We at PCHH have a long history with awards shows in general and the Grammys in particular, but this year’s Grammys were a little different. Yes, Daft Punk took some big prizes, and Lorde took some big prizes, and Taylor Swift really played that piano super-hard, and Kacey Musgraves wore a dress that lit up.
But Macklemore and Ryan Lewis also swept the rap categories (not necessarily a shock given past winners, but a perceived slight of epic proportions to other artists in general and Kendrick Lamar in particular). Thus, not content to merely feature a lot of performances and a few baffling victories, this year’s ceremony opened a broad cultural conversation about hip-hop, appropriation, and where the line lies between sincerity and self-congratulation.
Fortunately, we have on the show this week Gene Demby of NPR’s Code Switch, and Gene has been writing, literally since Code Switch began, about a lot of these very things. Take it away, Gene of many months ago:
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, a rap duo that hails from Seattle — a town not exactly known for churning out hip-hop gems, unless you count “Baby Got Back”. And we do. — took over the Internet and the Billboard charts for a few weeks with a jaunty ode to the joys of, well, thrift shopping. It shot to No. 1 on Billboard and has hundreds of millions of views on YouTube, despite Macklemore’s not being signed to a major record label. But as the folks at Planet Money reported not long ago, it’s a little more complicated than that.
Macklemore is a white dude rapping about the sweet joys of scoring dope secondhand clothes, and his music has neither the aesthetics nor the fascinations that are traditionally thought of as authentic to hip-hop. How exactly did that happen?
So we talk a little bit about how that did happen, and why awards shows push people’s buttons so much, and how appropriation in this sense is different from and is the same as other kinds of musical mixing and borrowing. Along the way, you’ll be introduced to the hypothetical Chad From Nebraska as well as the nickname Macklemore should really have had all along. Stephen will expound upon his Theory Of Grammy Ambassadorship, I will somehow discuss a very old ballad, and Glen will reflect upon LL Cool J and his legacy, sort of. (And if you don’t believe me about the “Thrift Shop” cover I mention, it exists, I assure you.)
We encourage you to forget the Grammys, most of the time, but there certainly was some post-Grammy debate that was well worth reading, including this piece in The New York Times. And because we said we would, we now offer you up the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis Tiny Desk Concert.
We then switch gears in a positively whiplashing fashion by moving along to reality franchises that have made it to middle age and considering how they got there, how they stay there, and how they’ve changed, both individually and collectively. (Stephen and I will never not think it’s funny to say “COMING UP!” like Chris Harrison, but at least it’s over quickly.)
And as always, we close with what’s making us happy this week. Stephen cannot tell a lie: he is happy about building a lair. That’s right: a lair. Also the increasingly symbiotic cultural relationship he has with his kids, but mostly the lair. Glen is happy about an HBO show that he wouldn’t expect to enjoy, but does. Gene is happy about a Twitter project that he’s been getting a big kick out of. And I am happy about sharing lots of Pete Seeger with the world, and about one of the documentaries that’s up for an Oscar this year.