Thaddeus Russell on Reason.com has some harsh criticism for the music of Lorde and Macklemore due to the supposed attack of these artists on what he calls the “pleasures of the poor.” Russell makes a huge leap by equating the message of songs like “Royals” and “Thrift Shop” to telling poor people that they shouldn’t desire to increase their material wealth or enjoy access to luxuries.
Russell goes on to specifically criticize Macklemore for making the point that designer labels shouldn’t matter so much. Since when are designer labels a pleasure of the poor, anyway? If the poor are wearing designer labels it is probably due to the cultural perception that they are important as some type of status symbol.
What these artists really do for the poor and others who don’t lead a life of luxury is say, “Hey, not being rich is ok, too.” There is nothing wrong with not giving a crap about “bling” or with questioning the high value that is sometimes placed on these things in society. These artists promote cultural acceptance of thrift and simplicity, rather than conformity to the excesses of unnecessary debt and impulse spending. That is a good thing for the poor who often feel pressure to own certain things just so they are not stigmatized in society.
Russell makes the common libertarian mistake of presuming that promoting a lifestyle that is not based on the accumulation of stuff is fundamentally at odds with free markets. Supporting free markets doesn’t have to equate to supporting materialism or excessive consumerism.
I am not saying there is anything wrong with having stuff if you want it, but there is nothing wrong with not having stuff, either, especially when you can’t afford it or you think there are more valuable things to seek. Personally, I think designer labels are a waste of money, but if that matters to you, go ahead and pay $50 dollars for your T-Shirt. Just don’t pretend that doing so or promoting it in music has anything to do with improving the lives of the poor.
Macklemore and Lorde are popular, not because of some Progressive conspiracy, but because their music is actually relatable to the people who listen to it. After all, most of us will never make enough money to have “jet planes” or “diamonds on our timepiece.” Why should we all spend our lives wishing we could and only listening to music about that lifestyle? There’s nothing wrong with music about the enjoyment of luxury, but it’s really nice to hear music about our actual lifestyle too. Liberty means being free to pursue your own values, whatever they are, but I’m with Lorde. That kind of luxe ain’t for me.