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And the Grammy Award for Most Gay Marriages Goes to…

January 29, 2014

This weekend at the Grammy Awards, Seattle hip-hop duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis won pretty big. They won four awards, including Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song, Best Rap Performance (which is different than a “song,” apparently, but it’s the Grammys and you probably should’ve learned in like middle school that almost nothing about them makes any sense, so whatever), and Best New Artist. These trophies gave the duo an even bigger bully pulpit for their performance of their song “Same Love” later in the night, during which 33 couples, gay and straight, were married by Queen Latifah, by the power vested in her by the state of being Queen Latifah.

If that sounds kind of surreal and bizarre, it’s because it was. And it got even more bizarre when Madonna joined them on stage, dressed like Colonel Sanders, carrying a cane, and quite possibly wearing a grill (I can’t tell from the video, but she certainly was earlier in the evening). But bizarre or not, the performance made a statement, and though I’ve long been rolling my eyes at “Same Love,” I found myself pleased with the showboat-y-ness of it all.

See, the first time I heard “Same Love,” I felt some feelings. I thought that the basic message of the song—that the love gay folks have for each other is no different than the love felt by us breeders—was a bit of a “well, duh” thing to be singing about, and then I was sad because I realized that for a lot of people maybe this is actually a revolutionary and uncomfortable statement or idea, and then I was happy because if that’s the case then I liked that a song like this made it onto the radio in the first place.

I felt a similar array of feelings watching the song being performed at the Grammys. On my first viewing, I liked that it didn’t seem that the camera was focusing more on the gay couples or the straight ones. Almost like it didn’t matter which was which, almost as if they weren’t treating the gay marriages as a novelty, almost as if all of these people were just people getting married because they love each other, and their gender wasn’t a big deal, just like the song says.

But then I realized that the whole thing was treating marriage itself as a novelty. A big, ratings-grabbing, star-studded novelty. And since all that “sanctity of marriage” stuff is still a common argument against the legalization of gay marriage, this concerned me. Until I remembered the oft-repeated joke that legalizing gay marriage couldn’t possibly damage the institution of marriage any more than straight people already have, and I realized that this performance is a really good visual manifestation of that point. We’re a culture that liked Flavor of Love and The Bachelor so much that they made distaff spinoffs. We’ve been watching some of the worst heterosexual people ever literally compete to get married, right there on the TV where everyone can see it, for years now. The social order hasn’t collapsed. And I haven’t really been out much since the weekend, but I’m pretty sure that same social order is still intact now that they’re letting gay people get married on TV too.

In the long run, I think maybe this performance is just as important as the people behind it clearly intended it to be. If you think about it long enough, the ridiculous self-seriousness and spectacle of it all totally eclipses the genders of anyone involved. In other words, the fact that there were gay people getting married on TV was far from the most surprising thing about this performance. In other other words, gay or straight, show biz is show biz, and a spectacle is a spectacle. It might not be the message they thought they were sending, but it’s certainly an interesting one.


If you want to know more:

  • In the introduction to Rhetorics of Display, Lawrence J. Prelli argues that rhetorical meaning is a function of simultaneous deliberate processes of revealing and concealing. So, by showing something, we are by necessity concealing something else and avoiding some other alternative display. I think that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (or the Grammy producers, or whoever was behind the performance I’m writing about here) are literally displaying gay marriage in an attempt to normalize it. I also think they do a good job of avoiding the obvious pitfall of displaying the gay marriages as a spectacle by giving equal screen time to the straight couples. But as I argue above, I believe that the spectacle of the entire performance lends itself to a slightly more cynical interpretation that nonetheless still works to normalize gay marriage.
  • I mentioned my eye-rolling at “Same Love” above, and since I can’t resist the opportunity, my major beefs are as follows: The more I heard it (which, as anyone who’s been in a gym, a car without a CD player/AUX port, or an Old Navy lately probably realizes, is a whole lot) I realized how poorly the lyrical content of the chorus fits with that of the verses, except for the loose connection of both mentioning “gay stuff.” I don’t like how he says “whatever god you believe in, we come from the same one,” because a lot of people believe in no god at all and that line feels awfully exclusionary for a song that really belts it out for the cheap seats in Why Can’t We All Get Along Memorial Stadium. I also hate hate hate how he outs himself as straight in, like, the second line. Something about it just struck me as, like, “hey ladies, don’t worry, I’m totally straight. But I’m also sensitive enough to care about the gays.” Although I guess you could accuse me of maybe doing the same thing when I said “us breeders” above, but whatever, blogging is hard.
  • Whoever is in charge of the Grammys’ copyrights is engaged in some pretty rigorous YouTube policing right now, even for performances that aren’t, near as I can tell, on the Grammys website. So, the link I posted to the video of the performance might not work in a few hours or days or whatever. If that’s the case, let me know and I’ll do what I can to find another one.
  • In the Daily News article I linked to above (reposted here) Rush Limbaugh is quoted as saying that he found the performance “horrible” and “despicable.” This no doubt as opposed to all of the other, less gay-friendly hip-hop that I’m sure Rush Limbaugh is listening to these days.
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