Macklemore can’t seem to win.
The Seattle rapper was one of the biggest things in hip-hop three years ago, thanks to the pop-radio-friendly smashes “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us.” But with success came criticism.
Macklemore was embarrassed when he won the 2014 Grammy for best rap album (for “The Heist”) over Kendrick Lamar’s; he even tweeted that Lamar deserved the trophy.
Then on this year’s follow-up album, “This Unruly Mess I’ve Made,” Macklemore created more controversy with the nine-minute “White Privilege II,” which addresses racism and his complicity.
The album already has disappeared from Billboard’s Top 200, and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis — the official name of the group — drew only about 5,000 people Wednesday at Target Center (half the seats were covered in black plastic) compared to 16,000 at the Minnesota State Fair in 2013.
To add insult to injury, Macklemore took off his jacket after the first song to reveal a Twins jersey. Word: The Twins are having a worse year than Macklemore. Far worse.
And what’s up with Macklemore’s new buzz cut? He even raps about the trendsetting “Macklemore haircut” in the new tune “Brad Pitt’s Cousin,” but he’s abandoned his defining do for something pretty anonymous.
At least his performance wasn’t anonymous or pro forma. The garrulous Macklemore gushed about Minneapolis throughout the 105-minute concert, mentioning his performances at First Avenue and the Soundset festival and praising the area’s indie hip-hop scene.
More importantly, the MC worked the stage with the energy and intensity of a rock star, with arm gestures as emphatic as his flow was fast. “Can’t Hold Us” became a full-on aerobics class, with Macklemore leading the bounce-a-thon, even jumping into the crowd to pick up the pace.
Although that blockbuster clearly connected with the crowd, “Same Love,” a pro-gay anthem that was a much-talked-about hit in 2013, lacked the immediacy and urgency experienced at the State Fair, when same-sex marriage was a hot-button issue. Similarly, “White Privilege II,” a topical discussion about black lives and culture, had dramatic lighting and staging but received a modest reaction.
Even though Macklemore is ever-earnest, openhearted and determinedly humble, he isn’t above being theatrical. That happened during the smash “Thrift Shop” (for which he donned a floor-length fur coat) and the frothy encore of the recent single “Downtown,” featuring guest Eric Nally on Freddie Mercury-ish vocals.
Macklemore got comical, too, reprising his ridiculous bewigged, cape-wearing alter ego Raven Bowie, for the silly dance-party workout “And We Danced” rendered with faux British accent. This bit owed more to LMFAO than NWA. He quickly redeemed himself by tacking on a brief but effective Prince salute, dancing (in his Bowie outfit) with a female dancer to a verse and chorus of a recording of “Kiss” as the Purple One’s symbol appeared on a giant video screen.
Macklemore, who turns 33 on Father’s Day, also showed his softer side by delivering “Growing Up,” a sweet if simple-minded song about his 1-year-old daughter that isn’t going to enhance his hip-hop cred.
But he doesn’t care. “This dad life,” he said between songs, “is better than rap life.”
Guess that makes him a winner in somebody’s eyes.