You probably heard that Drake has been pulling in some big figures for his latest album, Certified Lover Boy; its commercial success was never in doubt really. The album set the record for most U.S. top ten singles (9) from the one album, while it became the rapper’s tenth consecutive chart-topping album in the country after debuting atop the Billboard 200.

That former landmark saw him overtake one Michael Jackson, whose album Thriller had held the record for most top 10 hits (7) on the same album for 37 long years. It probably seemed like it would never be beaten. Drake also outranks him in terms of most number one albums (10 to 6), most top 10 singles (54 to 30), and most consecutive weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 (431) (on MJ’s side, there is the fact that Thriller remains the best-selling album of all time).

Perhaps this is what prompted Billboard to inflammatorily pose the following query on Twitter this week: “Is Drake in 2021 as big as Michael Jackson or The Beatles at their peaks?” That obviously got fans wound up online, although if they’d read the actual Billboard article, they’d have found a reasonable argument highlighting the mitigating circumstances as to why in fact Drake was probably not at that level yet.

That’s just not as fun though, is it? Lots of people came out in furious defence of the King of Pop’s legacy, mocking the Drake comparisons. “NOBODY, was, is, or will be at the level of Michael Jackson,” a fan said on Twitter. “A genius like him can only be seen once.” “The Cultural impact of Michael crushes everything drake has done…Michael’s music is literally WORLDWIDE impactful. Drake is not touching that at this point.”

Drake is 34-years-old. At the same age, MJ had just released Dangerous, undisputedly his fourth masterful album in a row. For comparison, Drake’s last two albums, Scorpion and Views, received tepid reviews; purely in terms of overall album quality, there can be few who legitimately think Drake comes close.

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Those mitigating circumstances can’t be ignored: commercial success is a wholly different animal in the era of streaming. That Drake didn’t even lead with singles into Certified Lover Boy speaks volumes about how an album rollout is viewed these days (see also Taylor Swift). He knew that clever marketing and drawn-out hype were more than enough to guarantee huge streaming numbers. If no one has heard your album’s songs yet, they have no alternative but to stream and listen to the entire thing.

MJ’s Dangerous, in contrast, led with ‘Black or White’, which would become a number one in 20 countries. ‘Remember the Time’. ‘Heal the World’. ‘Who Is It’. These are all true classic tracks; it would be premature to say that Drake’s record doesn’t have any future anthems but it doesn’t necessarily have to have any in these streaming times. It’s also feels worth noting that, on most of his songs, Jackson only had a handful of co-writers where Drake has an army.

Recency bias is a powerful thing in culture. You’ll continually scoff when your dad insists that AC/DC are the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band of all time; the ascendance of Kendrick Lamar prompted many to place him beside 2Pac and just as many to deride such an idea; the most recent Marvel movie is probably always better than the one before it in your mind. And when a generational music artist arrives, like Drake or Kanye, comparisons to icons from the past like MJ are inevitable.

Making history has motivated Drake more than most major artists. He wants to be the biggest, he wants to outsell his competitors (looking at you Kanye). “Not sure if you know but I’m actually Michael Jackson / The man I see in the mirror is actually goin’ platinum”, he boasts in one of Certified Lover Boy’s songs, ‘You Only Live Twice’. He might be going platinum, but he’s not quite at the King of Pop’s level just yet.

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