broken-language

broken-language:

Ten years ago this summer David Foster Wallace wrote a now-legendary essay for Gourmet Magazinetitled “Consider the Lobster” questioning the morality of seafood culinary techniques. As I recall he used a gang of circumstantial evidence to try and give the lie to the prevailing assumption that crustaceans don’t feel anything when they’re being boiled alive for our dining pleasure. I’ve been reminded of the story throughout this month’s music journalist in-fighting, as storied jazz critic Ted Gioia took toThe Daily Beastto lament the collapse of music criticism into lifestyle reporting and writer Saul Austerlitz piggybacked him in aNY Times editorialaccusing the pop-positive proponents of poptimism in music crit of pushing the sphere of coverage to close to the mainstream. Gioia thinks people come to music writing for theory-based laymen’s breakdowns of sound architecture. Austerlitz thinks it’s a forum for illuminating achievements in recording that shouldn’t be openly accommodating to “the taste of 13 year olds.”

Naturally, Critic Twitter had a fit, and the young spring has arrived speckled with sideline metacritical debates on what’s good and nurturing for a reading audience— that scarcely involve said audience. Our readers are Wallace’s lobsters: we look at their movements for proof of how they feel about the job we’re doing, never sussing out a reliable method of soliciting feedback for it. Many of us use social media as a thermometer for reactions to our work, but we tend to cherry pick our experiences there along lines of common interest and to filter out the rudest, most uncomely interactions. The people in our offline lives often don’t care about whatever flavor-of-the-month issues we’re on about every day, so we retreat into the company of our fellows in the critical chorus for advice/dialogue/feedback regarding matters of the trade. It’s a hall of mirrors, a contained unit of people too close to a thing grasping at a deeper perspective on it.

So pardon me if I’m not too deeply concerned with whatever shirts-and-skins divisions we’re breaking off into (again) this year. The closest we get to appreciating the vast array of music swamping the market is to listen to as many voices as possible. There should be Gioias out towing the technical line over jazz records and Austerlitzes treasuring new guitar rock. There should be Beyonce enthusiasts singing the praises of her self-titled album. There should be cheesing over Miley Cyrus’ stage set up. These wings of music crit can coexist without corroding the integrity of the form, without harboring secret designs on overtaking the whole of the industry. They can all be art. Their merits deserve praise and consideration, and the appreciation of the one doesn’t have to come at the expense of the other. The binary, two-party thinking that has dominated these conversations is a gross disservice to the diversity of the subject matter we cover.

While we’re on the subject of diversity, it pains me that we’re unable to carry out these infernal poptimism/rockism debates without opponents of deep pop criticism steadily citing women and people of color as being undeserving of thorough consideration in prose. It’s always the Beyonces, Drakes and Katy Perrys that come under fire when poptimism debates come up, and trust and believe that whether the people that posit these ideas intend to come off wrongly or not, they almost always carry an air of sexism and of vaguely racial middle American “Take our country back” sloganeering. Part of why we’re seeing more coverage of blacks and women in music is that there’s more blacks and women doing the writing. We’ve seen what happens when the prevailing voice of music criticism is white and male (I know, I know: it still is. But change is afoot!), the appraisals of women in rock that prize looks over talent, the frustrating paucity of writing about decades of great R&B, the early reticence of rock publications to give hip-hop a fair shake, the vacuous evasion of reporting on music that challenges our language barrier. We’re not going back to that.

If you can’t appreciate the influx of new voices servicing an ever splintering web of genres and subgenres, these next few years are going to annoy you, and for that I’m sorry. It can be hard to watch the world pivot underneath your feet, to find that you’ve lost your bearings, the world you had in your hands slipping ever out of your grip. This goes out to you.

Clap for him.

On The Rapture of Dancing Alive

(or: I Finally Watched That Future Islands Performance and I Feel Changed)

Doing work on my couch last night, I ended up on Letterman, watching the end of an interview—Nick Offerman—and then the musical performance of the night, some band Letterman was cracking jokes about before they’d even started. The Strypes. I think I remember Letterman saying something about ‘mom picking you all up’ after the show, which was funny, because look at them. He also made a joke about taking them to play laser tag after the show, which, ha.

