Photography by John Lill
Click here to see more photos from last night. All photos by John Lill.
At Macklemore’s sold out homecoming Key Arena show last night, there was a little boy sitting two rows down from me. The kid, probably no older than ten years old, had a very particular haircut. Close shaved sides, long on top, slicked back neatly. You know the one.
“This next song,” Macklemore said on stage, “out of every song I’ve written, this is the most important. This song just got nominated for a Grammy.”
Out came Mary Lambert, and up started “Same Love.”
This kid two rows down from me, gangling in that way pre-adolescents do, danced up a storm to this song. He swayed around, threw his hands in the air, even tumbling into the aisle at one point before picking himself up and continuing on.
That kid, and all the other kids in the room (many of whom also had the same haircut) will grow up having been indoctrinated into equality through a five minute pop song.
The LGBTQ equality movement most certainly didn’t start with Macklemore—but it may have reached a national tipping point and an unprecedented spot in the popular consciousness thanks in part to him.
When I covered the rooftop Dick’s shoot for the “White Walls” video this past summer, I distinctly remember hearing a little girl ask her father if she could be Macklemore when she grew up. The girl’s father rightfully scrunched his face up a bit at the proposition, as I think any parent would after standing around hours at a video shoot to watch a rapper drive up and down the street in a Cadillac. But if that girl wanting to be Macklemore when she grows up simply means she will adopt the basic belief that all people deserve the same basic rights—then that’s not so bad, all things considered. That’s pretty great.
With the announcement that he and his producer Ryan Lewis were nominated for seven Grammys last Saturday and the fact that he’s managed to sell out the Key Arena three nights in a row, Macklemore is undoubtedly Seattle’s chief cultural export now.
He can be hammy and overearnest, for sure. As four-hundred pounds of cannon-launched gold confetti lay at his feet, Macklemore said, “I believe in passion. I believe in tolerance. I believe in equality. And I believe… in love,” delivered with the flashy oratory of a preacher. But you know, for all the things to get hammy about, those things are pretty solid. As far as cultural exports, Macklemore isn’t a bad look. He paints us as the great city we are—one emboldened by social progress, a willingness to confront thorny issues like consumerism and possessive of a great pride in where we live.
Because of the scale of his popularity, Macklemore can be problematic, as we explored in last week’s controversial cover story about the rapper’s alleged “sellout” NBA moment that found him performing “Wing$,” a song about the perils of Nike sneaker culture, to promote an organization that helps perpetuate that culture. That contradiction continued last night.
During his performance of “Wing$,” a song that calls out Nike and its CEO Phil Knight directly, a giant Nike Swoosh illuminated the video screen behind Macklemore.
Before he arrived in Seattle, the rapper announced he was partnering with Nike to promote their new “Fuelband” exercise bracelet. A “NIKEFUEL206” Macklemore Cadillac has been touring around town the past couple of days handing out Fuelbands and free tickets. Macklemore even has his own glossy page on the Nike website now.
This is the man who rapped "Look at what that swoosh did/ See it consumed my thoughts/Are you stupid, don't crease 'em, just leave 'em in that box," and "Phil Knight tricked us all." It’s a bit odd, and a little unnerving.
In other ways, it’s also genius. Macklemore got Nike to donate $25,000 to the Orion Center, a shelter for homeless youth in town, as part of the partnership deal. So while his work with Nike seems to fly in the face of his message, he also subversively flipped the corporate sponsorship into a means to support kids who certainly don’t have the money to purchase Air Jordans. "Selling out" isn't as black and white as it used to be.
But when it comes down to it, Macklemore’s legacy won’t be that one time he rubbed shoulders with Nike, the company he himself cried wolf about. His legacy will be those Macklekids in the suburbs who grew up thinking that the popular thing to do is confront, challenge and engage with our nation's cultural status quos.
It will be that gangly kid two rows down from me with that haircut, bopping his flailing limbs about to “Same Love,” a gay anthem, thinking sustainable second hand shopping is the coolest thing. If that kid is our future, things seem like they're going to be okay.