Reviews: Same Love by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Same Love is a rap song about gay and lesbian rights, mostly as they relate to marriage. It was the first rap song about gay and lesbian marriage to make it into the Top 40.

This is an easy pick to make, but it’s also a difficult pick to make. And to that point, it should be explicitly stated that the “difficulty” part of that statement has zero percent to do with the song’s general premise, which is civic egalitarianism, which should never, ever be a problem. There is a lot to unpack here. Let’s go “easy” first:

WHY IS “SAME LOVE” AN EASY SONG TO PICK AS THE MOST IMPORTANT SONG OF 2012?

Because of what it is. “Same Love” wasn’t the first rap song advocating for gays. There’s an entire subgenre made up of queer rappers that began gaining popularity outside of itself near 2010 (homo-hop), and well before that there was sissy bounce, which is an offshoot of New Orleans’s bounce music, which was regionally popularized in the early ’90s, and it’s not explicitly a gay rap subgenre but it’s certainly gay friendly. “Same Love” isn’t even the first song by a straight guy advocating for gay rights. Murs, a decidedly less popular rapper, released a song in 2011 called “Animal Style” that was about a turbulent high school relationship between two guys.

But what “Same Love” is is the first rap song about gay rights to receive significant radio airplay, or any kind of radio airplay, really.

It was the fourth single from Mackle-more & Ryan Lewis’s The Heist, and it piggybacked off (a) the gigantic success of “Thrift Shop,” which had turned Macklemore into a star, (b) the momentum the gay rights movement had gained when President Obama officially endorsed same-sex marriage in May 2012, (c) the emotional response elicited by R&B singer Frank Ocean in July 2012 when he wrote in a letter posted on his Tumblr how he’d fallen in love with a man once, and (d) what appeared to be a noticeable shift in the tolerance of homosexuality in rap, and I mean this literally2 and metaphorically, with artists like Lil Wayne and Drake and Andre 3000 blurring the edges of what masculinity in the genre meant.

“Same Love” was perfectly timed and gorgeously executed. It had weight and consequence.

IS “SAME LOVE” DIFFICULT BECAUSE MACKLEMORE IS CORNY?

No. If Macklemore is corny, it’s a by-product of being overly sincere or eager, and that’s a by-product of being perpetually concerned he might be intruding on rap. He has a song called “White Privilege,” where he talks about that exact thing, saying things like, “Hip-hop started off on a block I’ve never been to / To counteract a struggle I’ve never even been through.” Enough of that can be annoying, I suppose, but with Macklemore it’s always more tone-deaf than malicious.

The easiest example: His post-Grammys debacle. After he’d won four awards on seven nominations in 2014, he felt it necessary to apologize. One of the awards he’d received was for Best Rap Album. Kendrick Lamar was the popular choice for that award, and with good reason: His album good kid, m.A.A.d. city was a triumph, and a truly enjoyable piece of art.

The Heist was fun enough, but it stood only waist-high to GKMC. Still, it won, and so the day after the show Macklemore sent Kendrick a text apologizing, saying Kendrick had deserved to win that award, that he felt weird about having “robbed” him of it. And that was an okay thing to do.

A better thing to do would’ve been nothing, but sending the text wasn’t terrible. But then Macklemore took a screenshot of the text and posted it to his Instagram. That was not an okay thing to do. That was terrible. That was corny. It was mawkish, and (probably) self-serving, and felt a lot like a grasp at absolution, even if it wasn’t meant to. But “Same Love” doesn’t have that same hue. There is no hedge in it.

“Same Love” isn’t an adoption of values or culture; it’s a reflective, anecdotal song based on his own ideas and experiences.

IS “SAME LOVE” DIFFICULT BECAUSE IT’S A CORNY SONG?

A little bit. This is a criticism that gets tossed at a fair number of Macklemore songs, and sometimes it’s accurate to describe a small amount of his music that way, and there are a handful of threadbare aphorisms that push “Same Love” in that direction (“Live on! Be yourself!”; “No law’s gonna change us / We have to change us”; “No freedom ’til we’re equal / Damn right I support it”).

