THE INDIE SUPERSTARS // Making music with a conscience
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are thrift store lovers, social activists, and the biggest rap group of the year—and, unlike almost every other act on the charts, they’ve done it all without the support of a major record label.
If you’ve listened to pop music at all in the last year, you’ve likely run across Macklemore and Ryan Lewis in some form. Their first two singles—“Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us”—were back-to back No. 1 smash hits, together racking up nearly half a billion views and iTunes downloads in the millions. But what’s interesting about the pair isn’t just the emergence of another chart topping rap group. It’s the way they got to the top—and what they’re doing now that they’re there.
Macklemore, 30 (real name: Ben Haggerty) and Lewis, 25, formed a group in 2006 and began producing mixtapes that eventually drew the attention of the major labels. But instead of signing a deal and becoming part of the hit-making corporate machine, they decided to stay indie. And instead of writing songs about parties, babes, and booze, their tracks address everything from gay rights and gender roles to anti commercialism and the dangers of the kind of brand worship that’s become so prevalent in the urban mainstream.
When asked on NYC’s Hot 97—one of the country’s premier rap stations—about fears of turning off potential listeners by making songs with a message, Macklemore responded with typical candor: “[I don’t] worry about what the Internet is going to say about us. I don’t give a f—k. I’d rather change people’s lives than worry what the comments are going to say." —Brian Good
THE PROVOCATEUR // Making Madison Avenue squirm
Street artist Vermibus is blurring the lines between advertising and art.
Advertisements marred by graffiti are nothing new. But recently, a whole new level of this art form has begun popping up around the city of Berlin, courtesy of Spanish street artist Vermibus.
Sometimes referred to as the next Banksy, this talented twenty something surreptitiously collects ads from bus depots and city billboards and brings them back to his studio, where they become the base material for his work. Using mineral spirits, he brushes away the faces and flesh of the models as well as any brand logos, turning them into ghostly apparitions of their former selves. With the transformation complete, he then reintroduces the ads-turned-art back into its original location, thus (according to his Vimeo profile) “hijacking the publicity and its purpose.”
If advertisements seek to take away a person’s identity and replace it with a sexier, glossier one, Vermibus is out to flip that notion on its ear, changing the way people are confronted by marketing.
By dehumanizing figures that were already depersonalized, the ads, ironically, end up drawing even more attention than before. People stop, stare, discuss, photograph, and engage with them in an entirely new way.
Though Vermibus’ identity has been closely guarded, his stealth and tongue-in-cheek way of plain with the subject of consumerism have upped the artist’s status on the international post-graffiti scene. So it might not be long till fans unmask the man behind these mysterious masterpieces. —Lauren Greene