A slew of wins at the 2014 Grammys looked a lot like the the cherry on top of a meteoric rise for Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. But its aftermath — that whole apologetic text to Kendrick Lamar for the Rap Album of the Year win thing, and conversations about privilege and appropriation that followed — soon became one of the polarizing rapper’s most publicly fraught moments. And it seems, even absent of that aftermath, that the night during which the duo also won Best New Artist, Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song wasn’t as blissful as it may have appeared.
At least, that’s not how Macklemore recounts it, in retrospect, on “Light Tunnels,” the opening track of he and Lewis’ The Heistfollowup, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made.
The Seattle native never mentions the Grammys by name on the track, but much of what he’s describing about the evening — the bolo tie he wore during his “Same Love” performance, for instance — falls right in line.
There’s a lot going on here beyond recalling his outfit, though. Macklemore contemplates and criticizes the awards show industry on the whole (“They want Britney Spears to make out with Madonna/ They want Kanye to rant and to go on longer, cause that equates to more dollars”) and these shows’ gatekeepers (“I wish I had the homies with me here but nope/ Most of the artists that I know don’t get invited to this show”), before the final verse culminates in the moments after one of his wins. He’s become disenchanted and uncomfortable with his position:
This feels so narcissistic, dressed as a celebration to conceal it’s a business
Me, me, me, my, my image, my, my songs, my self interest
One big reality show that is scripted
And I can keep trying or get off the competition
I’d rather run out of my fifteen minutes
Than have life pass me by and I forget to live it
But that doesn’t mean retirement
But I don’t like who I am in this environment
I forgot what this art’s for
I didn’t get through freshman year to drop out as a sophomore
From there, he closes the song with a conclusion that plays as part reckoning and part manifesto: “Time to explain this unruly mess I’ve made,” he raps.
You can hear how he and Lewis do that — with the help of guests like Chance the Rapper, YG, Leon Bridges, and Ed Sheeran — on the new album, which you can stream below.
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