There’s a chance that you’ve sensed a general feeling of heartbreak in the air over the past month or so. It’s because Drake — the Black heartthrob of our generation — reportedly has a new girlfriend. The 31-year-old posed with Bella Harris in a cozy-looking photo (posted in late August) that is still proudly displayed on her Instagram account. (This is arguably 2018’s version of making a relationship “Facebook Official.”) It appears the two have known each other for at least two years based on another photo fans dug up from 2016. Harris is a beautiful model, which is exactly what you’d expect from the likes of a man who dated Rihanna. What you probably didn’t expect? She is 18 years old and just graduated from high school in June.
Harris is a consenting adult, so if there is any truth to speculation that they pair are dating, Drake is operating within the confines of the law. But legality and morality aren’t the same thing. So it makes sense that the coupling has prompted more than forlorn cries of resentment. Online, eyebrows are raised and side eyes have been shot in the star’s direction. The gestures have only intensified since 14-year-old Millie Bobby Brown gushed to the world on the Emmys red carpet that she and the rapper are friends, and he texts her dating advice about boys. It’s a dream situation for the Stranger Things actress, because she’s a teenager and Drake is... freaking Drake! But for him, it’s… a little creepy. While the law draws a hard line in the sand about which relationships are okay and which ones aren’t, there are cultural codes that suggest Drizzy is in murky territory. I know it. The internet knows it. And I’m pretty sure Drake knows it, too.
But I’m not here to take Drake to task over how he’s choosing to engage with teenagers as he approaches his 32nd birthday next month. As we speak, the internet is doing quite a great job of that. Rather, I am fixated on how these questionable associations (fail to) align with the more wholesome, downright feminist politics and desires that he touts in his music, interviews, and social media. Drake’s public persona — which includes his track record with women — is rife with contradictions; and not always in a flattering, get-you-a-guy-that-can-do-both way. His inconsistencies are what many people would interpret as red flags when they appear in men we know personally. His faux pas aren’t outright displays of malice or danger, but they give us pause; like catching a glimmer of something sinister in the eye of a first date that so many of your friends vouched for. What do we do in these situations? And more importantly, what do we do with men like Drake?
Before “In My Feelings” became a viral summer 2018 sensation and the shining jewel of Drake’s fifth studio album Scorpion, “Nice For What” was the official bop. Even I — someone who is very Drake resistant — was into it. It’s an anthem for women, one that encourages them to revel in their financial independence with lyrics like “I've been peepin' what you bringin' to the table / Workin' hard, girl, everything paid for / First, last, phone bill, car note, cable.” He dares them to push back on the idea that they owe any man their time or attention with the song’s title. To drive his point home, he enlisted the help of some of Hollywood’s most in-demand and self-actualized women, like Yara Shahidi, Issa Rae, and Tiffany Haddish to appear in the music video. It is this Drake, the “nice guy,” that has helped solidify his spot in the hearts of so many female listeners.
Drake is often positioned as the antithesis to rappers who explicitly sexualize and devalue women in their songs and videos, and men who do the same in life. There’s a reason you can actually purchase so much “Drake Wouldn’t Treat Me Like This” merch online. Women love that he isn’t too macho to admit that he still thinks about — and sometimes texts — his exes late at night. They swoon at the thought of receiving one of those texts, because Drake has done more than appeal to good old-fashioned, heteronormative, female desire. He has rebranded the manual on how women should live and behave in order to attract guys like him. His willingness to praise women who are college students, moms, and hairstylists — so long as they look good in a sundress — tells regular degular girls that their Prince Aubrey could be just around the corner.
And women have eaten it up. Drake checks off every box for a “good man.” He’s tall. He’s rich. He’s well-groomed. He’s polite and palatable. He is exactly the kind of guy your mom wants you to date. This marketability — both in his industry and in just about any dating pool — makes it really hard to reconcile all of the ways that men like him can also be trash or harmful. The same man who celebrates women being independent bosses may ultimately choose to pursue a girl who isn’t even old enough to enjoy a glass of Champagne and whose biggest worry a few months ago was prom. Topping it all off, he has befriended, and apparently texted, a 14-year-old girl. Drake is not actually aligning himself romantically with the women he rhapsodizes about in his songs — independent women who have chartered their own paths in life. He's not publicly embarking on the relationships idealized in his music; he’s not walking the walk. But these are the discrepancies we are taught to overlook for sweet texts, really cute couples photos, or just progressively romantic, women-first rap/R&B songs.
The narrative about men like Drake is misleading in its promise of happiness, mutual respect, and fulfillment. But it only works when women buy into it; when we blindly follow the rule that men who say the right things are worth weathering a storm of them doing bad things. Black women are particularly susceptible to this because misogynoir — misogyny specifically directed at Black women — is rooted in a practice of worshipping and prioritizing Black men, even at our own expense. Black women still have to actively push back on the notion that their self-worth has to come from, or at least be validated by, our proximity to Black male desire. The pressure to vigilantly practice respectablity in all its forms – all to land Black men who meet a pretty low standard of decency – is real. We are taught not to challenge or question men who treat us well.
However, that’s exactly what we need to be doing: Interrogating the Drakes in our lives. Are their professed politics aligning with their actions? How are they honoring their commitments to themselves and the women in their lives? Are they gaslighting us into ignoring red flags? For men who look so damn good on paper, we must always still consider, and question, what’s happening off the page.
R29 Unbothered presents Trap Glazed, a bi-weekly column where Senior Entertainment Writer Sesali Bowen looks deeper at what’s happening in Black pop culture.