But it’s not all the way corny. It’s also thoughtful and it’s also well-intentioned, and it’s slicker than it would appear to have you believe, too. Especially, to paraphrase a conceit from a paper written by Dr. R. J. Snell, the relationship between images and lyrics in the video, which traces the life from birth to death of a gay male born into an unwelcoming home:

When Macklemore talks about how “right-wing conservatives” think being gay is a decision, he raps, “And you can be cured with some treatment and religion,” and we’re shown video clips of children exiting a Catholic church in the ’60s, and the implication is that gay by choice and not design is an outdated and impractical idea. He reinforces his position with the line “Man-made rewiring of a predisposition,” and we’re shown clips of a Bible and a cross. When he raps the phrase “Playing God,” we see the video’s protagonist sitting with his mother in a church pew. The first time we see him crying is the first time we hear Mary Lambert singing, “

And I can’t change, even if I tried.” We see him and his mom arguing after that as Lambert completes her thought, singing she couldn’t change “even if I wanted to.” And when she sings the couplet for a second time, we see the protagonist texting a boy and then meeting up with him and appearing very happy.

The line “A culture founded from oppression” is paired with clips from the civil rights movement. “Gender to skin color” is matched with a little black girl holding a WE BELIEVE IN THE SUPREME COURT sign. When Macklemore talks about people who’ve had their rights stolen, we see a clip of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking, and then right after that he says, “I might not be the same, but that’s not important,” and we see a gay rights parade. It’s all very smart. Smart is rarely corny.

IS “SAME LOVE” DIFFICULT BECAUSE MACKLEMORE IS WHITE?

No.

IS “SAME LOVE” DIFFICULT BECAUSE MACKLEMORE IS WHITE AND IS RAPPING?

That’s probably closer to the point, but still not completely accurate, and certainly not completely troublesome. Being a white rapper isn’t necessarily a thing, at least not like it maybe once was. White people rap. And Macklemore has always shown himself to be aware of the privileges afforded to him for being a white rapper. When he interviewed with New York’s Hot 97 in 2014 following the string of high-profile, racially charged murders that occurred, he spoke openly and intelligently about his position.

“For me, as a white dude, as a white rapper, I’m like, ‘How do I participate in this conversation?’ How do I participate, how do I get involved on a level where I’m not co-opting the movement or I’m not making it about me, but also realizing the platform that I have and the reach that I have and doing it in an authentic, genuine way, because race is uncomfortable to talk about, and white people, we can just turn off the TV when we’re sick of talking about race.” He’s always nervous about messing up, like how a guy who’s caught the attention of a girl who’s too pretty for him behaves.

IS “SAME LOVE” DIFFICULT BECAUSE MACKLEMORE IS WHITE AND IS RAPPING AND SEEMS TO IMPLY THAT RAP, A GENRE THAT WAS FOUNDED BY BLACKS AND IS STILL MOSTLY BLACK, IS MORE HOMOPHOBIC THAN ANY OTHER SECTION OF MUSIC, AND SO HERE HE IS, THE GREAT WHITE SAVIOR, ENLIGHTENING EVERYONE?

No. I suppose a very cynical person could see it that way if he or she squinted enough. But Macklemore is a rapper, and has always identified himself as a rapper, and has only ever been careful when talking about, or even hinting at, anything that has to deal with race. Also, penalizing him for not being a thing would appear to be the exact opposite of the song, or of life, really.

IS “SAME LOVE” DIFFICULT BECAUSE MACKLEMORE IS NOT GAY?

This is a central criticism of “Same Love,” and the thought is: How can Macklemore be the voice of gay struggle if he is not gay? And the answer is simple: I don’t imagine he intended to become that, and he’s for sure never presented it that way in any interview or quote. He largely avoids even being shown in the video for the song, his only appearance coming as a cameo during a wedding scene.

When Macklemore performed “Same Love” at the Grammys, there was a break near the end of the performance where the music still played but the rapping had stopped. Queen Latifah walked out, and Madonna was there, too, and there was an aisle full of couples, gay and straight, whom Queen Latifah was marrying.

It was kind of amazing to see, but it was also kind of silly to see, because who gets married at the Grammys, and who gets married by Queen Latifah, and where did Madonna even come from? Then the camera zoomed and panned across the faces of the couples who were being wed, and several of them had very big, very wet, very happy eyes, and it continued being amazing but stopped being silly. In hip-hop, at that point, about this issue, no one had ever had that effect before.

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