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If You Doubt Macklemore’s Sincerity, Listen To His Songs About Addiction

29 January 2014 No Comment

With “Same Love,” Macklemore has been accused of pandering to the LGBT community, but his songs about a more personal struggle reflect an emotional honesty that’s hard to ignore.

enhanced 31765 1390958553 3 If You Doubt Macklemores Sincerity, Listen To His Songs About Addiction

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With his sweep in the Grammys’ rap categories on Sunday, Macklemore is facing the requisite amount of internet backlash. The main complaints against him are that his pro-gay anthem “Same Love” is pandering and focuses too much on Macklemore's heterosexuality, and that his wins (and subsequent apology) are emblematic of white privilege.

These debates will rage on — as they should, frankly. When a straight white man becomes the voice for marriage equality and the most celebrated artist in a music genre founded in black culture, that's something worth dissecting and challenging. At the same time, there is one criticism of Macklemore that seems off the mark to me: that his message is insincere. As Slate's Jack Hamilton puts it, he's “a man hawking hip-hop that switches out faked emotion for real intellect and faked intellect for real emotion and has no discernible goals other than to congratulate its makers for making it and its listeners for purchasing it.”

While I understand the backlash against “Same Love” in particular, I have always defended the song for having its heart in the right place. Of course Macklemore focuses on his experiences as a straight man — anything else would be disingenuous, and the fact that many LGBT people have adopted it as a rallying cry for equality isn't on the artist. That aside, Macklemore's sincerity should not be under fire. Some of his best work is his most honest and those are the songs that document his struggles with addiction: the gripping “Otherside,” from the 2010 VS. Redux EP, and the painful admission of relapse that is “Starting Over,” from his now Grammy-winning 2012 debut album The Heist.


Fans of Macklemore, especially those who jumped onboard before “Thrift Shop” snuck its way onto every radio station, know about his history of drug abuse and recovery. And there is a relentless confessional quality to “Otherside.” This is not Macklemore pandering to addicts, in treatment or otherwise, but rather a purging of his soul.

“Broken, hopeless, headed nowhere
Only motivation for what the dealer’s supplying
That rush, that drug, that dope
Those pills, that crumb, that roach
Thinkin' I would never do that, not that drug
And growing up nobody ever does
Until you're stuck, lookin' in the mirror like I can't believe what I've become
Swore I was goin' to be someone”

Being open about addiction is a tricky thing. In many ways, it's riskier than coming out in favor of marriage equality. While anti-gay listeners may have switched off Macklemore when he released “Same Love,” his stance has overwhelmingly worked in his favor. Being an LGBT ally is a negative only among ultraconservatives, but the stigma of being a drug addict runs across the board. Being upfront about addiction, as Macklemore is on “Otherside,” isn't an act of self-promotion — it's grounded in brazen emotional honesty.

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