By ALEXA J. WILLIAMS ’14
You can’t escape Macklemore these days. His smug face and Phil-from-“Rugrats” hairstyle have been on the front page of every news source since his three Grammy wins. The rapper and his producer, Ryan Lewis, used their Grammy performance of “Same Love” on Jan. 26 as a platform to marry 33 same-sex couples. Yet what really generated media attention and Internet outrage was his “apology” to Kendrick Lamar via text message. Macklemore wrote that it “sucks that I robbed you” and told Lamar that he meant to say something during his acceptance speech but “froze.” The incident sheds light on how big a role race and popularity play in determining who wins what at the year’s biggest awards shows, as well as Macklemore’s role in shutting down the voices of people of color, LGBTQ individuals and LGBTQ people of color.
“Thrift Shop” was Macklemore’s first big hit. The song’s music video currently has more than 490 million views on YouTube. But if you listen to “Thrift Shop” and then to rapper Le1f’s single “Wut,” you’ll notice that the beats are virtually identical, despite “Wut” having come out more than a month earlier on Youtube. Ever since the alleged plagiarism, the openly gay rapper has been very vocal on Twitter, decrying the attention Macklemore has been getting for being pro-gay when his career started by ripping off a gay man of color.
This wasn’t the first time that Macklemore overshadowed LGBTQ voices. In “Same Love,” Macklemore raps: “If I was gay, I would think hip-hop hates me,” putting down the rest of the hip-hop community as if his song were the leader of a new revolution. Gay rappers have been on the scene for years, yet they have been overshadowed by their straight counterparts. And honestly, for a song about it being okay to be gay, “Same Love” features Macklemore spending lots of lyric space yelling “no homo.”
During MTV’s Video Music Awards, Macklemore gave an impassioned speech about how “Same Love” was “the most important song” he had ever written while Mary Lambert, the openly gay woman who sang the chorus, stood silently beside him. It wasn’t until Macklemore was walking offstage that Lambert was even acknowledged, with a quick “and of course, Mary Lambert,” from Ryan Lewis as he passed by the microphone. This incident at the Grammy’s where Macklemore “forgot” to inform Lamar while onstage that he “robbed” him of an award is just the latest in what I am sure will be a long line of Macklemore conveniently “forgetting” that he is essentially piggybacking on those less privileged than himself. Macklemore constantly puts himself front and center, even though as an ally, he should be putting himself second in a movement that is not his.
I am tired of being told I should be grateful to Macklemore, as though what he’s doing isn’t blatant exploitation. Macklemore isn’t changing anyone’s minds. His music is aimed at, and popular with, young liberals, and any anti-LGBTQ folks are unlikely to change their worldview simply because a popular rapper sang about equal rights in that one song. I’m told that I should be happy Macklemore is using his popularity to bring attention to the “important issue of marriage equality,” but all he has done is piggyback on the hard work of LGBTQ people and use it to jump start his own career.
“Same Love” says nothing new or radical. The song just parrots the words that LGBTQ people have been saying for years. Except now a straight, white, cis-man is saying them, so they’re getting media attention. I’m also sick and tired of being told that marriage inequality is the biggest problem facing LGBTQ youth in a world where CeCe McDonald, a transgender woman of color, was imprisoned for 41 months for her acts of self defense after a man threw racist and transphobic slurs at her and violently assaulted her as she walked down the streets of Minneapolis. This is the same world where LGBTQ kids are three times more likely to say they don’t feel physically safe at school and four times as likely to have attempted suicide than other young people.
I’m not saying you can’t like Macklemore’s music, but just remember that this man is a textbook case of “how not to be an ally.” He is shouting over the voices of the less privileged and using the popularity his ally status gives him to sing his own praises. If Macklemore really cared for the LGBTQ community, he wouldn’t be singing about how one time he was afraid he was gay because he could draw, as though that somehow makes him one of us. Instead, he would analyze his own privilege and use his media-inflated popularity to amplify the voices of the community he so far has only succeeded in silencing.
Alexa is a senior studying English and Chinese who doesn’t use twitter but her tumblr (and Steam) username is Lyrox.