Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” or Hipster White Boy Hip-Hop

  Awareness, Feminism, Lifestyle, Pop Culture


If you are at all aware of pop music then I’m sure you’ve heard Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop.” If not, allow me to direct you to the video here. The above still from the video has hopefully alerted you to the sea of hipsters surrounding Macklemore as he raps about his love of Goodwill. Cue 1992.

Don’t get me wrong. The song is incredibly catchy and I am going to assume Macklemore is trying to be a good person by heralding things like anti-capitalism or gay rights. That’s cool. I can also appreciate the various people of color in the thrift shop video as well as the fierce fat girl that makes an appearance. But that’s about where it ends.

Overall, the song and video bring up a number of class, gender, size and race issues. “Thrift Shop” is essentially about being able to “come up” on a bargain at your local Goodwill. Who doesn’t love that, right? Hard times for the 99% so get on over to Goodwill, right? Maybe my lower middle-class level of “poor” is too poor, but when you “only got $20 in my pocket,” you probably can’t afford “higher-end type of denim or shoes,” before or after you hit up your local thrift haven.

And for the brand haters, heralding non-brand name items and poking holes in the hypocrisy of high-end fashion has its merits but ultimately, the message is still deeply drenched in the capitalistic idea that more is better and that your looks determine your worth.

Also, while I am a big supporter of the political ramifications of creative reuse when it comes to fashion (i.e. buying used clothes), if you are a thrifter like me, you have probably noticed the up-creep of Goodwill and other thrift store prices, or the sudden appearance of special sections of significantly higher priced items (that are more comparable to an antique store instead of a thrift store). Thrift stores are retail businesses just like any other supplying goods. The more people that shop there, the higher they can raise their prices (more or less). So while thrift stores can be a great resource for people that can’t afford clothing at Walmart, Target, department stores, online retailers or most other clothing stores, by encouraging people who can afford to NOT shop there to shop there anyway, we are essentially phasing out the poorer class that NEEDS to shop there. With that in mind, looking for a come up is not so fucking awesome.

And that fierce fat girl I mentioned…


Why is she acting all “hard” while sandwiched between two “hard” black men? Why is she lip-syncing Wanz’ lyrics? He’s in the video so obviously this move was intentional. Just what message is that move portraying there? Macklemore is clearly aware of race, as noted in the lyric, “the people like ‘Damn, that’s a cold ass honky,'” but just how far does that awareness reach?

And to take that one step further, why is the fierce fat girl sandwiched between two black men (who don’t particularly look interested in her sexually), while Macklemore parades around with the skinny girls? Why is our fierce fat girl then portrayed sandwiched between two black women? Clearly, judging by the lyrics, Macklemore is all about the women (merely echoing traditional misogyny seen in hip-hop and rap – particularly with the multiple uses of the emasculating “bitch” and multiple visual and lyrical references to being surrounded by women) but clearly, judging by the video, that means thin women. If he is trying to sexualize her in some way by subverting the “sexy half-naked background dancer in a hip-hop video,” it’s not working. Why you would want to do that to begin with is also not working, for me anyway. I still have no idea what he was trying to portray by showcasing the fierce fat girl’s size and skin color but I can guess and that too is not fucking awesome.

So while I’ve heard many a mouth echo how subversive and great this song is, I’d encourage taking a second listen and look while thinking about the ramifications of what this song and video, especially given their popularity, are putting out there.

JANUARY 28, 2014 EDIT:

  • That fierce fat girl is Sara Stapleton for all of you Google users that come here wanting to find out. She’s an actress.
  • As of today, I am no longer approving any more bullshit racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive comments on this post. It is not about whether or not I agree with you. It’s about you coming to my blog and being an offensive asshole.
  • Macklemore still sucks. I, nor you, do not need a white straight thin man telling us that it’s ok to be queer or poor or any other oppressed group that we belong to. Fuck that watered down privileged liberalism.

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  1. Xenia

    March 11, 2013 at 10:11 am

    I agree with you on everything. The song is catchy and we love it but the stores have been pushing up prices since before the song and now they are just going crazy pricing stuff to keep up with the demand. Yep, my thrift shops are forever freakin’ crowded now. I hope the hype dies down and the high prices chase people away. I had never seen the video in its entirety until a couple days ago and did make note of the big girl. I had similar questions and just blah about the whole song now. Thank you for writing how I feel!

    1. Jen

      March 11, 2013 at 3:33 pm

      I’m glad I could do so! I originally had WAY different plans for this post until I saw the video. It kind of opened up my world, unfortunately!

