Drake performs in Atlanta in 2018.
Drake performs in Atlanta in 2018. Photographer: Prince Williams/WireImage/Getty Images

Drake Tops the Charts Without His Usual Smash-Hit Singles

Drake has the biggest album in the world, and he did it without a hit song.

“Certified Lover Boy” scored the biggest debut of any album this year when it was released on Sept. 3 and has dominated the charts for the last month. Drake topped all artists in album sales and Spotify streams during the month of October, and he also led the Bloomberg Pop Star Power Rankings.

And yet, “Certified Lover Boy” hasn’t landed a single song at the top of Spotify’s charts, nor does Drake currently have a song that ranks in the top 10 (or top 20). The album’s second single, “Way 2 Sexy,” peaked at No. 5 and has been sliding ever since while “Girls Want Girls,” the album’s third song, hit No. 2 and then plummeted.

This stands in stark contrast to the reception of Drake’s previous work. For most of his career, Drake has specialized in making hit singles, catchy songs that get played on radio shows ad nauseum. While many rappers lament the need for singles, Drake has embraced the challenge. His entire musical sound seems designed to churn out captivating one-offs. He borrows from whatever sound is bubbling up (like afrobeats) and records his sing-song rap over it.

Two songs from Drake’s 2016 smash “Views” hit the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, including “One Dance,” which reached No. 1. Drake outdid himself two years later with “Scorpion,” which landed three different songs at the top of the charts. The second single, “In My Feelings,” was the most popular song on Spotify for 10 weeks. It also dominated the YouTube music video charts.

Casual fans, for the most part, aren’t listening to the biggest singles on “Certified Lover Boy” again and again via playlists. Drake’s diehards are listening to the album in full. Several of its songs have roughly the same amount of listens.

The lack of an obvious hit doesn’t mean “Certified Lover Boy” is unpopular. If anything, the success of the album without any real single speaks to the unparalleled popularity of the Canadian rapper. He is the only musician to rank among the 10 most listened-to acts every single year since 2015.

But fans are consuming Drake’s album in a way that is different from the year’s other big releases. Olivia Rodrigo launched her career with the single “Drivers License” and has had two different songs top the charts. Lil Nas X, Ed Sheeran, Bad Bunny and even the Italian rock band Maneskin have all had songs that sat at the top of the charts for months.

It’s too soon to know if this is a major shift in how people interact with Drake’s music, or an exception.

The album is one of the worst reviewed of Drake’s career. It has an average score of 60 on Metacritic, the lowest of any of his work in the site’s database. Drake has been making music with frequently recurring themes for a decade. He intersperses songs about the pains of being famous with ones about his love life, and some critics are fed up. Fortunately for Drake, most fans don’t seem to mind.