NBC’s new talent competition Songland returned this Wednesday after a six-week hiatus, and the timing couldn’t have been more eerie. This season was filmed months ago, so there’s no way that Dayton, Ohio-based contestant Chris Jobe could have predicted that by the time his episode aired, his hometown would be in the news due to the horrific mass shooting that occurred there on Aug. 3 -- or that “It Could’ve Been You,” the anti-gun violence song he submitted for this week’s guest, Macklemore, would be so sadly appropriate.
“I’ve lost friends, classmates [due to guns]. When tragedies happen, it affects all of us,” Jobe said. Referencing Macklemore’s history of socially conscious statement songs, like the pro-gay marriage anthem “Same Love” and opioid crisis ballad “Kevin,” Jobe said, ‘I think [my] song is perfect for Macklemore, because I know he wants to make the world a better place.”
“It Could’ve Been You” was obviously well-intentioned, and Macklemore, who was on the show seemingly looking for his new Ryan Lewis, was clearly moved. But there was a triteness, a lightness, a brightness, a certain lack of gravitas here -- which Macklemore and Songland’s regular judges (pro songwriters Ryan Tedder, Ester Dean, and Shane McAnally) immediately picked up on.
Jobe’s sing-songy, overly rhyme-y entry seemed especially lightweight given the recent tragedy in his city. Macklemore, who has caught flak for beating out Kendrick Lamar at the Grammys and for his controversial single “White Privilege II,” said the song’s story needed to be told more authentically and properly. “I’m a white rapper who grew up in a good neighborhood in Seattle,” he explained frankly. Dean, who pointed out that she did grow up in the hood, didn’t think Jobe’s throwaway “pop pop” line, mimicking the sound of gunshots, was right for such a serious song, saying the lyrics needed to be more “kind” and sensitive to listeners affected by gun violence. “You’re speaking too loud,” Dean said. “Great melody, wrong word.”
McAnally proceeded to switch the song to a minor key while Dean sang a gospel freestyle over it, and immediately the song felt heavier, sadder, and just more important. I think it had potential, especially in this current political climate, and I do wish that Macklemore had chosen to take the song to the show’s advanced workshop round. I believe Dean in particular could have worked her magic with it. But Macklemore decided that the subject matter was too “delicate,” and he passed. I would encourage Jobe, fueled by the judges’ critiques and of course by the recent events that have literally hit so close to home for him, to continue working on “It Could’ve Been You” on his own.