But it reminded me that there was this Letterman performance that everyone was talking about a few weeks ago I had yet to watch, this Future Islands thing. I didn’t know exactly what it was that everyone freaked out about, I just remember there being that typical morning-after Internet peak-chatter level of talk, the kind I’ve made a habit of avoiding instinctually. Because when you work in Internet, that inescapably loud and concentrated volume of talk about That One Thing, at least for me, strips some of the joy out of it.

So, right then, I finally watched it.

0:30 (as performance starts): Okay, this sounds very 2006. This all looks very 2006.

0:32: At least that lead singer is moving. Decent two-step. 

[BAD MID-AUGHTS VIBE INTERLUDE: For anyone even remotely paying attention to rock from 2005 onward, the name of the band—Future Islands—sounded gratingly familiar. There were (or still are?) The Futureheads, Islands, and a Jimmy Eat World album called Futures that I’d never listened to. Also: Future (rapper). Everything about it seemed so typical I was pretty convinced that whatever I was missing out on was some sort of schtick, like some band shooting themselves out of cannon. Which, I mean, I love the Arcade Fire, but look at them: In 2014, they’re demanding their fans dress up in costume to their shows. It’s fair skepticism, is the point.]

0:41: Okay, kind of into this post-Morrisey post-synagogue thing and there’s an expressive eyebrow, and is that the thing?

0:45: Wait what’d he just do with his legs.

0:49: Where did his head go what was that, do that ag

0:54: He’s slowing down, maybe that was just a Thing. And he’s touching his chest, is this vamping? Is that what he’s doing? Maybe he’s actually feeling i

1:00: He’s doing the leg thing again and moving his head what even is that? It’s amazing. Okay, I get this, guy has moves. 

1:04: What did he just do with his voice? Wh—Did he grind the note?

1:14: Holy shit he just dropped it to the ground. How did he do that? Where did he learn that mo

1:17: He did the thing with his voice again I swear to god I heard it he’s actually doing that right?

1:29: Oh my god his hand is in a fist and he’s looking out into the audience like the answer is there and they’re all the answer this is really something.

1:33: WHOA did not see that coming, the punching through the air and following through with his entire body on a note, which kind of looks like a combination golf swing/victory fist pump but he gets it, I get it, I get wanting to do that at a chorus, that which is the physical iteration of that particular guitar crescendo. 

1:37: His hand in the air, holy shit, there are performances of Les Miz that are less theatrical.

1:43: And now he’s washing away the light with his hands and he totally grinded that note in his throat, okay, okay, I think I get this now, he’s secretly got a great voice and great moves, this is very solid.

1:52: The camera just went tight on his face and wow this guy is really, truly selling what’s happening here. 

[LARRY SANDERS INTERLUDE: If you’ve ever watched The Larry Sanders Show, you know that the musical performance is usually when Garry Shandling either gets screamed at by Rip Torn about some crazy backstage nonsense or he’s hitting on a celebrity guest. For the most part Larry Sanders doesn’t care much for his musical guests, and I imagine, night in and night out, this is how Letterman feels about his musical guests: A lot of monotony. He’s really seen it all before. And I imagine him talking to a producer or somesuch as the band is on. Remember: Letterman really loves acts that put their all into it, and say what you will about the Foo Fighters—and there’s plenty to—you can’t say Dave Grohl doesn’t know how to put on a performance, which is why they’re one of Letterman’s favorite acts to have on Late Show. So I imagine this is around the point Letterman looks over his producer’s shoulder, and goes: ‘Hey, wait: Who the hell are these guys?’]

2:07: Ohmygod he’s pounding his chest so hard the mic just picked it up this is amazing bordering on uncomfortable.

