In 2015 the release of Drake's Hotline Bling changed everything as we knew it. While this particular year was filled with monumental pop culture moments, from the world's introduction to Caitlyn Jenner to the release of Broadway sensation Hamilton, most will probably remember it for the countless Drake memes, plagiarism accusations and drama caused by the song.
Though, the influence of Hotline Bling isn't contained to 2015. Over the last five years, the popular dancehall beat has become one of the catchiest songs of the previous decade, with it inspiring a new sonic trend.
While dancehall started in Jamaica during the 1970s, it wasn't long before the genre made an impact on mainstream pop. The slow, mellifluous and repetitive nature of the style was perfect for stars like Rihanna whose breakout hit, Pon De Replay, successfully melded a reggae-style flow with dancehall, pop and R&B. This trend continued throughout the aughts, with artists like Shaggy, Sean Paul and Beyoncé dabbling in their genre-splicing experiments with dancehall-inspired pop, but this all changed in the 2010s.
As trap and hip-hop increasingly gained a more mainstream audience, pop elements - and even stars - began to appear more readily throughout the genre. But hip-hop and dancehall's roots go further back than pop. Jamaican dancehall artists, Popcaan and Kranium, both came to prominence between 2013 and 2015 with songs like Nobody Has to Know feat Tyga and Jamie xx's Young Thug-assisted hit, I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times).
The stage was set for Hotline Bling and its tremendous success — though what it created in its wake was unlike anything that came before it.
First, let's start with the song which arrived with its own drama. The song itself wasn't an original idea but echoed another by D.R.A.M. called Cha Cha. D.R.A.M., tweeted: "I feel like I got jacked for my record." He also added: "All I'm seeing is Cha Cha/Hotline Bling comparisons on my timeline."
Drake responded to the comparisons in an interview with FADER and acknowledged that D.R.A.M. inspired Hotline Bling, but he also had his reasons.
"You know, like in Jamaica, you'll have a riddim, and it's like, everyone has to do a song on that," he said. "Imagine that in rap, or imagine that in R&B. Imagine if we got one beat and every single person — me, this guy, this guy, all these guys — had to do a song on that one beat. So sometimes I'll pick a beat that's a bit, like, sunnier, I guess is the word you used, than usual, and I just try my hand at it. And that's kind of what Hotline Bling was. And I loved it. It's cool. I've been excited by that sort of creative process."
Even Erykah Badu - who released her own cover of Hotline Bling - chimed in. "We loved Cha Cha first," she tweeted, though it's clear who came out on top.
Despite finding himself in hot water, soon other songs started showing similarities to Hotline Bling. In October following the release of the song fellow-Canadian, Justin Bieber released his own cover. But it would be his collaboration with Post Malone on single, Deja Vu, in 2016 which would draw comparisons to Drake.
MTV writer, Madeline Roth proposed that Deja Vu was "the new Hotline Bling." Though, others would be more critical of the similarities." The likeness of the two songs' beats could be the déj vu in question," Pitchfork writer Matthew Schnipper quipped.
In 2018, the video for Nicky Jam and J Balvin's Latin pop hit, X (Equis) drew comparisons to the Director X visuals for Hotline Bling.
Then there's Bieber's more recent single, Yummy, which once again had music fans feeling a sense of déj vu. "Yummy, sounds like Hotline Bling's sexy cousin," Radio Disney on-air personality, Daniel Dudley tweeted.
However, the influence of Drake's 2015 hit goes further than a few comparable Bieber bops and music videos.
If you remember one thing about the unforgettable, undulating beat of Hotline Bling, its the repetition, the beat plays on a loop. At the same time, bright sparks and trills are embedded over the top, with Drake's characteristic sing-song flow as the finishing touch. Though what has been taken and recreated consistently was that initial, repetitive, dancehall-inspired beat.
In 2016, Australian DJ and producer Thomas Jack coined the term "tropical house." What began as a bit of a joke by him soon became a worldwide phenomenon. "This genre has impacted on commercial radio," Jack told VICE in an interview. "This time next year, tropical house will not be the same."
Instruments like steel drums, marimba, guitar, saxophone or even pan flute, those found on Hotline Bling have become popular elements in tropical house. Many aspects of dancehall have also been interpolated into these deep house-inspired songs by the likes of Diplo, Kygo, Duke Dumont and DJ Snake.
Songs like Bieber's Sorry and Rihanna's Work have been described as "tropical house" adjacent, though critics have derided the potential white-washing of dancehall.
"It was a simple but impactful research error," Bianca Gracie wrote for Fuse. "Few publications noted the island influences, but a majority of my fellow music writers easily wrapped it up as 'summery neon-hued electronic production' or 'an airy tropical-house banger' or a 'vivid tropical house; that sounds like; sunlight drifting down through palm fronds.' Seeing a pattern here?"
Hotline Bling is likely not at fault here despite the controversy its caused, but it has continued to be an influential song that remains at the forefront of musicians, critics and fans minds. It's inspired sub-genres, pop hits as well as visuals that revel in neon pink, and now we can't imagine what pop culture would be without it.