Macklemore has great timing when it comes to releasing socially conscious songs. Putting out White Privilege II last year would have seen it lost in the flurry of other #blacklivesmatter media and coverage. But the use of that hashtag has dwindled somewhat so now is a perfect time to capitalise upon its popularity without having to compete with others using it. Those marketing the song are probably disappointed that #OscarsSoWhite is getting all the press but still, the original tag is all Macklemore’s.
He was equally savvy with Same Love, his up-with-same-sex marriage refrain that managed to hit in 2012 just as a swell to legalize gay marriage in the US, and elsewhere, began to build.
I suspect that Macklemore is genuine about wanting to create a level playing field among all the peoples of the world. But as I listened to the lyrics to his new song I had some flashbacks. Same Love is literally White Privilege II’s older, gayer brother.
Both songs begin with Macklemore’s personal story as a non-member of the community he’s supporting, but still affected by its struggles. In Same Love it was his own fear as a child that he was gay. In White Privilege II it’s whether he should be at a #blacklivesmatter protest since he’s white. Both songs speak to the need for him not to stay voiceless – “everyone else is more comfortable remaining voiceless” vs “So what the fuck has happened to my voice if I stay silent”. And in both he uses a woman who is a member of the community to provide the “insider perspective”. In Same Love he included lesbian singer Mary Lambert. With White Privilege it’s black poet and vocalist Jamila Woods.
There’s an even more specific link between the songs as Same Love is referenced in White Privilege II. It comes in the context of gushing praise from a fan:
And ‘One Love’, oh my God, that song, brilliant
Their aunt is gay, when that song came out
My son told his whole class, he was actually proud
After its release Same Love was called “profound” and “the best gay marriage song to date in any genre” though, as far as the latter accolade goes, how much competition does it have?. It was nominated for Song of the Year at the 2014 Grammys and performed during a mass marriage ceremony – of gay and straight couples – at that awards show.
During the Same Love success, a couple of Macklemore’s old tweets were unearthed in an attempt to prove a homophobic past. Contextually they weren’t arguably “homophobic” according to some sources. And there were other complaints that despite good intentions it missed the mark.
Like other complainants I too wasn’t a fan of Same Love. Like others I noticed that for a song all about telling the world we’re the same, Macklemore made sure to distance himself from the homos.
When I was in the third grade I thought that I was gay,
‘Cause I could draw, my uncle was, and I kept my room straight.
I told my mom, tears rushing down my face
She’s like “Ben you’ve loved girls since before pre-k”
“Pre-K” means pre-Kindergarten, which starts at age 5 in the US, so “before pre-K” is even younger. Therefore, right from the outset Macklemore is emphasizing that he’s straight. Not just ordinary straight, but someone so straight he’s craved vagina since the moment of his birth.
The lyrics double-down on this this distancing when at one point Macklemore says “if I was gay”. He didn’t need to tell us he’s straight since his lyrics definitely lack the nuances that a gay writer might have brought. For example, Macklemore claims that the “same hate” causes discrimination based on gender and race. We minorities get that we’re hated, and all hate is arguably part of the same species of dislike but as a gay man I certainly don’t believe homophobia is the “same hate” as sexism or racism – it’s a wee bit more complicated than that. And few gay writers would tie the song’s message to religion in the way Macklemore does near the end.
“Whatever God you believe in, we come from the same one”.
Religions are some of our worst oppressors so when asking for understanding we tend not to rely on their graces.
I cherish our straight allies. We need them. I don’t have an issue with them speaking about our struggle or even making money, and getting awards, for their activism.
But I do have an issue when allies make it all about them.
White Privilege II is further proof that Macklemore’s social change anthems are ultimately about how he was affected by discrimination. That’s incredibly ironic given that ultimately all these songs are about privilege – the current song obviously, Same Love implicitly.
The whole point about privilege is that it’s the majority who sets the agenda, who get to tell their stories while the rest of us continue to wait our turn. It is no surprise to me that it was a straight man who is being praised as having created “the best” same sex marriage anthem of all time. Even when it’s all about us, ultimately it’s all about them.
In ONE MILLION DOMS Dominic Sheehan comments about political stuff. Yes, the title is a parody of One Million Moms. Yes, he thinks Macklemore kind of looks a bit like Rick Astley.