Drake knows how to work the stage, even when he’s not at the center of it.
The Canadian rapper has mastered the art of selecting the most epic surprise guest performers, and weaving them into the narrative of each show for his ongoing “Summer Sixteen Tour” — and other musicians should take notes.
Most recently, in Detroit, he paid homage to the Motor City by bringing out Michigan-born rapper Eminem. And in Ohio, he gave a nod to the Cleveland Cavaliers by bringing out NBA king LeBron James.
His approach seems more authentic than other artists, such as Taylor Swift, who appear to be more fixated on filling every blank space on their stage with mediocre celebrities instead of enlisting ones who are relevant to her music, fans and the city she’s performing in.
That’s the key to Drake’s success as an entertainer. Every time the “Hotline Bling” rapper brings out one of his elite all-star performers, there’s a clear reason.
Take Sunday, when he danced and rapped to “Pop Style” with James in Columbus, Ohio, in a venue packed with screaming, long-suffering Cleveland sports fans who just watched the NBA superstar end their city’s championship drought. The emotional connection was as palpable as sitting on the sidelines at a gut-wrenching game.
Kanye West and LeBron James have both made guest appearances on stage with Drake.
(Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Estabrook Group)
Same goes for Tuesday, when he squashed all feud rumors with Eminem by bringing Slim Shady onstage to rap their 2007 megahit “Forever.” The crowd lost is.
He brought Kanye West out during his Toronto show to tease at a collaboration. And his ex-girlfriend Rihanna came out to dance with him at the peak of their relationship rumors.
It’s not about quantity, it’s about tailoring the right talent for a quality performance.
Swift was lauded last year for her sprawling, eclectic roster of celebrity cameos that featured a whopping 78 guests in 53 cities. But for every Selena Gomez in Los Angeles or Dwayne Wade in Miami, there were plenty of forgettable moments featuring the likes of little-known acts like MKTO, Little Mix, Nico & Vinz and Sam Hunt.
Not exactly King James or Yeezus.
Sorry, Taylor, but Drake wins when it comes to choosing the perfect guest performers for his shows.
(John Shearer/LP5/Getty Images for TAS)
And even when Swift did manage to bring up a household name, it often didn’t mesh with her narrative.
Chances are slim her tweenage fan base cared for Mick Jagger in Nashville, or Alanis Morsette in L.A.
And as big of stars as models Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid and Cara Delevingne are, it’d be tough to find a single person who’d rather watch them gyrate around stage than Rihanna performing “Work” at a Drake concert.
Heck, arguably Drake’s most low-key guest of the tour — Derrick Rose at Manhattan’s famed Madison Square Garden — is a former NBA MVP who had just been traded to the New York Knicks.
Simply put, Drake is providing the ultimate blueprint for how to put on a show.
Unfortunately for other artists, he might be “too good” to match.