Caricatures
9:16 am
Tue May 20, 2014

Macklemore Plays Dress-Up And Lands In Hot Water

Originally published on Mon May 19, 2014 10:57 pm

Post Updated 1:45 a.m. ET Tuesday:

Macklemore posted an apology on his website late Monday. He said he picked out items that he could use to disguise himself so he could move freely around an event. "I wasn't attempting to mimic any culture, nor resemble one. A 'Jewish stereotype' never crossed my mind," his post reads.

The apology continues: "Out of a negative can come a positive. Through this situation I've got hip to some incredible groups like the ADL and I encourage people to check the great work they, and others like them, do.

Original Post:

For a guy who makes such innocuous music, Macklemore must be the most oddly polarizing figure in music today. Imagine if Hootie and the Blowfish sparked a hundred thinkpieces on racial appropriation, and you might get a sense of just where Mack resides in our pop cultural landscape.

Over the weekend, Macklemore gave a surprise performance at Seattle's EMP Museum, during which he performed his hit song "Thrift Shop." Playing at a safe, hometown venue while performing a song that even your hip-hop-averse auntie can sing the hook to? NBD, right?

Not for Macklemore, who — for reasons that will make sense to absolutely no one — decided to ratchet up the degree of difficulty by performing while wearing a dark wig, big beard and fake hooked nose. We don't know what he was aiming for, but the effect looked an awful lot like a hoary old anti-Semitic Jewish caricature. (In case it matters, Macklemore isn't Jewish.)

Spoiler alert: Those photos of the performance hit social media, and Macklemore's costume became A Thing.

To which Macklemore responded:

And whether you extend him the benefit of the doubt here speaks to the fundamentally Rorschach-like nature of Macklemore's fame.

Depending on where you stand, a song like "White Privilege" is either an honest, earnest examination of what it means to be a white guy aiming for success in a medium associated with black folks, or a cynical attempt to pre-empt criticism that he's a white guy aiming for success in a medium associated with black people — or both. Was his text message to Kendrick Lamar after he bested him for the Grammy for Best Rap Album — a text message Macklemore shared via social media — sincere or an advertisement for his humility? Was his single "Same Love" a statement of ally-ship with LGBTQ folks or self-aggrandizement?

We don't know what's going on here, and in the grand scheme of things, it's not all that serious. But it's another example of how context is what matters when we're metabolizing stuff like this. Sure, it's possible that he didn't realize that the nose, wig and beard — taken together with his performing a song about the joys of frugality — might converge into a kind of racist Voltron.

But that would be like frolicking through a fruit patch, tripping face-first into a dirt pit, and then emerging, dazed and face blackened, clutching a watermelon. Your story might in fact be legit, but so many things would have to go wrong in a particular order that you would kind of have to understand if no one believed you.

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