One of the oldest traditions of the summer box office season has always been the release of a Michael Bay movie. Bay's movies pop up almost every summer, promising a heightened sense of wonder and epicness, over-the-top action set pieces and an ever-expanding budget of special effects. Despite slightly-altered plots, updated CGI, and the promise of nuance, each of his films follows the same ridiculous formula, leaving fans in a perpetual state of frustration. There's always enough to be satisfied, but never enough uniqueness to not feel slighted at the idea of something more.
Macklemore, upon releasing his new single, “Glorious,” from his upcoming third album, has become the Michael Bay of rap music.
Macklemore has always been a frustrating artist. At times, his music reaches for something meaningful and honest, but then he’s rapping over a “Thriller” knockoff instrumental with Idris Elba doing his best Vincent Price interpretation. As a progressive voice, his substance ranges anywhere from DeRay Mckesson to one of those NBC “The More You Know” commercials. He often burdens himself with the unfortunate habit of either spreading himself too thin conceptually, such as on songs like “Kevin” and “A Wake,” or laying it on too thick to a concept that feels cheap, such as on “Downtown."
Despite all of these criticisms, and considering the levels of scrutiny thrown at him over the past five years, Macklemore is an extremely popular rap artist. Like Michael Bay, Macklemore produces hit songs whether we collectively enjoy them or not, and that formula for success, at least commercially, has allowed him a seat at the table to tell his story no matter the method.
One of the most prevalent themes in Macklemore’s music has been the idea of fresh starts. A recovering alcoholic and drug addict, Macklemore’s most effective music has always come from the notion that it’s never too late to start over, as long as you’re willing to accept the past. It’s a concept explored time and time again throughout both his albums, particularly, on tracks like “Starting Over” and “St. Ides,” as well as his best song to date, “Otherside." On “Otherside,” Mack’s lyrics are about not only his own addiction issues, but his ability to expand that scope to the destruction that prescription drugs can have on one’s life is nothing short of spectacular, and in a vacuum, the track shows an artist on the verge of putting it all together.
Unfortunately for Macklemore, the rest of his music has always felt like a manufactured experience that works to convince you that his music is making you feel one way. In reality, though, that feeling is never truly there. Songs like “Thrift Shop,” “Dance Off" and “Can’t Hold Us” feel formulaic, similar to most summer box office flicks, with each of their most accessible moments feeling like action set pieces meant to dazzle the eyes and ears, and rot the brain. Despite his many attempts at earnestness, depth and nuance in terms of a larger discussion about society, each new piece of music that Macklemore releases feels like a retread of the same missteps he’s already taken.
With the defiant piano overture enveloping the Skylar Grey-assisted track, the incessant drum beating, and angelic choir hymns following Macklemore up his own, self-made mountaintop, “Glorious” is a song about starting over that feels like a reenactment of all the music that came before it.
Once again, “Glorious” is a song that sounds great in a vacuum. It’s triumphant, charismatic, and if you close your eyes long enough while listening, you can actually start to see the NBA Finals commercials it will undoubtedly play over next year. Macklemore plays to his biggest strengths, despite a “creative break” with Ryan Lewis separating the emcee from the curator who sensationalized his particular sound. “Glorious” wants you to believe in yourself. Even more, it wants you to believe in Macklemore believing in himself, and at its peak it wants you to believe in yourself for believing in Macklemore for believing himself. It captures all the epic transitions of “Can’t Hold Us” without ever overstaying its welcome the way that song did, and this time it brought Eminem's smash pop hook hired gun along for the ride.
The absence of Ryan Lewis should tell you everything you need to know about Macklemore's “fresh start” because you wouldn’t have guessed he wasn't involved by the sound of the production. From the live instrumentation to yet another chorus involving hand-clapping and humming, “Glorious” feels like textbook Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, but it’s not. It sounds like the Macklemore hit machine at work once again, only changing in name and never in purpose. For all the talk of new beginnings and lyrics such as, “I made it through the darkest part of the night / And now I see the sunrise,” why do we as fans feel like that sunrise is nothing but a repeat of the events? This isn’t anything new; it’s Groundhog Day, we’re Bill Murray, and Macklemore is the guy we keep trying to avoid on the street.
So, here we are, on the precipice of a third Macklemore album and yet another claim of starting a brand new journey. However, despite that claim, it’s hard to not feel dubious of what is in store when “Glorious” conveys anything but change. With how Macklemore’s career has gone to this point, one has to worry if the next piece of the puzzle is a song celebrating taco trucks or living room furniture.
“Glorious” is a catchy tune, a certified hit from a rapper who has all but perfected his commercially-appealing concoction. For a rapper so concerned with convincing us of his musical progression, though, it still feels like a sleight of hand trick for something much less memorable.