2:24: Yes! People do change! They gain one piece but they lose one too! You are making so much sense I am completely on board with this now, this is just, everything, church

2:27: They just went tight on the rest of the band and they’re the most innocuous looking people ever, the bassist looks like whatshername from Chelsey Lately, which I guess is sm

2:30: WAIT WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT he just grabbed at his shirt and made that noise from his throat again! That was real! And he’s curling his lip into a sneer and BAM he’s back into the moves

2:41: He just did it again I’m so not making this up

2:53: Is he crying? This is all so much but also there will never be enough of it.

2:58: BOOM and he launches into the chorus again and he’s pounding his chest and the mic is picking it up and somewhere Meatloaf just jumped out of his Lay-Z-Boy screaming at the TV like “GO MOTHERFUCKER GO GO GO”

3:14: I am sold, I completely get this, I am watching this again as soon as it’s over because why wouldn’t anyone want to feel anything this much? This is what Joseph Campbell called, when asked about the meaning of life by Bill Moyers, “the rapture of being alive,” and 

3:28: HOLYFUCKINGSHIT HE
3:29: 'SREALLY DOING THE DEATH METAL THING I 
3:30: FEEL LIKE HE JUST REACHED THROUGH THE SCREEN AND 
3:31: IS CHOKING OUT A PART OF MY SOUL 

3:34: And now he’s dancing again and staring out into the audience but dancing harder than he’s danced this entire time and maybe in his entire life, he is dancing with purpose, like he’s going to generate energy or lifeforce by doing so and don’t be over and

3:35: It’s over. It’s all over.

- - -

And this is the point where Letterman comes out and screams: “BUDDY! COME ON! How about that? I’ll take all of that you got!” And Letterman knows what you just saw because he just saw it, and he is equally enraptured himself. Any band who goes on Letterman for the next month, at least—like the one that was on last night—has been completely screwed to hell by this one.

There are so many reasons why this is great, but the three that stuck with me this morning on the way to work were:

1. If you’ve ever danced in the bathroom—and I’ll readily cop to doing so, mostly in high school, before heading out to a party or a date, usually to something as desperate and pathetic, like The Cure’s “Close To Me”—your moves probably somewhat resembled an incredibly watered-down iteration of this. These aren’t bad unkfunky whiteboy moves, either: Dude has rhythm. He’s dancing along with the bassline, and he’s actually moving his feet and hips. 

2. It’s really easy to be cynical about anything so sincere, especially since this lacks the kitsch textures of twee (see: Anderson, Wes) or polished veneer of pop. It’s confusing in the same way Meatloaf and Morrissey are confusing, in that there may be intent and awareness, there may be that allusion to death metal, but where those things normally serve to let an audience know that the artist is in on the joke, here it’s simply disarming: the acknowledgement that they have you, they’ve got you, you’re done for and now they can do whatever they please with you, like tear at their chest and plead and cry and scare the shit out of you. 

3. Back to dancing in your bathroom: It was so much fun, and in retrospect, expressed so much, and this maybe made you (and definitely made me) recall in a very real way the energy of that stupid fun in a way you (or I) haven’t felt in a while. But more than that, it’s that this band—which has apparently been at it for 11 years now—finally got their shot. They got a spot on Letterman. And whether this is exactly what this guy does every night at his shows, or not, the bottom line is that he went with it, went for it, he didn’t water down a single thing about what got him to this moment. In fact, he doubled down on it. And the rest of the band played their part, too: They know how to make music, and not complicated music, and probably could’ve thrown themselves into it, too, but that would’ve betrayed what they knew they had to do. They had their one chance in life to make this kind of impact, and they did. And that’s really kind of amazing. Who won’t take all of that?

My Plan To Destroy My Beloved College Newspaper, The Daily Utah Chronicle

Last week, my old friend Lindsey emailed me to tell me that the home of my first writing gig ever—a short-lived run as A&E editor for the University of Utah’s student newspaper, The Daily Utah Chronicle, which also indirectly ended my college career—was in trouble. They have a deficit that’s going nowhere, and its fate is being dictated by the university’s nebulous and generally evil Student Media Council, in a “shark-tank style meeting” [sic] to come up with a solution in the form of a “student media revolution,” as lead by some guy named Ryan Bennett. They were reaching out to alumni for letters of support.

