Television

'Songland' Recap: Gun Violence Casts a Shadow Over Macklemore Episode

Macklemore
Trae Patton/NBC

Macklemore on Songland.

Even summer TV shows need a vacation, apparently. After a month-long hiatus, Songland is back, this week with Macklemore in tow. NBC also includes a disclaimer before trotting out Wednesday’s (August 14) new airing that states, “This episode was filmed prior to the devastating events in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio earlier this month.” More on that shortly.

We’re told at top that panelists Ester Dean, Shane McAnally and Ryan Tedder are in search of an up-and-coming songwriter who can provide a banging chorus, as “Thrift Shop” and “Good Old Days” rapper Macklemore pens all his own verses.

With that, in zips IRO from Brooklyn by way of Tel Aviv. He informs us that he cut his teeth busking around the world, and he comes packing a fairly upbeat number called “Shadow. In his own words, the tune is about “being trapped inside your fears.”

After IRO presents “Shadow” to the Songland team and Macklemore, Ryan zeroes in on its folky Irish nature. That said, the OneRepublic frontman says IRO’s lyrics need to get the heave-ho. Ester and Shane jump in with Ryan to do their usual improvisational reworking of the song, and away IRO is shooed for the time being.

Next up is Kansas City, Missouri DJ duo Pop Culture, whose track “City Kids” throws the four pros for a loop when they see its lyrics are simply “la la la la la la la la la la.” (There are actually quite a bit more "la"s in there, but you get the point.) Pop Culture are not here to pull a gag, though, fair viewers. Rather, they simply explain that their bouncy offering was written for a singer or rapper to add their own lyrics. Looks like they’ve come to the right place, then.

Upon hearing Pop Culture’s la-la masterwork, Ester proceeds to spit out some pretty decent lyrics on the fly. Ryan declares the song to be “a slacker anthem,” and Macklemore says that vibe resonates with him.

We now get to the reason for the pre-show disclaimer: Songwriter Chris Jobe hails from Dayton, Ohio, where a gunman shot nine people dead and injured 27 others before being killed himself by police on August 4. Again, per NBC, these events happened after this Songland episode was filmed. That all lends Chris’ original number, “It Could’ve Been You,” an eerie prescience, as its lyrics delve into the topic of gun violence. (It’s also worth noting that the series’ YouTube account does not have a video clip of Chris’ “It Could’ve Been You” performance available.) 

After Chris vocally delivers “It Could’ve Been You” to the panel, Shane notes that there’s a brightness to the song that doesn’t mix with the lyrical theme. Ester gets more specific by telling Chris he needs to re-evaluate the words used - particularly the term “pop-pop” in the chorus -- and the message.

Casey Cook is the fourth and final songwriter aiming to catch Macklemore’s ear. The North Kingstown, Rhode Island native says she hopes the rapper can turn her tune “Judgments” into “a really dope urban track.” Truthfully, “Judgments” comes off like a pop song meant for a younger artist. Macklemore thinks less is more with the production, while Ryan, Ester and Shane agree that the lyrical scope needs to be much smaller and more specific.

When it comes time to cut one of these would-be hitmakers loose, Macklemore ultimately decides that Chris Jobe’s “It Could’ve Been You” isn’t the story for him to tell. He feels “It’s a subject matter that’s really delicate.” With that, Ryan hits the studio with the gents of Pop Culture, while Ester and Casey Cook are paired up, as are Shane and IRO.

Ryan announces that he’s mainly focusing on the arrangement of “City Kids” with Pop Culture, which makes sense since the lyrics the duo brought to the table amount to one word with two letters total. The three of them do some BOOM-taka-taka-TA speak, which is a language they all understand. When the time arrives to present this re-swizzed version (now re-titled “Unforgettable”) to Macklemore, Ryan hops up with the pair and raps some lyrics.

Elsewhere, regarding “Judgment,” Macklemore tells Ester and Casey, “Make it a hit record. Don’t make it trash.” What a jokester. He specifically says the song felt the strongest when it was reconstructed as a piano ballad by the panelists. Ester then sends Casey scurrying off to do an overhaul on the lyrics. The final rendition Casey sings for Macklemore features a gospel choir on the chorus.

Meanwhile, Shane seizes on the Irish influence on display in IRO’s “Shadow” and decides to amp it up tenfold. The two of them add fiddles, strings, stomps and claps to give the song an ambiance of full Celtic drama. I’ll admit, Pop Culture seemed to have the no-brainer track for Macklemore, up until IRO belts out this energetic new take on “Shadow” -- which now feels like the most original thing up for grabs on Songland in several episodes.

In the end, Macklemore opts for IRO’s musical gift to Ireland. “I think you channeled something on ‘Shadow’ that fit me and I would love to cut that record,” says the Seattle chart-topper. He then adds that he wants IRO to feature on the song. True to his word, we’re shown a clip of Macklemore and IRO performing “Shadow” together on stage at Lollapalooza in Sao Paolo less than two weeks later.

If the new crown jewel of Irish culture, “Shadow,” is your cup of tea, it’s available to stream on Spotify and purchase on iTunes.