Hell, and welcome to Radio Rants. I know it’s been awhile, but I’m back! And what a song to come back to.
Macklemore’s an independently signed rapper whose debut album The Heist came out last October with “Thrift Shop” as a single, meaning that yes, “Artist known for fuckall releases an album/single with a killer video that goes big on YouTube months later” is now a reliable path to success. I’m not sure how I should feel about this.
I mean, on one hand, it’s the same strategy that’s been around since MTV started picking up steam: “catchy song+good video=$$”, but that model also carried a bit of insurance with it: the song had to be able to carry itself at least reasonably well on the radio, and the video was only there as a booster (it’s also worth nothing that this model assumed the company, not the consumer, had control over when the video was seen). And the internet videos have mostly been for decent songs–looking at you, “Video Games”, “Call Me Maybe”, and “Gangnam Style”.
Then you get “Thrift Shop”.
“Thrift Shop” is in that annoying category where it’s not strictly speaking bad, but it wore on me in record time. The song’s benefited greatly from the video, which is admittedly pretty awesome, but the song itself isn’t that great without it. As a song, “Thrift Shop” is a lot like a gaudy thrift shop purchase: it’s kinda of funny as a gimmick the first time, gets old fast after that, and I can’t help but want to like it, but just can’t.
So, first things first: that hook that Wanz does is, in his own words, “Fucking awesome”! Wanz has a big, bassy voice and effortlessly cool delivery that fits the song so damn well. Looking through a thrift shop for a great deal while on a shoestring budget isn’t as much fun as the hipsters make it out to be, but with Wanz, it sounds like a blast. That goes extra for the bridge; “I’ll wear your granddad’s clothes/I’ll look incredible” is damn near cringe-worthy on its own, but Wanz makes it sound like a boast on the level of comparing yourself to God. He owns it the way you have to own wearing a thrift shop purchase.
So yeah, the hook’s great. What about the other two names on the song, Mackerelmore and Ryan Lewis? Ryan Lewis is ‘more’s producer, making him responsible for that somewhat annoying horn line. Other than that, the production’s fairly standard; the beat’s alright, there’s some double-time clapping for the chorus, and a vintage sounding synth at the bridge. The beat has a sort of throwback feel to it, like it was produced by an obvious hip-hop fan, but it’s nothing special. It fits the somewhat grungy, second-hand feel of the song.
The beat’s fine, the hook is great…what’s so bad about this song? Unfortunately, “Thrift Shop”‘s biggest feature is also it’s weakest: Macklemore. I’ll get to the line-by-line in a moment, but the overriding problem with his verses here is that he…I don’t think he knows what he wanted with this song. With a concept like, “Fuck yeah, thrifting”, he could have taken it as a joke, a fashion boast, or pointed out how silly high fashion is. He tried to do all three, and it doesn’t take; no matter which way he went with it, he’d have had to really embrace it. Like, ok, if it was a joke, then playing it as big as possible ala The Lonely Island is the way to go. Or, if he’s serious, then talking about how awesome and great this stuff he found is. And, if he wanted to ridicule high fashion, play up the ridiculousness there.
Instead, Macklemore plays the whole thing off with this goofy “I’m just kidding” vibe that kills most of the fun. He doesn’t act like he’s invested in the song the way that Wanz embraces it, like “Hey, I’m joking around, so why try hard, right?”
And, beyond all of that, he is just so unfunny.
“Walk into the club like, ‘What up? I got a big cock!'” Aaand this is why it’s always good to remove the placeholder lyrics before recording.
“Ice on the fringe, it’s so damn frosty/That people like, ‘Damn, that’s a cold-ass honkey’/Rollin’ in hella deep, headin’ to the mezzanine/Dressed in all pink, ‘cept my Gator shoes, those are green” Actually, the reaction to those outfits tends to be “Look at that asshole”. And thank you, Macklemore, we really needed “honkey” back in our lexicon.
“Probably should have washed this, cuz it smells like R.Kelly’s sheets/Pissssssssssssssssssssssssssssss/But s–Nope, not having it. This is one of the worst jokes I’ve heard in awhile, and the song even takes a time out to point out how “funny” it is. Shit, even if it was funny, explaining the joke promptly killed it.
“They had a broken keyboard?/I bought a broken keyboard” …why buy it then?
“What do you know about rocking a wolf on your noggin?/What you know about wearing a fur fox skin?” That it’s tacky in a not particularly surprising way, and that “look at me be weird!” is not the same thing as being funny or cool.
“They be like, ‘That Gucci, man that’s hella tight’/I’m like, ‘Yo, that’s fifty dollars for a t-shirt/Limited edition, let’s do some simple addition/Fifty dollars for a t-shirt? That’s just some ignorant bitch shit” I hate to agree with the guy that mails in blatantly pandering jokes like wearing a onesie, but he’s got a good point.
Without the video to support it, the verses in “Thrift Shop” sound like Macklemore got the idea of doing a song about thrifting, but didn’t know how to make it happen. It’s kind of a shame that his big hit left a bad taste in my mouth, because he seems like an OK enough guy. He looks like he’s having fun in the video if nothing else, he’s got a creative flow, and he isn’t afraid of getting creative. I just wish that he’d had the guts to rock “Thrift Shop” like says he does.