Author: Eugene Riordan, Jr.
With some success comes controversy, and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ song “Same Love” has been the recent target, but not for reasons you’d expect.
On August 25 this year, the rapper duo won “Best Hip-Hop Video” and “Best Video With a Social Message,” along with giving a fantastic performance of the song (even though everyone else couldn’t keep their eyes off of the wrecking ball of Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke). The video had been getting a lot of attention online and the song received (and continues to receive) a lot of air time, almost reaching the top 10 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 this summer. Though the song was released as a single over a year ago, Macklemore’s success with “Thrift Shop” along with lgbt news domestically and internationally (think DOMA and Russia) elevated the song’s popularity.
The song’s awards garnered criticism from out gay New York rapper Le1f, who lashed out on Twitter that night, like all important disputes in our digital age. While the tweets were later deleted, screenshots have preserved the precious tweets, which started with “that time that straight white dude ripped off my song then made a video about gay interracial love and made a million dollars” and goes on from there. Le1f asks if any money from the video went to lgbtq causes, talks about how the song doesn’t help kids come out, and talks about how he couldn’t capitalize on some another minority group: “I’m gonna write a song about disabled people, or about the aboriginal struggle. cuz mama needs a new fur coat. oh wait, that’s evil.”
In case you were wondering as well, Macklemore did donate some profits from “Same Love” to the group Washington United for Marriage to support the same-sex legalization in Washington state in 2012.
Le1f hasn’t been the only one who questioned “Same Love,” why it became so popular, and who the real audience is. In an interview with Chelsea Lately after the awards show, Macklemore said that his decision to write the song how it came out was because that was his story to tell as an ally with personal ties to the queer community without being queer himself. Mary Lambert, who the song features and who recently came out with her own song titled from her refrain, “She Keeps Me Warm,” said that she thinks the song is truly “an anthem for allies.” “A straight white man can’t change his demographic, but he can choose what he does with his privilege, and he can choose his awareness of sense of self and what privilege is,” she said in an interview with Policymic.
I would have to agree with Lambert’s assessment of the song. Personally, like Gaga’s “Born This Way,” after a while the song sounds pandering, and isn’t necessarily a song meant for queer people. The people it most affects it seems are straight allies, and those who know and care about lgbtq people so much. If you listen to the song, Lambert’s refrain, the queer voice, comes after Macklemore’s verses, not as the focal point, but as an endorsement or a reminder, that queer people are involved. As unfortunate as it may be that queer issues get brought to the forefront of American consciousness by straight allies and not queer artists alone, I would agree that it is a sort of progress for our country as a whole, even if it is more “feel good” than anything else.
Same Song? and Hip-Hop’s Reception
Le1f’s criticism of ripping off of his music isn’t actually directed at “Same Love,” but rather the number one single “Thrift Shop. Le1f released his song “Wut” early in 2012, before Macklemore’s hit, and both sound pretty similar. Le1f might have a point. You can listen to “Wut” here, and can compare it to “Thrift Shop” over here. What do you think?
One of the last issues that Le1f brings up, which a lot of commentators think is important as per Macklemore’s intentions with the song, is about changing the genre for which the song is intended. Shocker: the hip hop community is pretty homophobic. Those voices aren’t from upper-class white men like him, but come primarily from black men who end up dismissing Macklemore’s song as atypical of the genre. The culture of those rappers, and historically for African-Americans, has been rooted in Christianity and a desire for a masculinity to overcome a history of slavery, poverty, and discrimination. Macklemore’s desire to change the way hip-hop approaches queerness isn’t a bad one, it just might not be as effective as he would like it to be.
If you want to help change music genres to be more inclusive of lgbtq issues and individuals, support out queer artists and their music. The music industry responds to changing opinions and desires of its listeners (making popular songs is a business after all), so what you listen to matters. Whether you support “Same Love” or don’t care for it, it’s still pretty amazing a song like that has gotten so much attention.
If you’re still feeling all activisty for queer music, watch the video for Autoheart’s “Moscow,” which offends Russia’s new anti-lgbt-propaganda rules in a creative and artistic way.