In Champagne Papi, the women of Atlanta are finally in the spotlight. This is Van’s first appearance since Helen, which signified the end of her problematic relationship with Earn. Here, we begin to see the aftermath of the breakup while following Van’s misadventures. Centering on Van and her crew, the four friends set out for a hopeful night of entertainment after allegedly being invited to Drake’s New Years Eve house party. Because this is Atlanta, however, the party will obviously not go as planned. Instead, we are presented with an exceptionally accurate case of expectations versus reality, along with thought-provoking commentary about the faults within social media culture.
The opening scene begins with an Instagram live video featuring Van’s friend, Candice. We watch as she hypes up Drake’s party of the night while also seductively advertising the sponsored brand of lipstick that she’s wearing. We observe the dynamics between the friends, noting how the different personalities interact with one another. Nadine, for instance, is perhaps the most reserved of the group. From her modest dress to her sexual preferences, she is teased and called a “nun,” to which she amusingly replies, “I don’t have kids and I also don’t have HPV. Put that in your condom and f**k it.” Candice is extraverted and the life of the party, Tami appears to be judgmental and assertive, while Van continues to be enigmatic, introverted and authentic. While browsing through Instagram stories, Van sees Earn happily enjoying the company of another woman. Her reaction? To get a photo with Drake at the party, by all means necessary. Although Van claims that her desire for a picture with Drake is to spice up her stale Instagram page, the post-breakup hollowness that Van presently feels is far deeper than a photograph.
After being transported by an off-putting chauffeur in a sketchy van, the friends have finally arrived to the mansion. “Welcome to paradise,” says the venue’s usher. As the gentleman lays out the rules of the party, it begins to feel a bit more legitimate, yet there’s still something that feels off about the place. A Drake groupie is hysterical that her deceitful plan of forging the rapper’s signature in hopes of being let in didn’t work out (By the end of the party, I want to tell her that she missed literally nothing), but no problems arise for the four friends. Upon entering the party, the girls are offered marijuana gummies, to which modest Nadine initially replies with, “I’m good, thank you.” With a bit of peer pressure, however, no friend is left behind when it comes to partaking on the adventure of marijuana edibles.
In the midst of the party, Nadine’s first high is in full effect, and she’s feeling everything, from intense paranoia and confusion to being unable to form coherent sentences. “I feel weird,” she says in a voice that is not Nadine’s. As Van attempts to calm Nadine down, she meets another partygoer, Brandon, who is a little too eager to help. He proceeds to lead Van to a seemingly private part of the mansion, which he knows the entire layout of because he arrived early and decided to just “walk around.” He came alone, which isn’t particularly odd in itself, but what is unsettling is how he refers to Van, who he literally just met, as his friend. Once he leads her to the bathroom, he continues to be excessively helpful. After less than two seconds, he asks if she’s good in there. The “nice guy” act starts to feel unsafe, and there’s an unhealthy attachment already beginning to brew. Trusting her intuition, Van manages to escape Brandon, and her mission to locate Drake continues. Roaming around the mansion, Van appears far more comfortable while she’s away from the party. As she explores, she dances freely and enjoys her own company without the approval of anyone.
Meanwhile, Nadine and Darius find each other. We don’t have a clue where Darius came from, but because it’s Darius, we don’t question it. For all we know, he teleported to Drake’s house. Regardless, we’re grateful for his presence, because in his own unique way, he is exactly what Nadine needs to help guide her through her first high experience. “Is this real?” Nadine asks, to which Darius responds with a deep, philosophical answer that goes far above Nadine’s head, concluding with, “You’re a simulation.” Yet, their entire conversation feels warm and sincere, lacks any sense of judgment on Darius’s end, and leaves me craving for more Nadine and Darius moments.
Later, Tami makes the audience feel incredibly uncomfortable by side-eyeing the white woman who is dating a black man, then proceeds to give the woman an angry speech on why she believes it’s unacceptable to date outside of one’s race. If we’re being honest, I felt second-hand embarrassment from Tami, whose character is based off the negative “angry black woman” stereotype. Atlanta echoes the good, the bad, and the ugly of humanity within its characters, and I can appreciate this. However, I’m not convinced that it was necessary to show yet another hostile black woman on-screen, as we can look elsewhere within the media and unfortunately find numerous examples. Tami being dark-skinned only adds fuel to the fire, since the media consistently portrays women of a darker skin tone to behave aggressively and irrationally. Considering the fact that Atlanta should know better, the narrative behind Tami’s character was deeply problematic.
Van eventually finds Champagne Papi, or at least the cardboard cutout version of him. For $20 per selfie, the deceptive party’s true nature is ultimately exposed as a promotional scam. And yet, what’s perhaps the most fascinating is despite the absence of Drake, an extensive line of women are still patiently waiting their turn for a chance to have a photo with the cardboard Drake, in order to deceive others as well and potentially gain thousands of followers. “Hold up, you’re telling me all these girls have been posting fake photos on Instagram all night?” asks Van. The woman selling the photos looks at Van amused, saying, “You thought you was going to have a meaningful convo with Drake or some sh*t?” Van continues to stay true to herself and doesn’t feel the need to fool the flawed social media world. After all, it isn’t the selfie with Drake that Van is searching for, but something far more elusive.
And so it goes. In the end, Darius and Nadine unquestionably had the best time. Away from the crowd and beneath the moonlight, they discussed the significant things that matter in this world, such as the simulation theory and debating the true nature of reality. “It’s a simulation, Van. It’s all fake,” says Nadine. Van replies, “You’re right. There’s no Drake, so don’t ruin your high and just enjoy yourself.” And that, my friends (as Brandon would say), is a wise lesson for us all.