Macklemore's Terrifying Secret: He's Not Really That Good
But "Thrift Shop" isn't all Macklemore is about. Let's be fair to the guy: He's also about serious business. After calling his integrity into question on Facebook, I was introduced to some of his very, very melodramatic work talking about the very, very serious subject of drug addiction.
The problem here is that this song is also extremely calculated. From his tugging-on-your-heartstrings melancholy minor chords on piano and choral backing vocals, to the part in the chorus where all the music fades and it's just his broken voice, to his frantic, personal, "I'm about to cry just saying this stuff" flow via Sage Francis in 2002, he takes all the tropes of indie hip-hop and mixes them in with modern indie-rock clichés to make the sappiest "my life is so hard" song I've heard in ages.
But forgive me for not buying it. The dichotomy makes it too unbelievable. Jumping fences between this and a song like "Thrift Shop" just shows the bare-bones mathematics behind these songs: It's designed to grab your attention and draw you in with something familiar and simple, with easy emotions that we've all felt before.
Compare with the roots of indie hip-hop, where the rappers didn't trade in easy emotions. Compare with the way Sage Francis bore his soul on Personal Journalist without even asking for sympathy. Compare with the futuristic experimentation of El-P and Cannibal Ox, living in a broken dystopia of hip-hop. Compare with Why?'s jaded bitterness. Or how, in this fantastic track, Astronautalis plies your heart in a way that has none of the flashiness of "Otherside."
What Astronautalis did on "Gaston Ave" was not calculated or flashy. It wasn't designed to get played on the radio like a Lil Wayne ballad. It was designed to appeal to only those interested in art like this. It's uncompromising, which is a challenge to the listeners. But it is real; it's not business.
Macklemore is a businessman and I salute him for that. But I can't eat up his saccharine beats or his lazy comedy, either. It's all too mechanical and easy, too fad-oriented and too desperate. It's the same as watching a Family Guy episode where the show throws 50 pop culture references at you, then attempts an emotional third act where one of the characters tries to display human emotions.
You know what it's doing, and you just can't buy it. That's Macklemore in a nutshell.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are this weekend's musical guest on Saturday Night Live, which airs at 10:30 p.m. Saturday on NBC.