We all know the story. When Ben Haggerty, better known as Macklemore, was in the third grade, he thought that he was gay because he could draw, his uncle was and he kept his room straight. He told his mom, with tears rushing down his face, but she was like, “Ben you’ve loved girls since before pre-k, trippin’.”
If Macklemore is a straight boy who loves girls, then was he in right the place to advocate gay rights in front of almost 29 million viewers through his performance of “Same Love”? Or is he still “trippin’?”
At the 56th Grammy awards Sunday night, Macklemore joined with his producing partner Ryan Lewis and singer Mary Lambert to perform the hit single “Same Love.” This performance of Same Love, which was nominated for Song of the Year, was taken to another level with the addition of the marriage of 33 gay and straight couples. What took it even further was Queen Latifah was sworn in as a commissioner by the state of California so she could officiate this ceremony.
No one can deny how wonderful and heartwarming the ceremony really was. Couples from everywhere on the racial and sexual spectrum joined hands to partake in a union of love and commitment. The fact that all of these couples, each from different realms of society, were next to each other as they exchanged these vows really attests to how far we have a society have come in our tolerance for others. Yet, at the same time, if this was a genuine attempt by Macklemore and the cable network to honor these couples, then why were they only given a few fleeting moments of camera time? The focus should have been on the people who were sharing this monumental exchange of vows in front of the rest of the world — not just on Macklemore and sometimes Lambert.
The intentions of Macklemore and CBS may have been good, but the sheer scale of the event leaves one to question how much of the performance was genuine, and how much was just an exploitative marketing technique. Any event or campaign of this scale that touches on such controversial issues comes with the underlying intentions of publicity and marketing. Branding is a major part of our cultural identity and cause-related marketing is a part of our society that extends far beyond just advocating for gay rights.
Although Macklemore can exert a genuine sense of sympathy towards the gay community, no matter what, he cannot absolve himself from being the privileged, straight male that he is. Due to his demographics, he runs the natural risk of seeming like he is just an advocate for this issue in pursuit of some positive publicity.
This does not mean that those disconnected from an issue cannot participate in campaigns for major social movements, however. Genuine empathy and selflessness is what holds this society together, after all. But in reality, it’s in our human nature to flock toward those with whom we can identify. Mackelmore’s Grammy performance would have been much more effective if the camera focused more on Lambert, who is the only person featured in this song that is openly lesbian. While we’re at it, we should also stop referring to the performance as “Macklemore’s,” as there were more than 66 people who experienced one of the most important moment of their lives during this set.
Regardless of who is advocating for gay rights, as Macklemore rapped during the performance, “A piece of paper isn’t going to solve it all, but it’s a damn good place to start.” Although we are nowhere near reaching total equality or acceptance, we have definitely taken some major steps in the right direction. But there are still the undeniable millions of people who continually marginalize and shame the “other” people in our society.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, LGBT teens are at a substantially higher risk of suicide than straight teens. Eighty percent are verbally harassed at school, while 40 percent are physically harassed. The number of homeless queer and transgender youth seems to go shamefully overlooked, as well. And unfortunately, a few nicely worded rap verses by a privileged, straight male artist aren’t going to fix that.