By Kevin Rutherford
Over the past few months, an independent rapper from Seattle and his producer have taken the music world by storm with catchy, memorable tunes that have helped them become one of the biggest indie success stories ever.
Now, a song written over a year ago in support of Washington state’s Referendum 74 legalizing same-sex marriage is posed to become not only the duo’s next big hit, but also an anthem for marriage equality across the country.
“Same Love,” the new song-of-the-now from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, has stormed up the charts and radio station playlists in recent weeks. The song, featuring Seattle-based singer, songwriter and poet Mary Lambert, has peaked at No. 16 on Hot 100 chart as of this week, Billboard reports. Last week, “Same Love” was at No. 28 on the Hot 100; the week before, No. 33. During the week of the DOMA decision, the song sold roughly one-ninth of its total downloads ever. Across sales and radio play, “Same Love” is up this week by about 30 percent, give or take; across streaming services, about 20 percent.
After breaking out with “Thrift Shop,” the duo has become known for its relatable sense of humor and feel-good party anthems, such as second hit “Can’t Hold Us.” Both “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us” vaulted to No. 1, making Macklemore and Ryan Lewis the first duo in Hot 100 history to have its first two singles reach the top. Not bad, especially considering both singles were independently distributed.
While the goofiness of “Thrift Shop” borders on novelty track and “Can’t Hold Us” is an ear-wormy club banger in the best way, “Same Love” lands on the opposite side of the both spectrums. While not a negative song per se, “Same Love” chronicles the struggles faced by the LGBT community in the fight for marriage equality, borrowing a bit of inspiration from Macklemore’s two gay uncles and gay godfather. There’s an underlying sense of triumph that defines the poignant, piano-led track.
That sense is all the more noticeable nowadays with the song’s chart gains. In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26th ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act, the song has continued to garner more and more airplay, seemingly capturing the nation’s mood about gay marriage — and perhaps, ultimately, bringing a few new supporters to the cause.
Michael Martin, CBS Radio’s Vice President of Top 40 Programming, says the increase in airplay makes sense, calling the song and its accompanying video “impactful.”
“Even before DOMA, ‘Same Love’ was a record that when you watched the video, it was just so impactful, and you saw a whole other depth level to the guy that was giving you ‘Thrift Shop’ on one side and ‘Can’t Hold Us’ on the other side,” said Martin, who also heads up programming at multiple CBS stations in San Francisco including 99.7 Now, Alice@97.3 and Live 105 (all Radio.com stations).
Martin noted that there hadn’t been a company-wide push for the song to get airplay, but for radio programmers paying attention to what’s going on in the country, it’s a no-brainer.
“Because of what’s going on in the world, absolutely, there’s been an increase in play,” he said. “The programmers that pay attention know what’s going on in their world and their listeners’ world, and it’s our job to reflect the audience’s. What a great song to push even faster than you normally would for listeners. Why not?”
As a programmer working in an area historically associated with the LGBT community, Martin said he actually began playing around with “Same Love” long before the DOMA ruling when “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us” were still the songs on everyone’s minds, and that the positive response was immediate, especially given one little detail: using the unedited version of the single, which does not cut out Macklemore’s single use of the word ‘faggot.’
“A culture founded from oppression,” Macklemore raps. “Yet we don’t have acceptance for ‘em/Call each other faggots behind the keys of a message board/A word rooted in hate, yet our genre still ignores it/Gay is synonymous with the lesser.”
“When we played it, the response was absolutely amazing. People were thanking us for it — and thanking us for not editing the version,” Martin explained. “We decided not to play it because we felt like it took the power away from the entire line and message of the song, because that’s what the song is all about. We got compliments for playing the record the way it was supposed to be played. When DOMA happened, it just accelerated it hundredfold.”
Though “Same Love” was initially released almost a year ago, first debuted on the Hot 100 back in February and finally got “official single” release last month, its recent rise marks another instance of right place, right time. Radio has long been marked by certain songs’ ability to capitalize on growing trends and topics, be it as small as identifying a bona fide Song of the Summer. In extreme circumstances — particularly those that unite people — it goes deeper than that. Alt-country favorite Ryan Adams never had much of a breakthrough on American radio, but he ended up with an anthem — “New York, New York” — in the wake of 9/11. The song and its accompanying video just so happened to premiere Sept. 11, 2001, but that’s not even the remarkable part. The video was shot against the New York skyline — the Twin Towers in the background — just four days before the terrorist attacks.
A handful of songs on country radio were released following 9/11 and arguably benefited from patriotic feelings, such as Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning) and Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).” Also of note is Elton John’s 1997 rerecording of “Candle in the Wind,” a tribute to Princess Diana after her death that year, as well as a score of other songs written after the fact.
But “Same Love,” like “New York, New York,” wasn’t written as a response to what happened — it’s simply reached more people because of it. “Same Love” almost feels as though it’s woven into the fabric of the continuing battle for widespread legalization of same-sex marriage, potentially as an anthem that could conceivably have more staying power down the road than the inescapable “Thrift Shop.”
That’s a possibility that excites Mary Lambert, the singer that croons the singsong hook on “Same Love.” The latest beneficiary of Macklemore’s skyrocketing success (like Wanz of “Thrift Shop” and Ray Dalton of “Can’t Hold Us” before her), Lambert’s voice is laden with awe-filled excitement as the song she’s featured on gains traction on radio.
“You dream about this sort of thing as a kid,” Lambert said this week in a phone interview with Radio.com. “I used to have these private concerts in my house when I was, like, 7 years old [and] I would just imagine these massive audiences and singing to them and performing and thinking about these kinds of things.”
Lambert isn’t just another pretty voice; her inclusion on the song has extra meaning. She’s gay, and the chorus’s refrain of “I can’t change/Even if I tried/Even if I wanted to” is her own creation, speaking from her own experiences. According to Lambert, she and Macklemore knew each other because they “both ran in the same circles” due to her penchant for spoken word (she won Seattle’s Grand Slam Poetry Competition in 2011). A friend referred her for the song “so it wasn’t two straight white dudes talking about gay things.”
Now that the song has taken on a life of its own following the DOMA ruling, Lambert finds the success “hard to fathom.”
“To sing a song about something I really believe in and a cultural shift that needs to happen within society [and] to be able to also do my passion at the same time… to just turn the car on and hear my voice on three different radio stations, it blows my mind,” she said.
Whether or not the song continues to rise up the charts remains to be seen, but given its recent forward progress into the Top 20, coupled with recent good tidings for the cause of same-sex equality, it’s easy to imagine “Same Love” maintaining its upward motion. Moreover, the song has the potential to become the first big hit (or even No. 1) to explicitly support and embrace gay marriage, perhaps becoming an anthem remembered years — maybe even decades — down the road for its importance.
Lambert isn’t completely sure if the song will rise to the level of changing minds and soundtracking a broader shift in public opinion, but she hasn’t ruled out such an occurrence just yet.
“It’s happened before,” she said. “I have to keep telling myself that there are songs that have shifted my views and have changed me. That’s just through a song. Maybe that’s what we’re doing, too.”
(Additional reporting by Jillian Mapes, Radio.com)