I learned about Macklemore — and Ryan Lewis, on which note I have to comment, it’s cool to see a producer share top billing with a performer — in much the same way I learned about Lady Gaga.
See, when I was in Colorado (yes, that again), Gaga was just beginning to make waves; I think it was around the “Poker Face” era. During that period, I was mostly cut off from pop culture — most culture, really — at large. We had no television, no internet save the couple of hours a week we’d steal at the local library, and no music except what I’d shoehorned into my dinky little iPod Nano. I remember going to a thrift shop in Salida, rummaging around until I found a beaten CD copy of Van Morrison’s “Moondance;” I took it back to the hostel, popped it into the CD stereo they somehow had saved over the years and rode the euphoria — helped by the second half of a Jim Beam pint — not just of Van’s transcendent pipes, but of finally, dear god, having something different to listen to.
So. I picked up two different copies of a Rolling Stone magazine at the Wal-Mart before we head out for a late summer hitch. One was the super-rushed but still touching Michael Jackson tribute issue; the other featured Lady Gaga on the cover, draped in what looked like sequined cotton candy, surrounded by impossibly huge bubbles. She looked like anthropomorphized Bubble Yum. My first thought, likely everyone’s first thought upon their initial encounter with Ms. ‘Ga, was “What the s**t’s a Gaga?”
Such was my discovery of Macklemore. I came to know the pseudo-MC piecemeal through iTunes samples, word of mouth and constantly asking the question, “Who’s that guy that does that one song I keep hearing at the gym?” It’s the same way I found out about Wesley Willis. Madison is a weird place.
Let’s get this out of the way: “The Heist,” stacked up against both the pop and hip-hop pantheons, is a wholly unremarkable album. Macklemore’s flow is herky-jerky, his social commentary too hammer-over-the-head — a trait whose necessity I realize in a socio-political context, but whose lack of finesse I find tiresome — and the songs’ only real hooks, generally sung by guest artists, feel wedged in, forced. That’s not to say it’s a bad album, really; it’s not. It’s competently written and performed, immaculately produced and slickly marketed. Plus, the duo absolutely know how to dress. They’re like the IKEA of hip-hop.
Such mixed feelings, whether they should or not, don’t carry over, for me, into their performance at this past weekend’s Grammy Awards. I don’t tune in much; the last time I did, it was to write a very specific column for this paper, and that one wasn’t very good either. Mostly, I watch just to be able to put names and faces to songs I keep hearing either at the gym or at work. On a side note: Lorde should win everything, ever. A few things I expected: there would be spectacle, obviously — Pink Cirque du Solei-ing herself, I admit impressively, above attendees’ heads — plus some weird, for-the-hell-of-it mashup performances: Alan Thicke and Chicago, Stevie Wonder and Daft Punk, etc.
But Macklemore’s performance, if it didn’t stop me in my tracks, at least gave notice that this is an artist worth watching, if not for his musical contributions, then for the buzz he generates for important issues — see, for better or worse, U2. On the one hand, the whole wedding stunt smacked of gimmick, and a safe one at that: the social tide is turning in our country, and, as I heard someone recently say, “In 20 years, there won’t be many places in the United States where you can’t get high at a gay wedding.” On the other: how is that not a good thing? When a socio-political gesture that gets this much media play is indicative of the times we live in rather than the times we look forward to, we should count that as a win for all involved.
How does this all tie back into my Gaga-discovery? Simple: I needed something to read, to listen to, to stimulate me. This need drives us to pop music, I think: the imperative that is distraction, an ephemeral bit of mathematics and rhythm for our ears and minds to latch onto. Let it be this: comforting, positive, a dream, at least, half-realized.