by Ben Tuthill
It’s hard for me to remember sometimes that most of the world doesn’t spend a large part of every year covered in snow. Snow, when it happens at all, usually melts within two or three days, and if it sticks around it does it in a way that doesn’t drastically alter a municipality’s way of life. In O’s hometown of Barcelona, for example, I’m told that snowfall is a 2 or 3 centimeter rarity, and at the time of time of writing this the local temperature is an impossible 18 degrees Celsius. But in Minnesota, where I’m from, snow is an inevitable constant from late December to at least mid-March, and through that lens is the only way I’m ever going to understand the world’s weather patterns.
It’s hard surviving in this cruel Late Capitalist society when you live in a place that’s uninhabitable by normative living standards for three months of the year. The wonders of modern heating have done a lot to make that feasible, but what really makes it possible is a sort of obligatory cultural consensus to transform winter into an artificial summer. In American media, snow is something that’s celebrated for the three or four weeks surrounding Christmas and then scorned as inhuman from January 1st on. As addicted consumers of American media, we don’t really have any choice but to consent. That’s a tragedy, because A) artificial summer is expensive and B) winter, even without cookies and Santa Claus, is often astonishingly beautiful. I went for a walk the other night while the snow was falling, and I was struck by what a #blessed experience it was to witness ice-covered trees that weren’t covered in fairy lights. It went against my instincts to enjoy it: I’ve been conditioned my entire life to treat snow without holidays as a burden. The thought of listening to Winter Wonderland in late January is heretical.
Music videos are among the most egregious contributors to this anti-seasonal spirit. Non-holiday music videos featuring snow are few and far between: Lykke Li’s I Follow Rivers may be the artiest, but the crown jewel of snowy music videos is Director X and Drake’s magisterial Started from the Bottom. In a video genre that epitomizes California’s global hegemony over climate ideals, it’s remarkable to see one of it’s finest examples set in a boring Northern city in February. Hip hop’s flirtation with snow imagery usually codes skin tone or cocaine; for arguably the most famous rapper in the world to feature snow as literally just snow was for me a rare moment of mainstream identitarian affirmation. Started from the Bottom, with Drake in all-white-everything dancing down the street like a Californian next to an all-white Bentley, caught in the middle of a blizzard, is maybe the only time that mainstream hip hop really *gets* winter.
Started from the Bottom is the great Northern music video. Life goes on, but everyone’s huddled indoors, pretending like everything’s normal. The opening shot is of an inflatable-roof indoor sports arena, an important part of so many Northern childhoods. The club scene is an ordinary club scene, but if you’re cued into the experience you can feel the climate-controlled warmth. You know how brutally cold the walk from the car to the door was for the girls in short skirts, and how skilled they are at walking over ice in heels. You feel for them and everyone else, because you know how awful it is to pretend like everything’s normal, and the sense of pathetic relief you get when you make it to that well-heated place where that sense of normalcy is finally maintained.
Of course, the entire thing is undercut by the song’s overall narrative. This isn’t a Northern pride song. Drake started from the bottom, and really all he did was start there. Now he’s here, and here of course is on the other side of a private jet to the Dominican Republic. Turning the Shoppers Drug Mart into the club isn’t “here”. An overheated club that let’s you forget the winter isn’t “here”. A subtropical villa is the only real “here”, because subtropical life with it’s immaculately consistent climate is the only way you can ever be totally anywhere. Everything affirmative that Drake establishes in the first act is ruined by the inevitable second.
But I’m willing to forget that bleak outcome, if only for the supremacy of that one snowstorm shot. Because Drake stunting on the bottom looks just like Drake stunting on the top. For ten seconds, he’s affirming late winter snow the same way that he affirms the good life of cognac and jet skis. In that GIF-lengthed moment, this awful, hated, impossible inevitability in my life and his is embraced as something worth dancing through. Winter is hard to affirm and it’s hard without any affirmation, and with Started from the Bottom Drake made it all the more possible. He helped a generation of miserable Northerners make it through to another March, and that’s about as much as anyone can do for their homeland.