I tend to be a defender of Eminem's poppier impulses, as long as they make good use of his skill set. If he wants to hang out on a mediocre mishmash with Drake and Lil' Wayne? Fine, as long as he delivers an insanely fast, clearly articulated, clever verse when it's his time to step up to the mic. Want to create an extremely particularistic vision of self-help? Sure, as long as the video's kind of neat, and there are enough worthwhile turns of phrase, delivered at sufficiently high speed for me to enjoy the talent involved. But I draw the line at Em's duet with Rihanna, "Love the Way You Lie." For two talented performers in transitional phases of their careers, it's a surrender to their worst impulses:
I suppose I genuinely sympathize with both of them. Rihanna went through a public, awful domestic violence incident that she's clearly tried to work through in darker, angrier music. It's not very good music, but it does seem to have been helpful for her. Eminem may be in recovery from substance abuse, but that doesn't mean his anger's gone.
But this just feels incredibly self-indulgent. Eminem's slow. Rihanna's autotuney. She's singing about liking to get hurt, and he's rapping about the indistinguishability of hate and love. Emotionally and artistically, it's both of them giving into their worst impulses, and expressing them at the low end of their respective talent ranges (though I think Eminem's is a lot wider than Rihanna's, for what that's worth). It'd be super-depressing if this gets huge, though it probably will.
Alyssa Rosenberg is a correspondent for TheAtlantic.com. She is the pop culture blogger for ThinkProgress, where she writes about the intersection of politics and culture at http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa.
Alyssa is also a columnist for the Washington Monthly and The Loop 21. Her career as a critic began at 8, when she began a children's book review column for her local paper, taking payments in gift certificates to the neighborhood bookstore. Since then, her interests have expanded to include Atlanta hip-hop, procedural television shows, and action movies she watches without any sense of irony whatsoever. Her writing on culture has appearedin Esquire.com, The Daily, The Daily Beast and the American Prospect, and she has written about politics and the executive branch for Government Executive, The New Republic and National Journal.