On Hotline Bling and courtly love

We’ve ranted, in brief, before about the cultural circumstances that inspired courtly love. (I’m sorry for reminding you about the whole Sansa thing.  Our girl doing good now though, right?  Right.)

The thing about courtly love is generally that people think courtly love is a part of some super-romantic tradition of lords and ladies having a very nice time and falling in love and getting married.  That is not what it is about.

What it is about is a bunch of young knights who can’t get married, because they don’t have any property, sitting around trying to conceal their boners while they look at the lady of the house.  See, because of the primogeniture system, (aka the oldest son gets everything), excess sons who didn’t join the Church usually went and found places in other households as knights in the hopes that they’d manage to get a grant of land one way or another eventually.

So these young dudes are hanging out in their lord’s house, and in general, their lord is probably going to be married to a lady who is very much his junior.  This increases the chances of getting an heir, which is really the only thing that marriage was about at the time.  I assure you, marriage before the Victorian period was not about love.  Really. (Even then a lot of prostitutes were usually involved because something something Angel in the House.  Look it up.)

Anyway, these dudes sat around and got hot for their lady, and then what they would do is write poems and songs about how they would totally bang her, and how they love her so hard.

The stuff that they wrote was guided by a set of principles that was actually written out at one point by Andreas Capellanus called De Amore, or On Love.  He, as his name suggests was a chaplain, so obviously he knew a lot about the ladies. (Sarcasm!)

His whole thing was that love is a state that exists outside of the bounds of marriage, which is always in flux, and can only be experienced by the jealous because it feeds off jealousy.  Love also only happens one at a time.  A woman or man could be loved by more than one person, but the woman or man in question cannot love more than one person back.  This business is single file, one at a time.

This shit right here? This hetero and mono normative shit?  Yeah we’re still doing that.

Well, Drake is anyway.

So yeah we’re going to talk about Hotline Bling, which is admittedly a total banger.  (I’ll wait right here while you go watch the video on YouTube.  You back? Good.)

Hotline Bling essentially reiterates exactly the same stuff that Andreas Capellanus was talking about.

Witness – so there’s this chick right?  And everything is cool.  But not like cool enough for Drake to stay in the same motherfucking city as her, right? So he fucks off and girl goes to get her own life.  She starts *ahem* ‘wearing less, and going out more’.  She’s got a new squad.  She’s doing her thing.

Suddenly Drake is paying attention.

Drake, Andreas Capellanus would argue, is now romantically attracted to this woman, when he wasn’t before because ‘An easy attainment makes love contemptible [while] a difficult one makes it more dear.’ When he could hit it whenever, it wasn’t interesting. Now that he can’t, he wants it.

Moreover, since other dudes suddenly know about her (eh? EH?), Drake is interested because ‘True jealousy always increases love.’  Now that other people are interested, Drake wants to lock it down.

Plus – Drake is like, obsessed with this business now.  All he can do is ‘wonder if [she’s] bendin’ over backward for someone else’, because  ‘the true lover is continuously obsessed with thoughts of his beloved’, and ‘the slightest suspicion’ can make him ‘think the worst of his beloved’.  I mean, according to Capellanus, homeboy probably isn’t eating or sleeping either.

And of course Drake’s all in love with her now, because she can be anything he wants.  Ask Capellanus, he’ll tell you that having long conversations with women is a sure-fire way to fall out of love with them. When you talk to someone, you learn who they are, and they come down from their pedestal. Love requires romance, and romance requires distance and mystery, which Drake has in spades now that he’s not in the same city with this woman.  Hell, the only reason that he knows about what she’s doing at all is the rumors he hears about her.  He has her number.  He could call her.  He doesn’t.

So the point is that Hotline Bling is basically just a modern courtly love song.  Drake isn’t singing about a real woman that he has an established relationship with.  He’s singing about a construct of a woman that he is viewing from a distance.  When her behaviour doesn’t mesh with what he thinks is appropriate, he accuses her of not being herself, because he has an idea of her that he believes she is.  Was he interested in her when she was around?  Hell no.  It’s just now when he’s further away from her that she becomes interesting because other dudes are trying to get up on her, and he can’t do that.  When she’s not around him she can be exactly what he wants in his mind, and that is an object of obsession.

This is a song about a very specific type of longing, and we are all still feeling it.  This idealised type of love is really hooked into our psyche, and Drake is our new troubadour.

Deal with that.

If you enjoyed this, please consider contributing to my patreon. If not, that is chill too!

For more on hip hop and history see:
Considering bad motherfuckers: Hildegard of Bingen and Janelle Monáe
On the concept of the Renaissance and Outkast’s Hey Ya
These hoes ain’t loyal – on prostitutes and bad bitches in medieval and hip hop culture
On Hotline Bling and courtly love
Kanye West is the modern day Peter Abelard

For more on courtly love, see:
On courtly love and pick-up artists
On incels and courtly love
On courtly love, sexual coercion, and killing your idols
On power and the entitlement to the bodies of lower-status women, or, the thing that is actually ‘medieval’ about Trump

Author: Dr Eleanor Janega

Medieval historian, lush, George Michael evangelist.

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