Is Macklemore Appropriating the Gay Struggle?

11 Dec

Do you know who Mary Lambert is?

Mary Lambert sings the vocals to Macklemore’s “Same Love.” She released her own track after being featured in “Same Love” making her the Dido to Macklemore’s Eminem. She is also openly lesbian. Here she is all but shouting that she is gay and also involved in this song and it isn’t just Macklemore’s show.

I bring her up because I see (just a few) gay people being really flippant about this song, dismissing it like: Macklemore is profiting from the LGBTQ struggle. Or talking about how Queer Artists can speak for themselves (again, erasing Mary Lambert from the situation)

I’m bringing all of this up because I think these conclusions are reached by people who are reading black radical writers and taking their ideas of appropriation and–well–appropriating them. There really isn’t a 1:1 comparison between straight artists and gay artists vs. what white artists do to black artists. Straight artist “co-opts” usually turn out to be collaborations. Macklemore worked with Mary Lambert, he didn’t just fall into a queer space and set up shop. There’s some history with straight artists dipping into gay themes, but they never linger there, and they never attempt to fully make a career out of a gay persona.

A famous example of this “gay appropriation” is Madonna introducing the world to Voguing which was taken from underground gay clubs in NY.

This always struck me as insidious on the surface, wow it looks like Madonna just straight up stole voguing from us just to make a dime, but dig under the surface a little bit and you might be surprised to learn that Madonna hired voguers as dancers and choreographers.

There’s certainly something to discuss here about differences in power, and who gets credit for what, but gay people working with straight people is NOT appropriation, not by a long shot.

I was listening to an Adele song yesterday and I was struck with how BLACK she sounded. It doesn’t register unless you’re thinking about it because we’re so used to it, but Adele’s sound is definitely that of a soulful black woman. I looked at her collaborators and they seem to mostly be British white men (correct me if I’m wrong). I love Adele, but holy crap, she would not get all of those Grammy’s and all of that recognition if she was a black artist. 

Same goes for Justin Timberlake, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Elvis, Buddy Holly (the list just goes on and on).

Well, we live in a cultural melting pot, and so obviously we’ll borrow each others sounds and ideas…

Sure, fine, but there is no such thing as white artists who are Salsa kings. There aren’t any white artists who have active mainstream careers in Merengue music. Why is that? There is something specific to the black/white dynamic that is long, storied, and way too large for me to even start handling.

There is no staying power quite like the white artist taking black art and staying there. And I think we, as gay people, should feel extreme trepidation drawing conclusions from that relationship.

2 Responses to “Is Macklemore Appropriating the Gay Struggle?”

  1. sem December 30, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

    Hi. I like your post and agree with most of your points but what does “sounding black” mean?

    • Kevin J. December 30, 2013 at 10:37 pm #

      Regarding Adele I mean that her music sounds like the genre of black soul sung by black artists. I hope this makes sense.

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