1. If you want your favorite artist to win, you should buy their album.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis dominated the major hip-hop categories at the Grammys last night, winning Best Rap Album for The Heist and both Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance for “Thrift Shop,” plus Best New Artist. This is pretty huge, especially when you consider that the duo beat out critically and commercially successful recordings by Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, A$AP Rocky, and Jay Z. The triumph of these squeaky-clean white artists in a traditionally black medium can certainly be interpreted as a sign of institutional racism, but it’s mostly just another example of the Grammys voting body favoring safe, successful music.
“Thrift Shop” was the most popular and successful track nominated in those two rap song categories by several orders of magnitude, so it’s likely that a large chunk of voters simply checked it off because it was the track they knew the best. Their win in the album category is not surprising either — Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City was a big hit but perhaps a bit too arty for some voters, and Kanye West’s Yeezus is far too confrontational and abrasive to appeal to stodgy Grammy voters. Drake and Jay Z were contenders and definitely hugely popular, but the staggering single track sales for “Thrift Shop,” “Can’t Hold Us,” and “Same Love” mean Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are not to be ignored.
2. Macklemore definitely knows that Kendrick Lamar is a better rapper.
This is a text he sent Kendrick after the show. “He deserved best rap album,” Macklemore wrote in a note attached to this image on his Instagram account. “I’m honored and completely blown away to win anything much less 4 Grammys. But in that category, he should have won IMO.”
3. The Grammy for Best New Artist is a poisoned chalice.
If you hate Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, you should have been rooting for them to get the Best New Artist award since winners of that prize often stumble from that point onward in their career. Sure, things worked out just fine for The Beatles, Sade, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, and Maroon 5, but fate has been less kind to Marc Cohn, Arrested Development, Hootie and the Blowfish, Paula Cole, and Shelby Lynne. The award is definitely more of a curse than a blessing, and James Blake, Kendrick Lamar, Ed Sheeran, and Kacey Musgraves ought to be relieved not to win in that category.
4. Macklemore’s wins are a victory for independent artists.
Macklemore’s staggering success often obscures the fact that he’s one of the most successful independent artists in the history of the record industry. The Heist was released on Macklemore’s personal label, and “Thrift Shop” became a massive radio hit only after the song’s video went viral on YouTube based purely on the grassroots enthusiasm of fans. His success proves that truly independent artists can thrive on a level that was inconceivable only a few years ago. Regardless of the quality of Macklemore’s music, this is a very big deal.
5. Macklemore and his fans’ hearts are in the right place.
A huge part of Macklemore’s success comes down to the fact that he just so happened to have catchy pop songs about having fun and being stylish despite being broke and accepting marriage equality at the precise moment in time when people wanted such things. His main competitors cleared the path for him: Few other stars in rap are making songs anywhere near as broadly accessible as either “Thrift Shop” or “Same Love,” and there’s certainly no other major rapper willing to be as overtly pro-LGBT on a record. Is it sorta aggravating that a straight white guy is lecturing hip-hop about how it ought to behave? Yes, it’s very uncomfortable. But the sort of thoughtless, reflexive homophobia that’s been normalized in rap over the past two decades is a lot worse, and it’s a positive sign that the mainstream audience is rebelling against it. “Same Love,” and particularly Macklemore’s performance of it last night with several same-sex couples being married on stage, is a flawed but ultimately well-meaning gesture at a moment when marriage equality is major civil rights issue. Some elements of the song may make you cringe, but it’s on the right side of history.