Do Macklemore’s Bittersweet Rap Grammy Wins Reward Slacktivism?

You can support gay rights. You can champion gay marriage. You can appreciate the gesture of marrying LGBTQ couples on a national platform. You can do all of this and still not be a Macklemore fan. I can say that, because I do, and I’m not.

I find Macklemore to be…well…corny? I know what you’re thinking, and no, I have no problem with White rappers. His skin color has nothing to do with his lyrical composition, beat choices and marketing. Eminem has some crazy verses, Mac Miller writes some pretty evocative work and you will often find me at karaoke night unabashedly slurring the words to “Gucci Gucci” by Kreayshawn. My issue is that lyrically/musically, he is not in the same league as the people he beat for Best Rap Album. There’s no poetry in his words, he’s just talking*. He is a little gimmicky, and his taste for magnanimous displays of support and remorse feel more than self-serving and disingenuous.

There are almost too many facets to this Macklemore debacle to cover in one article alone, but I will try:

After Macklemore’s The Heist beat Yeezus, Magna Carta Holy Grail, m.A.A.d City, etc. for Best Rap Album, he made sure to post his apology to Kendrick Lamar on Instagram. “It’s weird and sucks that I robbed you,” he claimed. Important note: he didn’t get on stage and admit that his album simply wasn’t as good (it wasn’t – and there is a precedent for that sort of thing). He didn’t let Mary Lambert use his platform to speak as an out lesbian woman when she holds much of the responsibility for his success. He did his typical “aww shucks army of me” routine once again. That is not humility; it is another way to pretend to care about an injustice to save face.

On the Internet, we talk a lot about cultural appropriation and privilege, but we tend to be collectively shortsighted when one disenfranchised group does get a helping hand from an ally. Macklemore has been shamelessly pro-gay rights in his marketing efforts, tweeting about how much he cares about the community and believes gay marriage should be legalized. While having someone who has innate power due to their skin color and sex in your corner is not a bad thing, it is also not enough to erase the clear bias the music industry has in his favor because of it.

Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Kid Cudi, Childish Gambino, etc. etc. etc. have all been vocal about their support of gay marriage legislation and gay rights. I support everyone who supports love in all of its forms. Their albums have been political about injustice across the board (albeit with missteps and damning lyrics in songs from years ago). All of these artists have lyrics about gay rights, civil rights, classism, etc. Macklemore is not the only voice in the crowd, and certainly isn’t the most talented, yet he is awarded routinely and even he knows the reason why: In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, he admits he wouldn’t have been as successful if he wasn’t White; parents feel safer letting their children listen to his curse-filled lyrics because of the color of his skin.

Macklemore’s “Same Love” is pro-LGBTQ equality, but also staunchly self-serving. The song opens with the lines:

When I was in the third grade I thought that I was gay,

‘Cause I could draw, my uncle was, and I kept my room straight.

I told my mom, tears rushing down my face

She’s like “Ben you’ve loved girls since before pre-k, trippin’ “

Yeah, I guess she had a point, didn’t she?

The flow here has no nuance. Substantively, it is lacking. Simply put, the song is his declaration for acceptance of the gay community while subversively screaming, “#NOHOMO.” And while the jury is still out on whether his intent matters when the song is “so powerful,” it does overshadow the work of technically more talented Black rap artists who too have thrown their support in the corner of gay rights (especially at an awards show that is supposed to be based on talent, but I digress). The message is clear: your support for a movement only counts if you look a certain way.

And maybe certainly hip-hop has been lagging behind in support of gay rights. At the same time, every musical genre has. I can’t name one popular country song that is explicitly pro-gay rights. Not surprisingly, pop radio stations often shy away from playing country and rap music. But herein lies the problem: The Grammys has distinguished categories for a reason. I celebrate a true country artist winning a country award over cross-over pop superstar Taylor Swift. I celebrate when true rap artists win rap awards. Best New Artist? Fine. Best Rap Song/Album? Absolutely not Macklemore.

Equality isn’t achieved when you buy a Macklemore album. Slacktivism is not activism.

I know my perspective is my own, and I don’t speak for anyone but myself– but my biggest problem here is that we’re even talking about Macklemore when Queen Latifah was the only ordained minister on the Grammy’s stage marrying couples. Somehow that isn’t doing as much for gay rights as a few cheesy lyrics from a guy famous for singing about discount onesies.

I’m not putting LGBTQ issues and race issues in a pageant to see who is more oppressed, but I am saying that this situation is layered and complex, that the support of one community shouldn’t come at the expense of another… Historically White artists have been awarded for appropriating minority art, even when it isn’t as good. That conversation doesn’t stop because one song about marriage equality comes out. And I know this is an unpopular opinion, but Macklemore doesn’t deserve to be awarded musically when he is not as strong of a musical artist.

*(Lots of people will poo-poo this and say that’s not important, but perhaps those people aren’t aware that rap music started as a way of being clever, using wordplay and being poetic over a song. It isn’t about just talking, it is an art.)

Image courtesy of Entertainment Weekly.

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