The meeting’s happening right now, and does not appear to be going well.

I don’t think they should be at that meeting. I didn’t write a letter of support. I wrote Lindsey back with the following:

————— Forwarded message —————
From: Foster Kamer
Date: Tue, Feb 11, 2014 at 2:44 PM
Subject: Re: Student Media Revolution
To: Lindsey

L -


You got more than you bargained for.

I’m not writing a letter of support. I’m going to give you a relatively minced explanation of why the Chrony’s position is wrong, and I’ll let you decide whether or not to forward it on to them. I loved my time at the Chronicle. I don’t know how much it had to do with my current career, if at all, but I know some wonderful people for whom it did. And I write this letter out of love, and out of trying to contribute to something better for them and for those to come. 

First, let’s run over the problems at hand:

Problem 1. Print is a luxury product in 2014. It’s an unnecessary luxury to have tangible evidence of one’s work to hold and spill coffee on, and it’s also a slow, costly, and environmentally unsound medium given the alternatives. If Chrony writers are so fickle as to operate under the idea that having their work on dead trees adds value to it, they need better work done. 

Problem 2. The media council and the publishing side are big if not the biggest failures in all of this. The publishing side was resisting selling banner ads on the site and giving them away in off-the-books ticket trades since when I was there less than a decade ago. I can’t imagine it got all that much better. Of all the things about the Chronicle that are retrograde, its ad units are probably the worst. In any kind of ostensibly progressive, educational environment, the business side would employ someone familiar with emerging trends in media sales—instead, they’ve got a banner unit advertising the student union right now on top of the site. If the [student union] is all the business-side can sell for the Chrony, they need to be cleared right the fuck out. It’s essentially their fault The Chrony is in this. 

Problem 3. The greatest issue with cutting the Chronicle’s print edition outright isn’t any kind of moral implication or reckoning. The problem is that—because said business-side people have been so patently retrograde, as enabled by the media council—they’ve always sold advertisers on the fact that students will pick up the paper before class and read it, thus being exposed to their ads. This might’ve been true, like, ten years ago, when the only things on our cell phones to distract us was Snake. Today, students have little incentive to pick up the paper if they have a smartphone, because there’s a ton of other shit vying for their attention. If the council cuts the print edition outright, they will lose their sole source of revenue that’s still ostensibly decent to them. This is likely the foundation of their thinking that the entire thing needs to be rethought: Because these idiots have sat on their hands for over a decade as the tide’s long loomed over them. Granted, this change affected the largest and the most supposedly important media institutions in the world (who have either adapted, died, or are still trying to adapt while dying), but if an institution of learning is supposed to be as progressive as it’s positioned to be, it should’ve been nimble enough to affect change on its own level. 

Problem 4. This is where the arrogance and comfort of writing types comes into the greater picture of culpability for the Chrony’s current condition: At no point has anyone at the Chronicle sitting on the left side of the office ever concerned themselves with the Chronicle turning a buck. Ever. I certainly didn’t. And mostly because that kind of thing has always been thought to be beneath noble writerly types. It’s not. The money’s gotta come from somewhere. Understanding what hand is feeding you will, at the very least, give you the positioning/leverage to occasionally bite it, which right now, the Chronicle has none of. This, from the email you sent on? 

My protests that The Chrony isn’t about turning a “profit” (the word that multiple council members kept using) but about an educational experience for students and for serving as an independent monitor of power for the U went unheard. 

This is the absolute dumbest motherfucking thing I’ve read about the crossroads of higher-education and media in a while. It bears repeating, because it will come in handy later: The staff of the Chronicle has zero leverage in this conversation. And no small or even medium amount of shaming or protesting ideals will change that. 

