God's Plan: a Music Video for the Revolution

The most popular song in the country right now is God’s Plan by Drake and its video, directed by Karina Evans, is brilliant. In it, Drake and friends take the roughly $1 million budgeted by his record label for the video and give it away on a tour of working class Miami.

On the surface the images of adoring fans freaking out to meet a superstar and crying when they’re surprised with gifts seem pretty standard. Drake gets to show off what a good guy he is and give back to a community that’s supported him and his music. Everyone, including the viewer, can walk away feeling positive.

But those good vibes fade if you look just below the surface and consider what the video reveals about the ways our society functions and the ways it doesn’t. Pre-Great Recession shows like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition capitalized on what you could call the hope-industrial complex, corporations throwing bones to very few of the “deserving” struggling among us in exchange for ad revenue and to sustain the lie that capitalism takes care of those in need. This video feels different.

First, the benefits Drake hands out are something close to universal. He walks into a supermarket, gets on a bullhorn and announces that everyone’s groceries will be paid for. There was no vetting to make sure that the people in the supermarket that day were veterans or hadn’t been to prison or were particularly nice. If you were in the store you got stuff, period, no means testing.

And consider what Drake gave out: food, nice clothes, cars, cash—staples of the modern world that we’re often told are frivolous. These are material things that people should not have to go without, and thanks to the largess of modern America, no one would have to if resources were distributed in a way that was even approaching equitable.

In the video, the boldness of putting a stack of cash in someone’s hand is striking. It runs counter to the narrative of so much of neo-liberal culture that ties labor to passion, identity and “dignity” and views compensation as almost beside the point. The faces of the people who get these benefits, as tears well up, put the lie to this way of thinking. As a viewer it’s powerful but it’s also heart-rending to know that so much of society’s responsibility has been abdicated to something akin to a publicity stunt. Drake gives out money to fire departments, childcare programs, college scholarships, and the everyday person on the street.

People need money. The American working class hasn’t gotten a raise in a generation even though productivity has soared, the economy is flush and there’s never been a richer country in the history of the world. It’s hard to watch the scenes in God’s Plan and not get sick that the government just spent $1 trillion on a tax cut for the wealthy and so corporations could buyback shares of their own stock.

The video opens and closes on guy who seems like an older, colorful neighborhood character bragging about his (admittedly impressive) physique. “I ain’t got nothing,” he says, “but I look good and it’s a good life.” In the middle of the video another voice says, “Thank God for what’s happening. It may not be good but thank God for it.”

Too often so much of the dignity ascribed to the working class, particularly people of color, is tied to its ability to go without and not complain. Rather than thinking of these quotes as perpetuating that trope, I think that when combined with the images of the video, they reveal something powerful. The people in the video, like people all over the country, are proud and rarely complain. But they are struggling. And the current allocation of resources isn’t working for them. It needs to be changed and we need to do better.  And we can’t simply rely on a Canadian superstar to do it for us.


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