Here’s The Story Behind Macklemore’s NYC Bus Performance

All The Grammys needed was a bus full of real people, some hidden cameras and a song.

When it comes to public transit, the scale of This Sucks is as follows: non-traditional or novelty conveyance like a ferry, helicopter, gondola, motor boat, rickshaw, subway, streetcar or light rail, and then, waaaay down at the bottom of the list… is the bus.


It’s crowded, wobbly, and gets stuck in the same traffic as all the cars, except the people in cars aren’t practically sitting on the lap of the 300-pound dude listening to Skrillex too loud while eating a meatball sub in the seat next to you. The Grammys and creatives at TBWA/Chiat/Day LA know this. That’s why, to promote the January 26th awards show, they asked Macklemore and Ryan Lewis to go make a NYC bus ride less crappy for some lucky commuters. On November 15th, that’s what they did.

Creative directors Rick Utzinger and Bob Rayburn say the idea came about after thinking about people’s natural reactions to music, how it makes us dance in public, sing in the shower, even shed a tear. And to point out these are natural, visceral reactions to music, they wondered what it would be like to bring music to some really boring places and see how people would react. “The first idea was to have an artist do a surprise performance at the DMV–no one likes being there,” says Utzinger. “When navigating through the Department of Motor Vehicles bureaucracy proved difficult, we asked ourselves ‘where else would be a boring place to pull of this idea?’ The bus is boring. So we contacted Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and they were all over it.”

Led by Tool director Geordie Stephens, the production team rigged a bus with enough cameras to capture every angle of the duo performing “Can’t Hold Us” in such a small space without giving anything away wasn’t easy. “Our production partner Tool planted GoPros in places where they were pretty invisible,” says Rayburn. “They also planted some camera guys with camera phones.” The agency assures us the people riding the bus had absolutely no idea what was going to happen. “Their reactions to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ appearance are 100% real.”

And for those lucky few, it shall be known hence forth as The Day The Bus Didn’t Suck.

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.