Ask yourself, not rhetorically:

- What kind of educational experience is the Chronicle supposed to be if it shields staff members from the realities of the media business? I genuinely think—and I’m not joking, at all—that there is no more educational experience one could get out of the Chronicle than the one they’re getting throughout this crisis. At the very least, it will dose everyone with the practical realities of the experience they say they want an education in. But at best, it will inspire them to begin to tackle these issues.

- Under what obligation, incentive, hard contract, or even abstract ethical contract is the U under to provide an independent monitor? Don’t other institutions that could act as independent monitors of the U (the Trib, the CityNews, and so on) already exist? Doesn’t the U already answer to higher powers that hold it accountable? 

- Most critically: What’s to be done? The adage that the greatest revenge is living quietly and well is generally true. But when dealing with the Ryan Bennetts of the world, the greatest and most effective revenge is stripping them of their power, and then, as a bonus, exposing him for the absolutely ignorant ho that he is.

There are ways to create leverage—a hunger strike? A sit-in? Daily, front-page, borderline-torturous tabloid-style coverage of each member of the media council, exposing them for the snakes they are?—but (A) given what I’ve already read, I don’t think the current staff has the grit to commit to that kind of thing, and (B) they shouldn’t commit to that kind of thing, because the Chronicle ain’t worth saving. Why not?

- The Chronicle is inextricably tied to the very institution it’s supposedly checking the power of [and those reins are easily tightened]. No matter how much they may affect change, how powerful does that ultimately make it?

- Nobody reads the thing. Sorry, but it’s true. It always has been. And while it may break news that could affect a larger news cycle, the old model of the Chrony supporting itself off an ideal (it needs to exist because it needs to exist) or being the only competition in town for attention before or after class, or on Trax or a bus, or via the stories that garner attention from external sources, it’s just not enough. 

- At the end of the day, Chrony alum in 2014 depending on this current model will be done more harm than good by operating under its reality distortion field, not just because they’ll be ill-prepared for what’s outside of it, but the quality of the thing they’re trying to do will always be inherently hampered by the cushioning of something existing without having to fight for its existence.

So, we’ve reached the portion of this email when I’ve basically shattered the hopes and dreams of the Chronicle, not to mention your own of getting a somewhat uplifting and inspiring email from me.

But let’s here revisit the point above about Best Practices In Matters of Revenge, and stripping the Ryan Bennetts of the world of their power, and exposing them for the hos that they are. And here, we’ll establish a few more points:

1. The Chronicle has never had any competition. 

2. The Chronicle could never be as independent or as nimble as an independent media outlet. 

3. Regardless of how you feel about it, entrepreneurial media projects are the new normal.

4. An independent student media outlet sounds like the dumbest fucking thing ever. Especially for those who need to make a living. 

5. But it would also reflect the current climate of media exponentially more than the Chrony has over the last ten years, and especially now. Ezra Klein just left the Washington Post to go work for Jim Bankoff. ProPublica is one of the greatest media outlets of our time, and it’s a nonprofit. Andrew Sullivan left both The Atlantic and then Newsweek to run his own operation. Not all independent media outlets will succeed, but at least they’re in exponentially more control of their fates than anyone with their heads and livelihoods so far up the ass of outdated models as to not have breathed fresh air in decades.

6. Independent student media outlets have not just been built, but they’ve succeeded. Wildly. Look at NYU Local: It was created as a digital-only outlet to compete with NYU’s official student newspaper, the Washington Square News. It has beat them at every angle. It is regarded by real people with actual jobs in media as a serious talent farm, which is to say nothing of the fact that it has achieved the near-impossible: A student media outlet that is taken seriously. Its alumni have gone on to work for a number of outlets. There’s a reason for this (theory: Point 5).