  2. Abby

    March 11, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    I have that dress. It was not from a thrift shop. It was from Avenue and I got it on BIG TIME sale but it was still more than 20 bucks. Of all the many thrift shops I’ve been to, more than half have had no clothing in my size. (Not that the my-size friendly thrift shops were all that great, either.)

    1. Jen

      March 11, 2013 at 3:35 pm

      That’s interesting to know. Avenue is definitely not cheap or necessarily accessible to poor/er people. I don’t know what size you are but I think it says something that the girl in the video is more of an in-betweenie. That is the reality of fat people shopping at thrift stores and being able to find cute things there (rather than like Lane Bryant stuff from 10 years ago, for example).

  3. Laura

    April 2, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Thank you for this thoughtful, astute analysis! I’m looking forward to back-tracking through your blog.

    1. Jen

      April 4, 2013 at 10:26 am

      Thank you for the comment, Laura. I appreciate the kind words. <3

  4. Job Finesterd

    April 14, 2013 at 12:13 am

    I think this is an example of reading way too far into something.

    Class problems? Gender problems? Size?! Race?!

    It’s a song about buying clothes second-hand, to a fun tone. By a guy who is pretty great and progressive with his views. Finding issues with this song is reading into something that isn’t trying to make a deep statement in the first place, and is ridiculous.

    1. Jen

      April 15, 2013 at 11:13 am

      Hi Job. Thanks for your comment. Since I don’t find it particularly healthy for me to respond to blatant disregard for real issues, here are some links to hopefully educate you.

      Perhaps you will identify with something in one or both of those.

  5. Bri P

    April 14, 2013 at 10:02 pm

    I’d say he’s aware enough about race and his privilege in society to write an entire song about it titled “White Privilege”. May be you should do your research before analyzing an artist you know nothing about. I swear, people will complain about anything.

    Maybe that girl is Wanz and MackLEmore (you spelled his name wrong several times) good friend and that was their way of including her in the video. Maybe she helped with artistic decisions regarding the video (wardrobe, locations, etc) and as a thank you, her and a couple of friends were featured in the video.

    And as to them not finding everything they own at a thrift shop?? Seriously? Guys, your time could be spent complaining (and actually doing something about) MUCH bigger problems than this. This is ridiculous.

    1. Jen

      April 15, 2013 at 11:01 am

      Hi Bri, Thanks for your comment. From what I can tell, you seem to be a fan of his so I can understand why you would disagree with my post. As for “doing my research,” I’d like to reiterate that my post was about the “Thrift Shop” song, not his entire artistic career – which I am aware of but felt that his other songs/messages/etc. do not overwrite the problems I found with this song and video.

      As for the fat woman in the video, whether or not she was a good friend or helped out or whatever doesn’t eradicate my points above. Her role in his life is irrelevant because a video speaks a thousand words. In fact, from one feminist to another, I would like to point out that in a superficial society such as ours, images are more important than any background information. If it’s not readily available, it will probably be ignored. Furthermore, who should have to “research” a person’s role just to be sure that they aren’t being portrayed in a racist and/or fatphobic and/or sexist way? And does knowing whether or not she is a friend change that? Can well-intentioned people still fuck up?

      Also I never said anyone should exclusively shop at one place or that if you buy things from thrift stores you can’t buy anything from anywhere else. I mentioned some class problems that can occur when privileged middle class white people begin to shop at places intended to be resources for lower classes. You know, the whole reason Goodwill is called GoodWill instead of oh, I don’t know, Nordstrom. But I’m guessing a white girl like you would miss that point.

      As for what better things I could be doing with my time, well, that’s a bit like the pot calling the kettle black, is it not?

  6. andré

    May 12, 2013 at 10:05 pm

    oh my god, girl, get a life. all american black women i know(including the fat ones) likes to act like that, is part of a american culture. all my black friends say they are fierce and love the fat lady on the video. they don’t want to be the skinny bitches next to macklemore. the guy is doing a great job, and there’s always someone to talk shit about it. racist? there are thousand of people together in this video hanging out, dancing, no colour differences, no anything. (btw, the fat lady in case, seems to be a classic woman looking, and next to two black gangster, sooo racist)

    and im sorry, there’s like a lot of thrift-shop avaliable with cool clothes, poor people, rich people, middle class(this middle class talk is so choreographed, gosh) can buy it. poor people don’t buy necessarily on thrift shops, the fact that middle class is buying won’t make them be without clothes, especially in america, where there’s cheap clothes.

    btw, include on your reserch to get to know better about these shops, there’s different kindas of thrift-shop for different targets. a thrift-shop on 5th avenue with vintage chanel dresses wouldnt be for a poor person, right? so, there’s nothing wrong about shopping on it.

