Downtown is Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s first official single since the acclaimed The Heist (not Growing Up (Sloane’s Song) featuring an unfortunate Ed Sheeran). It’s weird and dramatic and funky – but do we love the unashamed cheesiness?
Is the 70s inspiration perhaps too derivative and too reminiscent of recent hits like Uptown Funk? Does the track almost sound like a checklist of the “pop hit” elements that made Thrift Shop so successful? Is Macklemore’s ode to mopeds slightly contrived? Yes, yes, and a resounding yes. But there’s a particular quality of the song (and indeed the video, which you can watch below) that demands a second, third, and fourth listening.
Maybe it’s the unexpectedly comedic storytelling of the track that Macklemore does so well. The opening trill of pianos and very groovy cowbell-beat underscoring Macklemore’s insistence that he “don’t know nothing about mopeds” immediately evokes a 70s throwback that’s campy and self-aware. And it’s this self-awareness that makes this track stellar, moving effortlessly from witty verses packed with retro references to a sudden chorus that bursts with Freddie Mercury charm. Eric Nally’s voice soars into a range that can only be described as remarkable, giving the track a glittering and stadium-rock atmosphere that serves to further its 70s agenda.
All of this storytelling is contextualised by the video that elevates the track into the realm of unabashedly corny. Macklemore’s flares, Eric Nally’s motorbike chariot, the gang vs. gang West Side Story plotline, the line “Mow your damn lawn/And sit the fuck down!”, the final mass flash mob through the streets of Seattle. It’s all part and parcel of Macklemore’s schtick, his ability to tap into such subcultures, and it’s working – for now.