This weekend, rapper Macklemore was the entertainment of choice at Spring Fling. And while many students were excited for his performance, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.
His fans treat him as though he has changed the face of music and steered the rap genre into unknown territory. But in reality, Macklemore is farcically emblematic of the cultural vampirism – or borrowing of other sources – that our entire generation is guilty of.
Macklemore provides a case study in hilariously hypocritical lyricism. His song “Thrift Shop” is quite literally an ode to the re-appropriation of last year’s utile items.
He fits into well-tread territory – almost a hackneyed cliche: the outsider white rapper who speaks to a different subject matter than the mainstream of the genre.
But if one looks at the content of his music, it’s just a postmodern derivation of the culture of consumption that has always defined rap. In “Thrift Shop,” our blonde-coiffed emcee takes digs at expensive shirts from Gucci without ever realizing the irony that his focus on the thrift shop is to one-up the Gucci-wearer, an escalating game of fashion brinkmanship between two competing classes.
My generation’s apparent fascination with him and his song “Thrift Shop” belies a much more insidious quality in us. He fully embraces the culture of postmodern reappropriation. His novelty is intentional and targeted.
Macklemore writes a song that most perceive to be a swipe at wanton consumerism, while couching it in the necessity of further consumerism. He, just like everyone else, is image-obsessed. By sifting through piles of clothes at a thrift shop, he too is participating in consumer culture even though it is the very thing he critiques.
To wit, in the song “Make the Money” he relies on the internet-birthed insularity of his audience to follow his brand of rhyming: “What I really need is a job off Craigslist/ Take away the dot com, name, love/ Fans, Twitter followers, and the buzz/ See, you keep the issues but you take away the drugs.”
If this reads as a joke rap, then it hits the mark. But his focus on existing as a mainstream artist instead of a long-form gag is the problem: The disposable has become our culture – even down to the repurposed clothes from the thrift shop.
His lyrics consist of name drops pointed at the market share of technologically-literate 20-somethings. That’s not art: It’s inside jokes and cloistered music microtargeting set to a beat and recorded for release.
Macklemore could only exist now because our generation is so uncreative and self-absorbed that we accept lyrics that openly refer to Craigslist and our Twitter feeds.
Thinking about Macklemore’s larger meaning within the context of popular culture makes his presence at GW all the more frustrating. This is not to say he is a risky choice — quite the opposite. But as his lyrics demonstrate, he is emblematic of a generation that is lacking when it comes to producing original and fresh creative content.
I’ve heard it all a thousand times before.
Trevor Marsden is a junior majoring in philosophy.