In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week: In anticipation of this weekend’s Grammy Awards, the five songs up for the 2014 Song Of The Year award.
At least in their music, hip-hop’s biggest artists weren’t too concerned about civil rights in 2013: Jay Z may have donated the “charity” of his “presence” at the occasional Trayvon Martin rally, but his album was more focused on reiterating that he is still very rich, while Kanye West eloquently quoted Martin Luther King’s “thank God almighty… free at last!” to refer to unrestrained breasts. Meanwhile, on the most pressing civil rights issue of the times—gay marriage, which he professes to support—the exhaustingly clueless Eminem suggested on “Rap God” that he might “break a motherfuckin’ table over the back of a couple faggots and crack it in half.” In the face of such squandered opportunities to use rap to say something meaningful about anyone’s rights, it was utterly refreshing to see the somewhat geeky, un-posturing Macklemore (along with utterly nondescript sidekick Ryan Lewis) step up to the plate and deliver thoughtful commentary on the changing tide on gay rights in America.
“Same Love” works first and foremost because of its addictively simple melody, ripped from The Impressions’ soulful “People Get Ready,” given a little momentum, and converted into a softly meditative piano hook. Macklemore and Lewis accomplish a lot with this tinkering of a few keys, setting a cool tone that’s simultaneously relaxed and reflective, yet also urgent. The emotive chorus from previous unknown Mary Lambert is all well and good, but it’s the hypnotic riff that does the bulk of the work.
Lyrically, Macklemore’s ruminations aren’t always profound (Wow, people can sure be nasty in anonymous YouTube posts!), but “Same Love” feels empowering simply because he’s so earnestly addressing the topic at all. With the song already used to spearhead a successful referendum on gay marriage in Washington, his straightforward message of hope and progress hits the mark during a pivotal point of cultural shift on the issue. In that way, “Same Love” is both a call to action and a signal that the light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter by the day. It may be the only Song Of The Year candidate that didn’t hit No. 1, but, in a year when people started to get sick of hearing about Jay Z’s money and West’s sex life, “Same Love” arguably deserves the prize as a reminder that hip-hop can be an effective tool in advocating social transformation.