      1. Nick

        May 16, 2013 at 12:51 am

        I can see that your only response to valid arguments against your nonsensical interpretation is to post links that serve to imply racism on posters of said rebuttals. This is strikingly similar to the way a typical militant feminist would use the word “rape” to justify all sorts of idiotic blithering. Im sure you’re familiar with it, but did you know your shitposting only serves to undermine the valid efforts of women’s rights activists in this country? I bet you didn’t.

        When it comes to being fat, you should be allowed to treat yourself in whatever way you choose, but dont expect to avoid judgement. Contribute to the deteriorating health of the US if you want, but dont expect people to be sexually attracted to you in the process.

        You know its really too bad that, with such a large audience you have, you choose to preach to your quire when you coud actually promote understanding for your cause.

          1. Nick

            May 16, 2013 at 3:37 pm

            Let me make it clear that I am neither a misogynist or an anti feminist. However, as a prior comment pointed out, Macklemore is quite progressive, and that much is obvious in his works. This post serves as little more than an attention grab pointing out non issues. The song is purely comedic, and the part with your fierce fat girl only serves to add to the comedic affect.

            I quickly looked over pages you linked to in your reply and one of them mentioned how obese people are often marginalized. Well if that is truly the case, then this video serves to bring a member of the fat community to the forefront of popular culture, with one hell of a performance (if I may say so without offending you). So in essence Macklemore has counteracted this marginalization whether he intended to or not. Your comment regarding the fact that the men sitting next to her “don’t particularly look interested in her sexually” is pointless.

            In fact that comment in your original post was made in blatant disregard to the parallel of Macklemore, who in the very beginning of the video, is accompanied on either side by two women who you might say “don’t particularly look interested in him sexually.” The fact that you indeed watched the video and either did not notice this fact or chose to ignore it is indicative of your own bias and self victimization.

            I would like to chalenge you to find any blatantly sexual details in the lyrics or video of Thrift Shop. I myself can think of two, the first being Macklemore’s reference to his “big cock” and the second being the one line about picking up girls due to an expensive, designer T-shirt, though I wouldn’t call the later “blatant” in the least.

            So I really dont understand any of your logic, if you did happen to use logic in the writing of this post. You try to darken the image of an outspoken advocate of equality (Macklemore), congrats if you succeed. Lets hope you understand that you’re only hurting your own cause.

            PS: Even if you just respond with links or not at all, I rest well knowing you have realized you are the one at fault in this case.

            1. Jen

              May 16, 2013 at 3:48 pm

              Dude, this is getting trite. I respond with links because it’s not my job to educate all of you in terms of your offensive shit you come to my blog to say. I would also like to point out that “progressive” people often fuck up in terms of oppressing others, joke/comedy/etc. or not.

              Honestly, I don’t care if you understand my logic or not. And yes, I will always point out well-intentioned or not people who are being offensive. For reals, it’s even worse when so-called progressives do it. Does it diminish the good in them? No, but it’s important to remember that even “progressives” are not always on point.

              Lastly, check your privilege in coming to my blog and thinking you can school me on my experience with this video in terms of being offensive. Who are you? Quit wasting your blusterous time. I get all of you are fans. Have fun with your superficial politics. I’ll be here, on the level.

  7. Tessamira

    May 29, 2013 at 3:53 pm
    And what do you think ybout this one?

  8. Chris

    October 17, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    He does produce a catchy tune… that said, I found your post to be thoughtful and engaging.

  9. Jenna // A Mama Collective

    February 14, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    Dang, now I can’t wait to watch the video and see all of the references that you slam down on! I loved your points, they were so valid and true. Thank you for taking the time to stand up for what you believe in — no matter what anyone else says — you spent time standing up for your truth, and that, my friend, is awesome.

    Glad to have found you through SITS 🙂 ~Jenna

  10. On Macklemore’s Sprawling Track About Race, ‘White Privilege II’

    January 25, 2016 at 5:17 am

    […] then Instagrammed the text to let the world know that he sent it—and there’s been serious, smart critique of the race and class issues in songs like “Thrift Shop.” But Macklemore is hardly alone in that—in America, in […]

  11. On Macklemore’s Sprawling Track About Race, ‘White Privilege II’

    January 25, 2016 at 5:17 am

    […] then Instagrammed the text to let the world know that he sent it—and there’s been serious, smart critique of the race and class issues in songs like “Thrift Shop.” But Macklemore is hardly alone in that—in America, in […]

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