7. There is no better way to strip Ryan Bennett of his power than for the staff of the Chronicle to completely capitulate, start their own site, bring on their own business people, and compete for/win the ad dollars of whatever hokey media revolution bullshit his crowdsourced monkey business will come up with. Bennett will then be the guy responsible for the dissolution of student media at the U, and the loss of potential revenue for the university, which they need regardless of whether the Chronicle/student media exists or not, because idiots like him have left a deficit hole that needs to be filled. And the Powers That Be won’t be happy about it. Especially when it starts to create said aforementioned leverage via attention from places they don’t want it, and decrease the pool of students who see a university with student media as a place they want to invest four years of time (and four years of tuition with, as well).

To make this work will take sacrifice. The beginning is ugly. But it’s a hell of a lot better—and likely to be a workable solution for both the educational experience Chrony staffers supposedly want—than letting some guy named Ryan Bennett who wouldn’t know a byline from a conga line determine their fate. After all, revolutions are usually nothing more than coups run by despots-in-waiting. And fuck that noise. To win in this situation requires relinquishing any reliance on a system that put this creep in power in the first place. And I could think of no greater start than for the entire staff of the Chronicle to tell Bennett to stick it.

But it would require hard work, unilateral commitment, and sacrifice, especially where [the current Chronicle editors] are concerned. It’ll require digging into the business of running a media outlet. It might require fundraisers, and alumni outreach, and all the things that suck about being an institution that exists primarily to fulfill ideals (and not profit margins). But it can be done. It can even be profitable. And the results will ultimately benefit those to come more than those who are there, now (but if the ideals the Chronicle’s current leadership say they hold are so true, then that’s a nonissue).

And if they decide to go this route, I’m pledging my support and time to the cause—I’ll even fly out there to help support the cause and lend some ground support for a few days, as well as try to rustle up support from some friends with experience in situations like this who might be down. I’m sure [our Chrony alum friends] would be down, too. 

I truly do believe there’s a workable solution within these parameters than whatever the Student Media Council can come up. They’re idiots. And the kids at the Chronicle have always been a cut above the rest of the school. Here’s hoping they get one over on them—in that, they’ve got my wholehearted support. 

-f.
- - -

Lindsey forwarded the letter onto them, but they decided to go the standard route. A few alum I’ve been in conversation with agree with most of this, but ultimately know it ain’t happening. And again, the Student Media Council meeting doesn’t seem to be going all that well today.

Why I Hate Macklemore

I wrote this yesterday afternoon and it sat on my phone and I decided not to publish it because whatever but also because I found out Insanul ran something about this last week and it was quite good and I’d rather have his word be the last word on the site, and then Macklemore won way more Grammys than I thought he would because he really is that awful so here.

I don’t hate Macklemore because he’s white. Let’s get that out of the way first: The fact that Macklemore is white isn’t the problem. Macklemore could be brown, mulatto, mauve,* whatever. But Macklemore’s whiteness—which is different from the fact that he’s white, and we’ll get to that later—definitely has something to do with it. And it should probably be cleared up here that when I say I “hate” Macklemore, I don’t mean I hate the guy who plays the character of Macklemore, let alone have a serious, burning hatred of Macklemore in the darkest depths of my soul. From what I can gather, Macklemore The Human Being seems like a patently nice guy. Like, he wouldn’t be a terrible in-law. If your sister dated MTHB, you wouldn’t be too upset, because your sister is more likely to make Macklemore cry than Macklemore is to make your sister cry, and that’s about where you want things.

I hate Macklemore the same way I hate Floyd Mayweather Jr, Ron Paul, or Crossfit: Partly because it’s funny, partly because it whips their most ardent defenders into a frothy psychosis, but mostly because this is a person/institution in a position of cultural power who Most People regularly mistake for being good. And more often than not, they make this mistake because a property of mass culture is that “good” regularly gets conflated with “ubiquitous.”

