Al Madrigal on why he abhors Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop”

Al Madrigal on why he abhors Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop”

In HateSong, we ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world. 

The hater: Best known as a regular correspondent on The Daily Show, Al Madrigal has been a working comedian for almost 15 years. His solo stand-up special, Why Is The Rabbit Crying?, aired this spring on Comedy Central and is now available on CD and DVD. A veteran of a number of ill-fated sitcoms, Madrigal will hopefully have better luck on NBC this fall in About A Boy, Jason Katims’ new series based on the Nick Hornby book. Madrigal plays Andy, best friend of David Walton’s Will, and husband to Anjelah Johnson’s Laurie.

The hated: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Wanz, “Thrift Shop” (2012)

The A.V. Club: It’s interesting that this is the one song you don’t like the most out of any song. Why this one?

Al Madrigal: It comes at a weird time because I have a 10-year-old son who is really into popular music and printing out lyrics. So I hate this song for multiple reasons. It’s mainly because I’m having to explain a lot of things.

I just feel, and I always have, that dressing ironically in thrift shop clothing is such a white thing to do. And it is a total disregard for people that have to shop at Goodwill and Salvation Army. Someone walking through and laughing at all this stuff while some people are forced to shop there—I remember, personally, growing up in a house where my first blazer came from the Goodwill. So you never want to go back there; if you actually had to wear thrift shop clothing, you’d be dying to have something new. I would have liked to have a new blazer, and I was embarrassed by that fact.

I know the whole thing is a joke and it’s a very catchy beat he has. I get the Macklemore/Ryan Lewis attraction, but these guys are walking around in shit that they find at the Goodwill, and there’s a lot of funny shit at the Goodwill. You re-watch Napoleon Dynamite, and there’s a lot of thrift shopping that goes on in that movie; there’s a lot of funny stuff. It’s definitely amusing, and paying 99 cents for a samurai sword is amazing. But the song itself is sort of making light of anyone who has grown up in a low-income household who wants things. Plus, I’m sort of a germophobe, and I’d be way too terrified about bed bugs.

But the main reason I hate “Thrift Shop” is all the explaining I’ve had to do because my son printed out the lyrics.

AVC: Until you really look at them, you don’t really realize how dirty they are.

AM: We were listening to the “clean” version of the song on the radio. And, first of all, I had to explain “honky.” “Dad, what’s a honky?” That one I was totally fine with explaining—it’s an insult to white people: cracker, whitey. It’s something mean that a non-white person can say to a white person. That’s annoying, but then the R. Kelly “sheets” thing came up because that’s in the clean version. “Why do R. Kelly’s sheets smell like urine?” Now, if you’re in my position, what do you say to that? You have two different options: You can pretend you don’t know and say, “I have no idea what that means,” and that probably would have been the best way to go; you can tell him the truth, which is crazy. To flex my knowledge of all the mistakes made by R&B singers.

AVC: That opens up a whole other series of questions.

AM: It really does. “When a man loves a woman and that woman is underage and the man enjoys peeing on them…” Then you have to get into the whole shower explanation. “What’s a golden shower?” That’s something you never want to hear your children ask.

So yes, I think because of that—and that’s in the clean radio version—“Smells like R. Kelly’s sheets,” and then he says, “Pissssss.” We had a birthday party over at my parents’ house, and my son had his iPad and there were a bunch of other kids his age and they were all in the kids’ room singing that song. At the moment where that point came up, a group maybe 10 kids, ages 5 to 10, all stopped and said, “Pissssssss.” It was horrible. And you’re sort of happy your child is into popular music and he’s not going to be some nerd that’s unaware of what’s happening at that moment and what songs are current and your kid is totally on it. But when you’re hearing a bunch of kids say “piss”—as a parent, and you also know where that’s derived from—it’s haunting. It’s one of those things where you [say], “Should I be letting them listen to this?” 

