If you scrolled through TikTok or, really, any music-obsessed corners of the internet this weekend, you might have uncovered something particularly exciting: a brand-new collaboration between two of our biggest pop heavyweights, Drake and the Weeknd, called “Heart on My Sleeve.” A hype new song drop from two of Canada’s finest, a fitting title to match, and mass traction across every online space? All that’s missing here is, well, Drake and the Weeknd. Because, it turns out, that one-minute snippet you heard was entirely generated by artificial intelligence, courtesy of a TikTokker named “Ghostwriter977.”
The timeline for “Heart on My Sleeve’s” online debut goes something like this: On Saturday, a mysterious TikTok user sporting a white bedsheet, a white bodysuit, and “clout goggles” posted his first video ever, in which he claimed to have “used AI to make a Drake song feat. the weeknd,” per the initial caption. After previewing a clunky beat modeled after the style of legendary Atlanta producer Metro Boomin—even re-creating his iconic DJ tag—the song kicks off with a sung-rapped verse from “Drake,” featuring such poetic lines as “I came in with my ex like Selena to flex (aye)/ bumpin’ Justin Bieber, the fever ain’t left (aye),” and “She think that I need her, kick her to the curb,” the latter of which is “sung” in a higher-pitch vocal register, in the manner of a typical Drake chorus. The video ends right as “the Weeknd” swoops in to croon his verse, which begins: “Got these pearls on my neck/ got these girls on my check/ like Selena, baby.”
[Update, April 18, 2023, at 10:21 a.m.: The song has been taken down from all streaming platforms, thanks to a copyright claim from Universal Music Group, and Ghostwriter’s first four TikToks have been deleted as well. The TikTokker posted another video on Monday, with this comment: “add your number to the link in my bio & ill text u when it’s back on Apple Music & Spotify. you can’t kill a ghost.” Slate has reached out to Ghostwriter for comment. UMG provided a statement noting in part that “the training of generative AI using our artists’ music … represents both a breach of our agreements and a violation of copyright law.”]
Oh good Lord. What sort of cursed magic birthed this thing?
Everything from the Metro Boomin tag up top, to the scandalous Selena Gomez namedrop, to the weird piano lick that loops underneath all of it? Entirely crafted by the robots in our mist. Or, to more accurately characterize it: auto-generated by a computing system that’s been trained on volumes of digitized audio in order to output convincing facsimiles of human songwriting and singing.
As advanced text- and image-generating platforms have exploded in popularity, so, too, have their equivalents in the voice space: VALL-E, crafted by the same companies that brought you ChatGPT and DALL-E; Play.ht, a subscription-service text-to-speech startup; Futuri Media’s RadioGPT, whose creators I interviewed last month; and ElevenLabs, whose voice-cloning technology can imitate just about anyone after listening to just 30 seconds of speech. Oh, and on the production end, there are several apps that can generate melodies and beats for you, either by utilizing royalty-free stock tracks or by imitating musical patterns from songs they’ve been exposed to. Putting such tools to use has never been easier. After making waves in the voice-acting space, it was perhaps inevitable that this technology would run roughshod over the recorded music industry, perhaps taking the easy route through some of its biggest hitmakers.
How can I listen to the entirety of this monstrosity?
@Ghostwriter977’s TikTok contains only a bit of the song, and mentions that “Heart on My Sleeve” is “out on all streaming platforms.” A link on his profile will redirect you to a website called Laylo, where you can provide your phone number, email address, or Facebook Messenger in order to hear the full track. (For what it’s worth, tech marketer Mitchell Landon has a detailed Twitter thread laying out why he believes this whole song is a stunt by Laylo itself; we have no other clues as to what software Ghostwriter used.) After I gave the app my email, I received a Linktree with links to “the Drake AI song,” which you can indeed stream on Spotify, Soundcloud, Apple Music, and YouTube as of this writing. The complete “Heart on My Sleeve,” which is just a little over two minutes, takes its title from the “Drake” portion: “I got my heart on my sleeve, with a knife in my back/ what’s with that?”
What’s up with the Justin Bieber–Selena Gomez shoutout?
