Two weeks ago, the first UK date of Drake’s Boy Meets World tour was unexpectedly postponed. There was talk of “unforeseen production setbacks”, of “wanting to create a special experience for fans in Europe and the UK” and adding “some incredible new features to an already spectacular production”. The announcement caused a degree of consternation: without wishing to appear overly cynical, it sounded suspiciously like the kind of excuse artists make to cover the fact that something else is up. Perhaps it was evidence that the wheels were finally starting to wobble on Drake’s previously unstoppable success.
Or perhaps not. The production of the Boy Meets World show does seem authentically spectacular. On one level, it feels daringly sparse. There are two musicians lurking somewhere in the dry ice – their function not entirely clear given that Drake largely appears to be singing along to his studio recordings – but to all intents and purposes, it’s just him on stage. On another level, it’s really impressive: not the standard-issue pyrotechnics so much as the array of spherical lights that rise and fall from the venue’s ceiling as he performs, creating undulating patterns. The latter is genuinely beautiful to look at, more like an art installation than a stadium light show.
And Drake himself does not seem much like a man suffering any kind of wobble. He seems imperious, as well he might, given the record-breaking statistics attached to his music – 4.7bn streams on Spotify last year alone – and the degree to which he seems to define the current zeitgeist. It’s not just that half the music in the Top 40 is what you might call post-Drake, clearly made under his influence. In 2017, the US president appears to be post-Drake too, dealing only in either bombastic self-aggrandising bluster or peevish self-pitying complaint, and communicating largely by sending injured-sounding messages in the small hours.
But even if you find the persona Drake projects pretty unpalatable – “I got everything, I cannot complain,” he sings on All Me, which is a bit rich, given that the rest of his oeuvre largely consists of him complaining at length – it’s hard to remain unmoved by the sheer quantity of hits he has at his disposal. He crams something like 40 tracks into a two-hour show, an impressively fat-free approach to delivering the goods. At one point, he jams 13 of them together in what’s essentially a medley of hooks. The show sags only when he goes off-script: the endless proclamations about how much he loves London, some fairly excruciating rehearsed banter with his keyboard player, an improvised song that involves Drake walking from one side of the stage to the other singing, “I need some love from the left side”, then “I need some love from the right side.”
Elsewhere, he reaffirms his much-vaunted love of UK rap, bringing out Giggs for a guest appearance, and ceding the stage to allow Section Boyz to perform a murky version of Lock Arrf. After they leave, Drake reappears and immediately performs arguably his best single, Hotline Bling, as if to underline that, however supportive he may be of local talent, it’s very much his show.
• At O2 Arena, London, 1 February and other dates. Box office: 0844-856 0202. Then touring.