R. Kelly had a videotape where he was peeing on underage girls, and he married Aaliyah when she was 15 years old—“Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number”—and you can’t explain any of that. I think what I said to him was, “I think he peed in his bed.” That’s probably the best way to go, right? That could have gone with “Ask your mother,” also. [Laughs.] I could have forced it on my wife, but I went with “R. Kelly peed his bed; he’s a bed wetter.” Which is sort of true, I mean the bed is going to get wet when you’re peeing on underage girls.

AVC: He did it; you just didn’t say that someone was in the way.

AM: He did it on someone is the part I left out. The “skeet” blanket also came up.

AVC: That’s another hard one to explain.

AM: Very difficult to explain; there are lot of bodily fluids being exchanged. More reasons not to go to a thrift shop but skeet was one where I said, “I don’t know what that means.” And are you doing your kid a disservice by not having him have this information? They’re going to go to school and find this out from one of their friends who has an older brother. Should your child be naïve? 

Of course, there are things parents just don’t want to explain, and unfortunately “Thrift Shop” comes up at a time where I have a 10-year-old boy who is mouthing “piss” in the backseat of the car as we’re driving. And my wife and I are not so old that we’re listening to jazz and NPR in the morning, so there is popular music being played in the car and a lot of questionable lyrics need explaining, and this song is one that has come up. 

In the non-radio version, he says, “Walk up to the club like, ‘What up? I got a big cock.’” Right away. That’s what he opens with. So, I don’t know. A lot of explaining needs to be done and you don’t really notice it because, on the surface, it does seem like a completely clean and harmless song. And also, at this point, it’s being played so much that it’s annoying on that level. I do not like “Thrift Shop.”

AVC: What’s going to happen with your son is probably what happened to a lot of us: He’ll get a little older and hear a song he really liked when he was younger and say, “Wow, that song is really dirty.” That happened with songs like “Baby Got Back” or “Pour Some Sugar On Me” or “Cherry Pie.”

AM: You’re on the road as a comedian and “Pour Some Sugar On Me” comes on and you’re like, “Oh, yeah. I used to sing this in the car.” I grew up in San Francisco and my first tape, I think, was Kool Moe Dee’s “Go See The Doctor,” which had lyrics about venereal diseases or something like that. “Itch, itch, itch.” It’s about transacting VD. That’s the whole song, right? I think I was 12 when that came out, and I sort of knew what it was about so I guess that’s similar. So you’re totally right.

AVC: Allegedly Macklemore grew up with a single mom and had to shop in thrift stores, and those stores he shopped in growing up are the ones he shows in the video. Who knows whether that’s really true, but that’s the story.

AM: You just assume a white rapper has white privilege as well. 

There’s no reason anybody should be reading too much into “Thrift Shop.” I just have because I have a 10-year-old and a 7-year-old who are really into going to lyric websites, hitting print, and printing lyrics for every song that’s popular. They loved that song “Trojans,” which makes no sense. “There’s a Trojan in my head” or whatever the fuck. Every song that’s popular has lyrics laying around the house and they’re making iPad videos that are horrible. Did you ever do that as a kid? Grab a pencil that turns into a microphone and put on a show for your parents?

AVC: Of course.

AM: Now kids have iPads, and they’re making videos for those shows. My daughter, who is 7 years old—I have no idea where she learned this—she made a video where she’s beat-boxing. We have no idea where the beat-boxing came from, but all of a sudden, there it was. Now we’re launched into lyric sheets for every single song that is current. They’re all over our house.

AVC: You could just choose to think it’s cool that they care about words.

AM: Yeah, it’s totally cool. My daughter plays keyboard very well and my son plays guitar and they’re totally into music. He’s practicing a Tegan And Sara song right now. It’s great. But, at the same time, having to explain why R. Kelly’s sheets smell like urine is not something you ever want to do. And, thanks to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis—I think Macklemore is mainly the problem—I’m forced to do that, and I think parents all over the country find themselves in the same situation.