Macklemore, born Benjamin Haggerty, being from the Northwest and white, is an unlikely rap star, but in the last year or so he has reached unprecedented exposure, thanks to the success of his latest CD, “Thrift Shop,” done with his producer, Ryan Lewis. The title track, which makes fun of his liking to wear thrift shop clothing, has garnered about 400 million views on YouTube; yes, million. He releases his music independently, so it’s also amazing that this is the first time since 1994 that a CD not supported by a major label has reached #1 on the Billboard charts.
So, kudos for all of that, but that is not what has gotten Macklemore additional exposure, and new fans, in areas he never would have reached. In July of 2012 the duo, with the vocal help of Mary Lambert, released the single “Same Love” in conjunction with the Music for Marriage Equality Campaign in Washington State, in support of Referendum 74. He issued a statement at the time, “ “My hope is that my personal testimony can help in some way to not only advance the dialogue and approve Referendum 74, but also to help shape a culture of belonging in which all people are equal.” And while you cannot measure these things, it probably did help, and same-sex marriage was approved in that state in November.
The video, also released in July 2012, quickly went viral, and has received about 60 million views. I included the song on my October OutRadio show, and that same month they were guests on The Ellen Show, performing the song live, which you can see here.
And the official video, is below, with (by the way, openly lesbian) Mary Lambert providing the stunning chorus. She wrote the chorus’ hook:
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
I can’t change
Even if I try
Even if I wanted to
When it was originally released a special edition 45 rpm vinyl version was offered.
Macklemore has close gay relatives, but the writing spark for the song was lit when his mother sent him an article about the suicide of a gay 13-year old boy, and the writing was started from that perspective. As he has recounted, “I played it for my producer, Ryan Lewis, who told me, ‘You know what? This is good, but this isn’t your story and you have a story.’”
As I write this, the song has reached number 33 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, (#5 on the rap charts) and that’s probably the highest peak ever reached by what is really a “message song” about homosexuality. The only other recent song that comes to mind in that regard was Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” but to me that’s more of an anthem song than a message one, and its message was probably oblivious to many caught up in its catchy rhythms and hook. That could not happen to “Same Love”…you have to listen to the song to “get it,” and millions did. And being in the genre of rap music it was certainly a breakthrough.
And over the last several months it seems like it reaches more and more corners of the internet, sort of a ripple effect. Just this week a touching story showed up on the Huffington Post, about a Canadian 8th grader who played the song for his gay teacher, which seemed like the kid’s way of saying the teacher being gay was okay with him. One person added his comments to the blog entry, “As a gay man, I have renewed faith in our youth.” Well, there’s hope.