After a lengthy sabbatical, Macklemore returned to the hip-hop fold on Wednesday with his new single “Growing Up (Sloan’s Song),” a collaboration with Ed Sheeran that discusses the birth of his daughter. Reaction to the single was decidedly mixed. Depending on who you asked, the song was either a touching ode to new fatherhood, or it was the most schmaltzy, cornball song this side of “Butterfly Kisses.” So, which side is right? The answer, counter-intuitive though it may seem, is both.
“Growing Up” is a heartwarming, tear-jerking work of a troubled man confronted with the prospect of being a parent, who is both delighted and frightened by this news. It’s also one of the cheesiest songs I’ve ever head in my life. I mean, he tells his daughter to read The Alchemist and do yoga! I assume the part in which he tells her that fall is the best season because of the omnipresence of pumpkin-spice lattes from Starbucks was cut for time. Still, the song’s earnestness doesn’t make it any less corny, and vice versa.
All of this is to say “Growing Up” is the quintessential Macklemore song. If you’ve ever wondered why so many people aim such a disproportionate amount of rage at Macklemore, well, part of it is because he somehow beat Kendrick, Kanye, Drake, and Jay Z for Best Rap Album at the 2014 Grammys, but a lot of it is because the guy just seems like a huge dork. He’s a little too sincere for his own good, sometimes. To put it another way, he’s the Mumford & Sons of hip-hop.
But while that leads to a lot of disdain for Macklemore, it’s also the biggest reason people like him. Remember, for all the people who cringe at Marcus Mumford’s ultra-sincere wailing on tracks like “I Will Wait” or “White Blank Page,” there are thousands more who bought his albums because they felt he was speaking from the heart. Macklemore is a dork, but that ends up being part of his appeal because, well, a lot of people (myself included) are dorks.
No song in the Macklemore canon is more heart-on-sleeve-y than “Growing Up.” There’s not a trace of irony or detachment to be found anywhere on it. Now, authenticity is generally valued in hip-hop, but not when it comes with such an immense dosage of syrup, no matter how organic that syrup might be (and, let’s be clear, Macklemore definitely gets his syrup from Trader Joe’s). That’s why, for many hip-hop heads, this song, among many of his others, will come across like (as Slate put it), a “masterclass in corniness.”
“Growing Up” is unlikely to change anyone’s opinion of Macklemore. If you’re favorite tracks on The Heist were the honest confessionals of “Neon Cathedral” and “Staring Over,” you’ll probably love this one. Likewise, if you saw Macklemore perform “Same Love” at the Grammys and thought “pfft, can you BELIEVE this guy?!” this song isn’t going to move the needle at all.
Macklemore is decidedly uncool, and that’s probably how it always will be. But, for him, that’s OK. He’s turned his uncoolness into something a lot of people can relate to. What we’ve learned from “Growing Up” is that Macklemore has no interest in going after the people who will never like him. Nope, he’s perfectly fine appealing to the audience who loves him for being the unabashed geek that he is. As long as Macklemore is making music, the cool kids will be throwing spitballs at him, but with the success he’s found with a less-hip crowd, he probably couldn’t care less.