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How Did "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis Become Such a Big Hit?

03/28/2013 11:55 am ET | Updated May 27, 2013
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Answer by Aaron Ellis, Former Music Critic with Artist Farm

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis follow a formula very similar to LMFAO, the L.A.-based alternative-rap duo who gained popularity through a unique sense of fashion, humor, and confidence. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have the same approach, minus the dance beats. More specific to their hit song, "Thrift Shop," they crafted a track that is appealing on multiple levels:

 

  1. Hipster Credibility: This song is all about shopping at thrift stores to get old, vintage, and perhaps even tacky clothes. Right now we are in the Age of the Hipster, and guess what many hipsters do in their free time? They sift through the racks at thrift stores to find vintage clothes for cheap. The song became a hit with hipsters and college radio, then rock radio, then pop radio stations.
  2. Hip Hop Credibility: Though "Thrift Shop" hasn't received nearly as much airplay on urban/hip hop radio as it has on Top-40 and Rock radio, Macklemore has gained some serious word-of-mouth buzz among hip hop fans. Macklemore's raps on "Thrift Shop" are decent, but his raps on some other songs on The Heist are above average. He is thought provoking on songs like "Same Love" and skillful on a song like "Can't Hold Us." I believe his hip hop credibility allowed rap fans to take "Thrift Shop" more seriously than most other comic rap songs.
  3. Minimalist Production: Unlike most of the pop songs out now, which are overproduced and often too reliant on EDM, electro, dubstep, and any other flavor-of-the-week production style, "Thrift Shop" takes a much simpler approach on its beat. It's a basic, old-school horn loop and beat. Nothing fancy, but it works. It stands out against everything else that's on the radio at the moment.
  4. The Hook - Wanz is the guy who does the chorus on "Thrift Shop." His straightforward, baritone vocals are the exact same thing that worked for Nate Dogg, who was the hook man on a lot of rap hits in the 1990s and 2000s.
  5. Sense of Humor - Most rappers take themselves way too seriously. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis don't. They are more than willing to laugh at themselves. These guys aren't rapping about buying bottles of Crystal and making it rain on everyone in the nightclub. These guys are just hoping to get into the club and maybe impress someone with their cheap clothes.
  6. Poor Pride - Although hipsters made it fashionable to go to thrift stores, shopping for secondhand clothes is still frowned upon in many communities as an activity for the poor. Modern hip hop tends to glorify conspicuous consumption and expensive brands, but here is a song taking pride in shopping at thrift stores and buying whatever one's budget allows. At one point Macklemore raps about how paying $50 for a Gucci T-shirt is equivalent to getting "swindled." The message of this song is that it's okay to spend less money on clothes, and it's somewhat foolish to overspend, even for the luxury brands.

Add up all of this and you have a song that appeals to a large segment of music fans. It's no wonder it became an anthem of sorts and is one of the most recognizable songs of 2012-2013.

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