If you've been out in public over the last year, you've probably heard "Same Love." The de facto gay-rights anthem has a rare pop poignancy, but it's the song's inviting hook — brought to you by an out lesbian singer repeating the line "she keeps me warm" — that really makes the track shine. Now the voice behind the hook is getting her moment in the sun, too.
By now, it's no secret that 24-year-old Seattle-based singer-songwriter Mary Lambert is the woman behind that raw emotion. Raised by a Pentecostal family in rural Washington state, Mary joined the Evangelical church as a teenager. After coming out as a lesbian, she spent several years taking on sexuality, religion, and body image issues in her work, but it wasn’t until a serendipitous partnership with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis on "Same Love" that she made her first foray into hip-hop.
It was this partnership that led to her performance of a powerful duet with Jennifer Hudson for "Same Love" at the VMAs. She then released a new music video for "She Keeps Me Warm," a full-song version of the chorus on "Same Love" that has already over a million combined views.
Mary and I connected in the midst of her brief downtime in Seattle, before she's back on the road again. Singing at the VMAs was an "out-of-body experience" for her, she said, an incomprehensible moment in front of millions of people. But I wondered what it was like to share the stage with Jennifer Hudson, a new ally in the fight for equality.
Mary was honored at the invitation but wanted to know why Hudson would want to sing the closing lines to a gay-rights anthem on national TV. But then she realized that singing with Hudson represented "the parallels of two different struggles" — race and sexuality — which Mary believes are different struggles that share important similarities.
"I think [the line] 'not crying on Sundays' is such a proclamation," Mary said."And for us to be saying that back and forth to each other, I feel like it really really united this fight. And to have her support for the LGBT community, it was just kind of incredible."
But it was a controversy over race and sexuality that recently brought blowback to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. After their VMA performance, openly gay rapper Le1f accused the duo of lifting beats from his song, "Wut" for the Macklemore hit, "Thrift Shop."
Le1f wasn’t pleased with the idea of a straight, white rapper showcasing an interracial gay couple in the video for "Same Love" and profiting as a result.
After receiving criticism for his comments, Le1f said he was pleased to learn that Macklemore donated some of the proceeds from "Same Love" to support Washington United for Marriage (the group that helped to successfully pass a referendum legalizing same-sex marriage in Washington state in 2012), but that he felt "saddened" that "a straight man is the voice pop music has chosen for gay rights."
After hesitating for a moment, Mary said she felt hurt by this particular critique, in part because she considers herself an active member of the LGBT community. While Mary believes that there needs to be a voice for all of the "amazing queer artists out there [like Le1f]," she thinks that Macklemore appropriately used his platform to affect change.
"A straight white man can’t change his demographic, but he can choose what he does with his privilege, and he can choose his awareness of sense of self and what privilege is. And I think Ben [Macklemore] does an incredible job of checking himself constantly," Mary said.
Mary said that "Same Love" is not about Macklemore speaking on behalf of LGBT activists or using the song for his own benefit; instead, it's truly "an anthem for allies."
Controversy aside, Mary's twin passion can also draw fire: she works to fight hurtful beauty standards. "I’m very active in the world of talking about fat-shaming, talking about positive body image, and why things are the way they are and how we can fix them," Mary said.
She takes a visceral approach to the issue in her new video for "She Keeps Me Warm."
"[The video] is a very honest depiction of what my body looks like, and it’s scary [to take that risk]," Mary said. "But I think it’s important to take the steps and realize that when clothing stores don’t carry past a size 14 and then you don’t see yourself in the media, it’s like you’re invisible. As a fat girl, you don’t exist to the world, and you can’t be romantic and you can’t be sexy, and that’s stupid."
With her outspoken views on sexuality, religion, and body image, perhaps it's surprising that she sees herself as an "accidental activist." Mostly, she just wants to connect.
"I think there’s a point in every person’s life where they figure out they need to be a little more guarded about themselves and a little more skeptical about humanity," Mary said. "And I never got the memo. I still have so much faith in humanity and I just care about every single person and I just want to hug everybody."
To watch the complete video interview with Mary Lambert, go here.