Person of the Year (Tie): Macklemore
If you have any doubts about Macklemore’s influence, just ask a Seattle mom. Specifically, ask the mother of a kid between the ages of 6 and 12 years old. She’ll first roll her eyes and tell you how often she gets begged to turn up “Thrift Shop” when it comes on the radio. But then it’s likely she’ll share an interesting conversation she had with her boy or girl about the song “Same Love.”
It usually goes one of two ways. Either the kid started the conversation, asking, “What does gay mean?” and after hearing the explanation, giggled a little. The next time the song came on, there was no giggling, just singing along. Alternatively, the mom asked the kid, “What do you think this song is about?” And the kid said something like, “It’s about how being gay is OK.” More singing. That’s it. The momentous part about these conversations is that they are not momentous.
More than the album The Heist going platinum last August—without him ever signing with a label—more than his face gracing the cover of Rolling Stone, more than his name being an answer in The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle (!), the fact that “Same Love” is being played on mainstream radio (peaking at no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart last summer) means Seattle-born-and-bred rapper Macklemore is having an influence the impact of which is both immense and lasting.
Macklemore (aka Ben Haggerty) says he writes songs “from the heart,” and the impetus behind “Same Love” was especially personal, prompted by news of bullied gay teens committing suicide, the use of “gay” as a slur in hip-hop culture and elsewhere and love for his gay uncle. He first tried penning a song from the perspective of a bullied gay teen, but collaborator and producer Ryan Lewis told him it wasn’t working. Lewis encouraged Haggerty to write instead about his own experience, et voilà, “Same Love” was born.
It wasn’t without trepidation. In an August interview for Rap Radar, conducted before a live audience at Seattle’s ACT Theatre, Haggerty said, “The first bar was the most vulnerable of anything I’ve ever written, as far as being a rapper.” When I was in the third grade I thought that I was gay... He recalled thinking, “Damn, do I really wanna say this?” But in the end he decided, “It’s my story, and if I censor myself, I’m not doing my job as an artist.”
Haggerty released the sweet video accompanying the song in October 2012, openly hoping it would help increase support of Referendum 74, Washington’s historic gay marriage bill. Organizers took up the song as an anthem, and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis contributed some download proceeds to the campaign. Although nowhere near the dollar amount donated by our other Person of the Year, Jeff Bezos, the song’s contribution was huge in another way: bringing a blatantly political, pro-gay rights message into mainstream music.
Of course, “Same Love” has sparked controversy (teachers in Michigan and North Carolina who played the song in class were suspended, inciting outrage online), and its popularity pales in comparison to Macklemore’s other hits—as of early October, the “Same Love” video had a mere 83,695,858 YouTube views compared to 429,416,336 for “Thrift Shop” and 132,874,136 for “Can’t Hold Us.” But Haggerty has said, “In my heart it’s the most important song I’ve ever written.”
In August, upon accepting the MTV Video Music Award won by “Same Love” for Best Video with a Social Message, Haggerty said, “To watch this song in the last year spread across the world is a testament to what is happening right now in America on the forefront of equality. Gay rights are human rights, there is no separation.” A whole generation of kids is singing along with that message, on regular old radio. Brangien Davis