Friday, March 14, 2014

Macklemore: Appropriation and What It All Means

Earlier this year, Miley Cyrus was put on blast for trying to infuse “urban-ness” into her style and sound. From her music to her background dancers, she just *couldn’tstopwouldn’tstop* disrespecting black culture all over the damn place. She discussed infusing a “black” sound into her new CD, which, rightfully so, created a shit storm. Although she single-handedly made “appropriating” a household term for all the wrong reasons, her mistakes prompted me to start questioning why so many stars were making a fortune emulating “hood” style.

            Last year, Macklemore came into the spotlight with “Thrift Shop.” A “hip-hop” play on words advocating himself as the spokes-dude for secondhand clothes. He went on to win essentially best everything at the Grammys despite being, let’s be real babes, significantly less talented than his competition. In “Thrift Shop” he makes fun of expensive, brand name clothing lines, many made popular by black rappers. Lorde received racial criticism for critiquing the same types of extravagance - gold teeth, grey goose, ball gowns, extravagance made famous by prominent black artists.

            Macklemore wears gold chains. He wears sports jerseys, fur coats, and high top sneaks. He’s a walking, talking doppelgänger to Miley in the “23” video. So why do we accuse Miley so quickly for appropriating black culture for wearing 23’s in a video called “23” (among other acts), yet give Macklemore a free pass for making a career out of it?  

            Macklemore’s been quoted as saying “Thirft Shop” was “family friendly hip-hop,” safe for every set of ears riding home from soccer practice in the four door mini-van. His appropriation is accepted, because it’s contained and relatable, not crazy like Miley’s. He’s relatable, with raps referencing everything from shark week to Bill Cosby. When a young woman decides to take the same racial route to express her sexuality publicly, she’s criminalized. I’m not sticking up for either of them, because they’ve both made some clearly ignorant choices in their entertainment styles. My question is: Why are the female artists like Lorde and Miley attacked and Macklemore handed four Grammys?

            Maybe it’s because I’m a college student taking a Women and Gender’s Studies class right now, but the answer is simple misogyny. When a rich, white female decides to dress “hood” or criticize extravagance made famous by black artists, she’s criminalized. In Miley’s case it’s because she’s expressing her newfound freedom of promiscuity by dressing in a stereotypical style of a culture she’s never truly been a part of. When a white male, like Macklemore, appropriates, we as a culture accept it with open arms. He makes hip hop feel safe, comfortable, and relatable, and so we develop amnesia on why it’s maybe wrong that some cold-ass honkey is wearing something Kanye West made famous three years ago and then making a parody out of it.

            There’s a serious issue in our society where we’ve gotten comfortable exploiting a minority’s stereotype and capitalizing on it for big profits. But, where is the line drawn in terms of pop culture and fashion? I guess we draw it at point of intent. Miley’s been open about saying most of what she does is for shock factor. If that’s the case, she’s doing it better than anyone right now. Macklemore’s been open about staying safe, being the Mr. Clean of hip-hop, and yet it’s not just black culture he’s offending- it’s gay culture too.

            If “Thrift Shop” is white-washed hip-hop, then “Same Love” is a straight privileged pop ballad jerkoff about tolerance. It’s the most meaningful song a shallow person could belt out in the car last month. Yes, it brought awareness to an important cause. Yes, it was used to marry gay couples on national television. It also exploited the actual struggles of a group of people who have less rights than the majority of Americans for $$$. It was a straight guy patting himself on the back for spreading awareness of a cause that’s never affected his daily life and making serious bank from it.

Is Macklemore homophobic for singing about the hardships of gay people? No. Just like dressing like black rappers doesn’t make him racist. He’s just a plain and simple lucky guy, because by playing it safe he’s avoided persecution. He's set a new standard: By playing your cards right and pushing no boundaries, you can exploit any minority group you want and still make millions.  

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