I get why celebrities might not want to publicize their charity work. At the very least, it must feel weird, condescending and self-congratulatory to send out a press release explaining that you used some of your millions of dollars to help people who will never, ever have as much money as you. But there’s an obvious downside to keeping your charity work quiet during a pandemic: people start to think you aren’t doing anything at all.
That’s definitely what happened last weekend, when a Toronto writer published an op-ed calling Drake’s recent behaviour into question. “When it comes to lending a helping hand in the trying times of COVID-19, it seems as though [he] would rather show you his privilege instead,” Vinney Wong wrote in the Toronto Star. “While many Canadian celebrities, like Ryan Reynolds and Seth Rogen, have stepped up—offering donations to food banks and encouraging fans to donate PPEs to health workers—Drake decided to release a TikTok inspired single with an even more tone-deaf video.”
Aside from the ableist use of the term tone-deaf, I don’t completely disagree with what Wong is saying here—Drake’s PR approach during this period of self-isolating really has been a bit problematic. But op-eds still have to be grounded in facts, and it seems that Drake did do something to help during the coronavirus crisis.
On the same day the op-ed was published, he revealed on Diddy’s Instagram Live dance-a-thon that he and Cargojet, the air cargo airline for which he’s an ambassador, had just completed a delivery of medical equipment for Canadian healthcare workers.
Later in the week, he also posted an IG video announcing his participation in Michael Rubin’s All In Challenge, a digital fundraiser that hopes to raise “tens of millions of dollars” for Meals on Wheels, No Kid Hungry and America’s Food Fund by allowing the public to bid on experiences or items donated by celebs. (He’s offering four tickets to a Drake concert, an OVO and Nike care package, a private party with the rapper and his crew and round-trip airfare on Air Drake—his private jet—for you and seven friends.)
Is that… enough? I mean, he’s no Rihanna. But a) it’s something and b) it’s entirely possible that he’s doing more that we know about. After all, we’re talking about the same guy who, in 2018, partnered with the Raptors to donate $1 million to refurbish community basketball courts in Toronto and pledged a further $2 million to Canada Basketball. The same year, he used the $996,631.90 allocated for his “God’s Plan” video to help Miami residents, donating money to Lotus House Women’s Shelter, a University of Mia mi student and shoppers at an area grocery store. Even if it’s not your usual style of extend the benefit of the doubt to celebrities, it seems kind of… unlikely that he’d neglect to donate any actual dollars during this global crisis.
That said, I can see how Drake’s behaviour during this crisis might be off-putting in a way it wouldn’t usually be. For one thing, he’s one of many celebrities who was able to access a test early on, despite showing no symptoms. (His results were negative.) Testing is incredibly important if we’re actually going to flatten the curve of infections, but regular people haven’t always been able to access one, even if they have all the symptoms. That’s deeply unfair, not to mention terrible for public health. So, while it’s not precisely Drake’s fault that he has access to better healthcare than the rest of us, it is emblematic of the widening gap between the rich and everyone else.
And then there’s his house.
I actually didn’t realize it at the time, but we’d already gotten a glimpse of Drake’s extremely extravagant mega-mansion back in February, in the video for “When to Say When”/“Chicago Freestyle.” But we got to see a lot more of the space on April 3, when he released the video for “Toosie Slide.” Filmed almost entirely in his Toronto home, it offered his fans a fairly extensive, if not particularly well-lit, look at the rapper’s personal space.
That is, until the following week, when the May issue of Architectural Digest dropped. Drake’s house was the cover story, and while the music video had offered glimpses of expensive shit, including the F/W 2001 Raf Simons Riot Riot Riot Camo Bomber he was wearing and art by Kaws, Bansky and Andy Warhol, the magazine offered page after page of high-res photos showcasing just how over-the-top the home actually is. I mean… the 50,000 sq. ft. mega-mansion has an NBA regulation-size indoor basketball court, a “21-square-foot pyramidal skylight,” soaring ceilings, what seems like a metric ton of marble and a “suspended cantilevered block marble stair,” that frankly is just too fancy—sorry, Aubrey.
It all felt like a deliberate plan. In fact, I’m sure it was. And to be honest, this strategy would probably have killed if there wasn’t a global pandemic. But, you know, there is. By the time Drake’s AD cover dropped, we’d been self-isolating for weeks. Millions of us had lost at least some, if not all, of our income. Thousands of us were sick, and hundreds had already died. A wealthy rapper’s real estate flex just didn’t seem relevant. In fact, it felt insensitive—and even a little unkind.
It’s interesting that Drake, someone who is kind of a marketing genius, didn’t anticipate how this would all look. Or maybe he thought it wouldn’t matter—after all, he has refused to comment on problematic behaviour in the past, with little to no consequences. (He’s never publicly talked about releasing music and socializing with his ex’s abusive ex, for example, and eventually everyone just kind of stopped talking about it.)
But it does matter, to me at least. I’ve been a fan of Drake’s since literally the beginning—I distinctly remember commuting to university in my 1992 Honda Accord absolutely blasting “City is Mine.” I don’t love every single thing he does (for starters, his house looks like Nordstrom and “Toosie Slide” is really only an okay song), but I do think he gets a lot of unfair criticism, particularly from other Torontonians, who blame him for everything from gentrification to… liking the Raptors too much? (The horror.) And though I don’t actually know him, I like the guy—and I want to believe that he’s a good person.
Also, his wealth kind of requires him to do good. Celebrities don’t “owe” the public information about their personal lives, or peeks into their houses, or even new creative projects, as much as it kills me that R9 is probably not happening anytime soon. But rich people do owe the societies they live in support, especially during difficult times. That means money, yes. But it also means demonstrating civic responsibility, using your platform to spread public health messages and setting a good example by talking about the ways you’ve contributed.
Basically… I want to know more about what Drake does and way, way less about where he lives.
And Did You Hear About…
Dr. Oz talking about re-opening America’s schools on Fox News. The Lancet argues that would cost the country 2% to 3% in total mortality, which Mehmet—who honestly doesn’t even count as a doctor anymore—thinks is a totally an acceptable trade-off. (That would be 6.6 million to 9.9 million people, btw.)
Former Teen Vogue and Out EIC Phillip Picardi’s super smart reflection on the role fashion will play in pandemic recovery.
The group of academics who are analyzing The Baby-Sitters Club books, to find out how the series treated race, adoption, language, etc. over time.
Reese Witherspoon’s company Draper James offering teachers dresses as a token of appreciation. That was already pretty condescending but now it’s even worse. The company had only 250 dresses to give away—which means most of the million teachers who applied to receive a dress got, well, nothing.
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