That’s not to say there aren’t popular things that aren’t great. Harry Potter. The Beatles. Otis Redding. Etc. Popular things are often popular because they’re great, and more often than not, objectively great. Like, Pretty Boy Floyd, who’s an undefeated boxer. People love a victor. I love to hate this victor because he fights a bunch of pussy boxers and cheats in the ring and threatens to punch senile old men like Larry Merchant, but that’s another thing entirely. The point is: I get pleasure out of hating on Pretty Boy Floyd. It’s therapeutic for me because of my own issues with what Floyd means to me. It’s the same way hating on Macklemore is therapeutic, or at least, used to be.

Because now, Macklemore is beginning to do more than just represent bad things, but actually, inhabit them. As I write this, hours before the start of the Grammys, I am pretty convinced that Macklemore will win every award in which he is nominated with other rappers, and that tomorrow, people will be upset about this.

But we shouldn’t be surprised, or even upset that he won whatever Grammys he did. The Grammys are a short-term problem, and at this point, given the totality of morons and idiots that barely distinguish the Grammy voting body from a rigged student council election, not winning a Grammy as a critically acclaimed rapper is almost a mark of accomplishment.

The win-lose record isn’t the problem, though. The problem—the real one, the one that will absolutely happen, and the one that dwarfs whatever awards he will or won’t win—is that people are gonna leave the Grammys telecast knowing more about Macklemore than they will about any ostensible rap artist tonight.

And there are a lot of reasons this sucks, but the main one is really all that matters: People have a certain number of hours in the day to listen to music. After tonight, Macklemore is going to take more of those hours from more people. These are people who could be listening to Kendrick Lamar, or Kanye West, or Nas, or Wale, or any number of rappers whose music is more compelling, less sanitized, more nuanced, and more important than Macklemore’s. These are the people who subconsciously file Macklemore under their cultural consumption’s rap requisite, and push all else away. These are people who think they know Outkast because they know “Hey Ya.”

Do you think it would have taken this long for Outkast to reunite if we didn’t reward them for making an album on which they barely rapped together? Consider, for a moment, another dimension in which Outkast gets Album of the Year for ATLiens or Aquemini or even Stankonia instead of Speakerboxx/The Love Below, and then tell me that’s not the universe you’d rather live in.

Macklemore is the Rap Game Starbucks, the Rap Game Wal-Mart.

Macklemore The Rapper’s rise in popularity comes in a decade when the rest of America had finally decided to wake the fuck up and get on board with the gay marriage train, because not being with it is some medieval mentality shit. And Macklemore’s big single, the one he’s performing at the Grammys, is a song about gay marriage. In 2014. How revolutionary.

This is a great message to be hip to, and to promote. But there’s a difference between promoting a message implicitly through the virtue of being great—see: Frank Ocean—and exploiting a message explicitly through a song that basically screams GAY MARRIAGE IS GREAT.

What Macklemore boosters conveniently forget when they bring up the virtues of “Same Love” is that the best possible world isn’t a world where a straight rapper tells everyone gay marriage is okay. The best possible world is one where nobody hears a love song and feels singled out or left out, where the sexual orientation of the performer or the love song’s message or constructions aren’t even a talking point. Those people already exist (again, see: Frank Ocean), but they’re not crass commercialists who need to exploit that message for brownie points as populism.

Macklemore is the #Kony2012 of pop music.

Macklemore fans think they’re special for promoting this supposedly unique cause in their slice of culture, but the byproduct of their conquest is that they’re ruining the nuance of the landscape, and calling attention to themselves and their leader and their targets instead of systemic problems, and savaging any surrounding issues along the way. It shouldn’t be cool or trendy to be hip to a good cause. It should be pro forma.

And then there’s the issue of Macklemore’s whiteness. Again, not the fact that he is white, but the fact that he’s unapologetic in his whiteness. Macklemore is an act that takes pride in the middlebrow, who wears their distinct unfunkiness on their sleeve, like people who eat at Olive Garden because it’s “ironic.”

