Macklemore On Leeds’ Main Stage: Unexpected Triumph Or Total Disaster?

Earlier this week, NME published a list of what the Reading & Leeds line-up would look like if the headliners were decided by hits on Shazam, the app that identifies the song you’re listening to.

One of the more striking outcomes was that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, the Seattle hip hop duo, came out on top of the line-up that played Leeds on Friday (August 23), ahead of the festival’s true headliners, Blink-182.

While Shazam hits aren’t an exact measure of success (I sometimes Shazam things I can’t stand, just so I know where to focus my bile), they are a good measure of peoples’ interest. And today, on Leeds’ Main Stage, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (plus band, dancers and guests including rapper Schoolboy Q, singers Feather and Wanz who provides vocals on their huge hit ‘Thrift Shop’) performed as if they were headlining anyway.


The past two years have seen the rapper and DJ/producer Lewis shoot to fame, but it was a surprise to see how polished and stadium-ready their show is. It had flames, smoke, skits, set pieces, dance routines and even costume changes – at one point, Macklemore returned to the stage wearing a spiky blonde wig, leotard and cape.

It was big, silly and self-important – but entertaining too.

Mostly, it was a display of how well rapper Macklemore connects with an audience, which may be the thing that ensures he is headlining festivals like Reading & Leeds in future. He introduced every song at length, sometimes hyping up the audience, sometimes being puerile and daft and then – on a knife-edge – switching to being incredibly serious – like talking about his history of addiction and his long-running sobriety. His words preceding ‘Same Love’, his shouldn’t-be groundbreaking song about homophobia in hip hop, were self-importantly delivered with the gravitas of a Nobel acceptance speech.

But he came across as a warm character: at one point, he spotted a member of the audience wearing a big, furry coat in homage to ‘Thrift Shop’. “That is a nice-ass jacket. Can I wear that jacket?” he asked. The garment was passed from crowd to stage and Macklemore put it on. He wore it for the next few songs, despite saying it was “warm and wet” and smelled “like fresh urine”.

Showmanship was key – he went down into the pit to see the crowd, he introduced his band, he gushed about his right hand man Lewis, and he poured energy into the entire 90 minute set – even taking a rare non-headliner encore.

His persona is much like his music – which is what hip hop would sound like if it were made by someone who’d only heard Eminem, Calvin Harris and Black Eyed Peas’ ‘Where Is The Love?’. He’s Eminem without the edge, the Peas without… Fergie. But even this early in his career, Macklemore has enough big hits to please the crowd, who danced and laughed along with him for the duration – bet on that number growing, and bet on Macklemore topping bills next summer.