possible, clapping profusely to the beats of his songs. As the show came to a halt, the light applause that ripples through this gathering is pleasant. It’s almost a begging to hear the final words of the performer, to see authentically his intentions as the hordes of fans try to discern any possible meaning from a basketball game and Migos coming on stage twice (the horror).

It’s the end of the show’s flashy tricks. He decides to talk of how divided the nation is, taking a few jabs at the president. He’s beaming as he reminds the 17,000 concertgoers that the arena was full of diversity “all races from all places.” Again, Drake reasserts his insistence on making new music because of the Bay’s influence. It’s only “money and love ‘till you take me out this Earth,” he says, waving the audience a goodbye with a self-satisfied grin adorning his face. 

It’s easy to be buried in all the excess. The holograms, the Ferrari, the big ass scorpion. All in all, despite how intriguing that might’ve appeared at first, the unnecessary only proved to be distracting away from the essence of the artists. It’s a rare feat, to be a sensation with so many smash hits that the set list sounded borrowed from the daily radio play routine. Yet, Drake forgoes the route of a bare bones bash, and instead oversaturated the audience’s vision with innocuous details.

Nevertheless, the show was entertaining, and the throng of his listeners were satisfied, happy even with the show. What it was missing in sensibility, the show made up for with Drake’s insistence on his own authenticity. Maybe the show was an extension of his persona where he is overly consumed in all things magnificent and superfluous. In the end, there is a tentative dip into who Drake was as an artist. Instead, it’s a treat into the success of the artist of the year, a look at what it means to be Drake, with a little bit of mystery.

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