Take “Thrift Shop,” for example: The message about not spending tons of disposable income on clothing and instead spending it at a thrift shop is ostensibly a good one. Yet: Macklemore talking about “popping tags” is awful because he sincerely repurposes rap slang in a knowingly lame context. It’s barely one degree shy of a Weird Al parody of a rap song, if that. It’s not that “Thrift Shop” distinguishes itself from a parody of a rap song because it calls itself a rap song, but because Weird Al distinguishes parody from Macklemore’s version of rap, because he knows he’s making parody, and nobody has to cosign him to validate that argument either.

And this is where the Macklemore contagion really begins to get bad. Some of the best rappers of our generation will be destroyed by Macklemore madness, or at least, the memory of them will be. This will vary person-to-person, but all I’ll say for this is that I saw Dead Prez on the Okayplayer tour in 2001, and I was enthralled, and a little terrified, but mostly had a moment of revelation about culture and identity and the singularity of how great rap can change the world.

And then I saw video of M1 appearing on stage with Macklemore performing “Hip Hop” and wondered whether or not I’m in the wrong, here, and if Macklemore really is a force for good.

And then I came to my senses and realized that this is again another instance where it looks on the surface as if Macklemore is doing something that brings another cause or entity—in this case, the greatness of Dead Prez—good will and exposure to the mass of his fans, but ultimately won’t, because Macklemore’s fans aren’t about to pick up Dead Prez records so much as Dead Prez fans are going to have to wonder if they were wrong about Macklemore.

It’s brilliant and canny marketing that comes for free, because if you’re M1, why not take the chance to play the stage at the Garden? And if you’re Macklemore, the credence and attention you can get for this single cosign will go a long way in terms of getting people like me to begrudgingly talk about it, or at the very least, watch in abject horror.

And so much of that abject horror is the sheen with which Macklemore presents his schtick: As an independent entity from the rest of music fighting against everything else that’s popular. Macklemore’s independence is, again, a sales pitch. The idea that he’s speaking to and uniting an alienated group of people is brilliant, because what better way to unite a mass of people in fandom then making them feel like they are special and unique for liking him? Macklemore is the Tea Party of pop music. And (I told you we’d get here eventually) part of this appeal as a rap fulfillment segment is that Macklemore is a nonthreatening rap presence, because Macklemore is white, and plays up that whiteness. Macklemore being white isn’t the problem—Macklemore using his whiteness as if to claim this independent statehood is. Anyone who has any questions about the sincerity with which he takes his mission of independence can please refer to the heavy-handed metaphor that is the genuinely absurd “Can’t Hold Us” video.

Note that you haven’t seen me write that Macklemore is a terrible rapper. As a technician, he’s perfunctory at best and cut-rate at worst. As an artist, well…

Let’s just say that we’ve come a long way from the opening lines of “Mama Said Knock You Out” to the opening lines of “Can’t Hold Us,” which sound like someone who took a faceful of poppers and read out of a rhyming dictionary: Sounds great, means nothing. Macklemore’s penchant for subtlety is best exemplified by the chorus punchline of “Thrift Shop,” which is “This is fucking awesome.” It’s the kind of rap that would make Joe Biden proud.

But again, we return to the Grammys: For those of us who love rap, and love music, is that the kind of rap we’re proud of? Is the the great yield of this moment that rap has to offer for the world that will watch the Grammys tonight?

Again, the winners don’t matter, because The Grammys.

But convincing the people in your life who don’t listen to rap—who don’t understand why Kendrick Lamar’s album is a revelation for rap, let alone that Kendrick’s Lamar’s song about the dangers of alcoholism is so much more substantial than Macklemore’s woe-is-me tale about being a pillhead—is about to get that much more difficult after tonight, Grammy win or no.

And that’s why I hate Macklemore.

[*Someone asked me if I’d reconsider Macklemore if he were black. I told them I’d reconsider him if he were mauve, because that’d be remarkable: a mauve rapper. Also, I was a Childish Gambino booster for a long time before he popped, and his ‘whiteness’ has been the subject of supposedly high-minded critique for a while, which goes without saying that Macklemore is on the new Childish Gambino album, which for me was a surefire indicator that it would suck, which it mostly did.]