Rihanna and Eminem's Worst Impulses

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. 
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Alyssa Rosenberg is a culture writer with The Washington Post.

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