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Macklemore’s “Next Year” is a Return to Form
For the first time in years, Macklemore is hitting full force — once more with Ryan Lewis at his back.
In 2012, I began a gender transition, the most terrifying but rewarding thing I have faced in my life by a mile. One album that defined that time in my life for me was Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ The Heist. The album was a celebration of overcoming — of deeply imperfect triumph and beauty. Suddenly, I was capable of feeling on a level I had not before, no longer dissociated my body to cope. The album helped stoke a much-needed fire in my heart.
Macklemore’s work since has not had the kind of cultural impact since. “Glorious” and “Good Old Days” from 2017’s Gemini were strong contenders that got decent radio play, but, while there is something great to be said about taking a softer angle, they lacked the punch that characterized songs like “Ten Thousand Hours” and “Thrift Shop.” They were touching odes, but not songs that made you feel capable of taking on anything.
Macklemore’s newest single, “Next Year,” sounds like it could be from The Heist. Though not celebrating success, it is attempting to be prophetic with similar passion and power: “Next year’s gonna be better than this.” As someone who has made my feelings about doomerism and the power of beauty to save the world clear, how widespread beliefs about the future can be self-fulfilling prophecies that shape how they act, my love of this messaging is probably no surprise.
But it is more than a song about how the world will go on and heal, it is one of stirring himself to action against his own problems — to achieve his own goals. Macklemore talks about how he’s “been lackin’” and needs to “get spiritual soon, live in the here and now.” The Heist as an album is largely about how the struggles and aspirations of youth are more complex, contradictory, and full of setbacks than advertised in popular media. “Next Year” is a song about how that necessary growth continues, even after the first big triumphs.
I have gone through hell the past year — more so than most with the pandemic. I’ve had important surgery delayed, lost my job, developed bad financial problems, and so much more.
The hopeful but unsure skepticism of statements like, “I know that, all of this pain means the growth, I think,” hits hard. Going through so much pain — and worrying it is just trauma that has not taught me anything. But it has. Though, as Macklemore himself says in the song, “I'm well aware the universe doesn't owe me shit.”
For the past month, even before this song came out, I have told myself I would make the best of 2022 — to ensure it was truly better than the past few, no matter what it took. I know there will be pain, frustrations, and setbacks. I do not expect a perfect year. But belief in what can be better helps stir us to act. Though “manifesting” is nonsense, hope gives us an edge making what we hope for real.
Whether the rest of Macklemore’s next album will be of the quality of “Next Year,” but I choose to be optimistic. Though billed as just a Macklemore song, he is working with Ryan Lewis again, whose beats and audio production pushed The Heist to its heights. Next year is gonna be better than this, and hopefully, it will have yet another Macklemore album I remember forever as part of the soundtrack of a major turning point in my life for the better.
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