Drake and the Weeknd both have longtime connections to both Bieber and Gomez, who of course themselves had a strange relationship with a fraught, yearslong aftermath. Gomez also previously dated the Weeknd, who keeps alluding to her in his songs (yes, even to this day), and Drake shouted out Gomez in his verse on DJ Khaled’s “Popstar”—a verse that Justin Bieber lip-synced in the official video. Weird, circle-jerky stuff all around, and apparently distinctive enough to Drake’s and the Weeknd’s online profiles that the A.I. was able to pick up on it. (Oh, there was also the time Drake signed up to executive produce a social media–themed thriller that Gomez was set to star in; the film is still in the preproduction stage.)
Who, exactly, is this “ghostwriter”?
No idea, but Ghostwriter’s wasted no time in making their spectral presence known. They posted four song-promoting TikToks on Saturday alone, with each one displaying either the real-life “ghost,” or side-by-side photos of Drizzy and the Weeknd; the first video racked up 9.4 million views. Ghostwriter also has accounts on all the aforementioned streaming services, and their profiles feature the same blurry photo of their glasses-donning ghostly head, usually accompanied by the declaration that “im just getting started.” In a comment on their first TikTok, Ghostwriter wrote that “i was a ghostwriter for years & got paid nothing while major labels profited. it’s time to stir the pot.” (Another relevant comment: “i was a ghostwriter for years and got paid close to nothing just for major labels to profit.”) “Heart on My Sleeve” is presumably part of that pot-stirring: When another TikTokker heralded Ghostwriter’s clip as “a new age in music,” the phantomlike figure declared that “the future is here.”
So, this isn’t a reference to Drake’s old ghostwriting controversy, when Meek Mill accused Drake of using a guy named Quentin Miller to write some of his hit verses?
That’s a good question. Last we heard from Quentin Miller, he was telling Revolt’s DJ Vlad in January that he never earned any proper income from the songs he did co-write with Drake in 2015—co-write, not ghostwrite, it would appear—but he was now working with an artist who “literally is about to change my life.” Late last month, the legendary mixtape-maker DJ Drama said he’d willingly make an album with Miller, and that Miller had recently visited him at a recording studio. So, considering that things seem to be going a lot better for Miller at the moment, I would doubt the persona Ghostwriter is named after that whole thing, or even that Miller himself is Ghostwriter—though that would make for a great story.
How has this latest A.I. song not been taken down?
Ghostwriter seems to be eagerly anticipating litigation; a TikTok they posted on Sunday shows them dancing to the song they generated, wearing a much different outfit—shorts, face mask, black hoodie—and writing that they were “vibing” to the song “before the lawsuit” came. A second TikTok they posted that day consists of a screen recording from their phone, which receives a text from a contact named “rob (attorney)” notifying Ghostwriter of an “Offer in from republic,” presumably in reference to the Republic Records imprint to which the real-life Drake, the Weeknd, and Metro Boomin are all signed. Notably, Republic is owned by Universal Music Group, which has been demanding that streaming services take down songs credited to fake, A.I.-generated versions of their signed artists, as the Financial Times reported last week. According to Know Your Meme, “Heart on My Sleeve” was uploaded to Spotify on April 4; UMG executives are undoubtedly aware of the track by now, since it’s gained quite a bit of reach. Still, it’s not the only A.I. issue that the company has with its artists …
Oh boy. What do Aubrey Graham and Abel Makkonen Tesfaye themselves make of all this?
Look, if you’ve been on TikTok or YouTube at all in the past few months, you’ve undoubtedly seen plenty of videos with A.I.-generated voices engineered to sound like various celebrities, like Eminem and our very own president. Drake has been particularly unhappy about this development; on Friday, after an A.I. simulation of Drake’s voice rapping the lyrics to Ice Spice’s “Munch” went viral, the rapper posted crankily on his Instagram story: “This is the final straw AI.” Clearly, it wasn’t: As of Monday, an A.I. simulation of Drake singing SZA’s “Kill Bill” has been making the rounds.
The Weeknd probably doesn’t mind as much, considering that he allowed Spotify to use a virtual likeness of himself to “speak” personally with users, as part of a temporary program back in 2020.
The biggest question: Is it any good? Did A.I. just write the song of the summer????
I’m not the biggest fan of either Drake or the Weeknd, but even with that caveat, this track is quite robotic, monotone, and repetitive. So, not my personal playlist choice. Still, if it’s true that this was all auto-generated by a particular digital system, that’s not not impressive. You may not catch “Heart on My Sleeve” on the radio this summer, but rest assured, this is likely a harbinger of more terrifying music-and-A.I. developments to come.