NEW YORK (MainStreet) Thrift is in, and excessive consumerism is out, according to the Grammys. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis took home best rap performance for "Thrift Shop," which also won best rap song and featured prominently on "The Heist," the winner for best rap album. And in a further show of support for egalitarian lyrical themes, song of the year went to "Royals," by 17-year-old phenom Lorde, who also won for best pop solo performance on this anti-glitz number.
"Royals" and "Thrift Shop" are anthems to Main Street that eschew conspicuous consumption.
In rap performance, for example, Macklemore's paean to bargain-hunting beat out odes to sybaritic taste Jay-Z's "Tom Ford" and Kendrick Lamar's "Swimming Pools (Drank)."
In "Thrift Shop," the rappers roll with a limited budget into a second-hand store, as the catchy hook tells it:
"I'm gonna pop some tags
Only got twenty dollars in my pocket
I - I - I'm hunting, looking for a come-up."
Instead of celebrating the acquisition of super cars or designer clothing, Macklemore boasts his discovery of fur finery for under $1:
"Draped in a leopard mink, girls standin' next to me
Probably shoulda washed this, smells like R. Kelly's sheets
But shit, it was ninety-nine cents! (Bag it)
Coppin' it, washin' it, 'bout to go and get some compliments
Passin' up on those moccasins someone else's been walkin' in."
Even sacrificing perfect sanitary standards, Macklemore in this song is unwilling to pass up a deal and figures he can simply and cheaply wash out the faint smell of urine on the clothing. He also uses discretion by passing on the well-worn moccasins.
Greed is gauche as ever, especially in the wake of the Great Recession. In fact, it's a sickness: a recent paper from Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer called "When Does Money Make Money More Important" notes that money can be addictive. The research, published in the ILRReview, demonstrates that the more money a person makes per hour, the more significance the money acquires. And you wonder why CEO compensation is so high?
The germ of that study arose from a 2002 Fortune interview with former Novartis AG CEO Daniel Vasella, who did not accept a $78 million severance package. "The strange part is, the more I made, the more I got preoccupied with money," Vasella said. "When suddenly I didn't have to think about money as much, I found myself starting to think increasingly about it." Extrication from that focus on excess money creates a kind of freedom.
Here in popular music, we have a new hero, one who ostentatiously presents his penchant for penny-pinching.
"Savin' my money and I'm hella happy that's a bargain...
I'ma take your grandpa's style, I'ma take your grandpa's style,
No for real - ask your grandpa - can I have his hand-me-downs? (Thank you)
Velour jumpsuit and some house slippers
Dookie brown leather jacket that I found diggin'
They had a broken keyboard, I bought a broken keyboard
I bought a skeet blanket, then I bought a kneeboard."
Macklemore goes for the hand-me-down clothing and picks up a keyboard in need of some repair and a kneeboardmaking his $20 stretch.
Beyond going for the flannel zebra onesie jammies, Macklemore also criticizes excessive spending on designer brands when he enters the club and finds people flaunting their overpriced attire.
"They be like, 'Oh, that Gucci - that's hella tight.'
I'm like, 'Yo - that's fifty dollars for a T-shirt.'
Limited edition, let's do some simple addition
Fifty dollars for a T-shirt - that's just some ignorant...
I call that getting swindled and pimped...
I call that getting tricked by a business
That shirt's hella dough."
Macklemore refuses to get ripped off by marked-up shirts in contrast to rap that deifies these brands. In "Royals," Lorde is of a similar mindset; she doesn't need to be surrounded by fancy baubles or reside in a fancy neighborhood.
"I've never seen a diamond in the flesh
I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies
And I'm not proud of my address,
In a torn-up town, no postcode envy."
In fact, new middle-class advocate New York City mayor Bill de Blasio used "Royals" as his victory anthem in a not-so-subtle gesture to indicate a change of regime from billionaire Michael Bloomberg's reign.
Like Macklemore, Lorde condemns consumer frivolity.
"But every song's like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin' in the bathroom
Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin' the hotel room,
We don't care, we're driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
But everybody's like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece.
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash.
We don't care, we aren't caught up in your love affair."
The gaudiness, whether in champagne or cars, doesn't impress Lorde, who feels "[t]hat kind of luxe just ain't for us,/ We crave a different kind of buzz."
That greed she senses doesn't bring happiness:
"Life is great without a care/ We aren't caught up in your love affair."
The love affair Lorde addresses is the worship of Mammon, the love of money. This is the mentality former hedge-fund trader Sam Polk copped to in his recent New York Times editorial "For the Love of Money," in which he confesses, "In my last year on Wall Street my bonus was $3.6 millionand I was angry because it wasn't big enough." Getting and spending leads to a vicious cycle of avarice.
Instead, the ethos of Macklemore and Lorde is something closer to the frugality endemic to the American Puritanical thought sometimes seemingly a world away from the McMansions and high credit card bills. As Lauren Weber notes in the book In Cheap We Trust (Back Bay Books, 2010), thriftiness has become hip. From completing DIY projects around the house by leveraging Pinterest to downsizing to less expensive real estate, Americans are taking up the reins of parsimony in a stylized and often tech-savvy way. And with these Grammy wins, Macklemore and Lorde have confirmed there's a cool factor involved in that.
--Written by Ross Kenneth Urken for MainStreet