in defense (and against) “love the way you lie”

There’s this new song by Eminem and Rihanna that’s sparking a lot of conversation.

A few things to preface my own opinion of the song: I don’t think Eminem is that great, as rappers go. I find him a bit dull, but there are a couple of his songs that I think are decent. “Stan” I like, which may be why I think “Love the Way You Lie” is interesting as well. I do like Rihanna, though in general I listen to more quiet indie music than anything else. Still, she has catchy music that I like to listen to when working out, cleaning, driving, etc. And I always like to defend mainstream, top-40 music (when it deserves the defense) because popularity does not negate talent. Sure, some mainstream stuff is shit, but it’s not because it is popular. I will also say that in this post I will kind of imply that people who listen to top-40 are not smart. I don’t think that’s the case; I just think that there are more people who don’t think for themselves listening to top-40 than to some other genres. But, again, top-40 doesn’t mean it’s bad, and it doesn’t mean only lame people listen to it.

So. First of all, Rihanna’s part in this song is beautiful. It’s an example of one of those songs when the melodic line is really fitting for the lyrics. It’s like onomatopoeia. Even if you didn’t hear what she was singing, you would still know there was pain and confusion and inner conflict. The song goes on to describe an abusive relationship, in which both members do pretty horrible things to each other, but they still love each other (or at least think they do), and Rihanna also says that she likes “the way it hurts,” which I think describes how a lot of people feel when they love someone who treats them badly, no matter whether it’s just a guy who’s a bit of an asshole or a guy who should be put in prison for beating his girlfriend.

People mostly have a problem with this song, I think, because it seems to glorify abuse, or at least demote its significance and make it seem like abusive relationships are no big deal. Nowhere does Rihanna sing about calling a hotline or going to a women’s shelter. She, or at least her character, is happy with the relationship. Or at least she’s settled in it and unwilling to change it.

This song can certainly be seen as irresponsible. Because Eminem and Rihanna are mainstream artists with a lot of fans who are young and impressionable, I can see how it is a bad move to sing a song that literally condones staying in a bad relationship. I doubt anyone would see that as the right thing to do.

But are Eminem and Rihanna actually condoning it, or are they just singing? I see singing as a form of acting, where you can sing about things that haven’t necessarily happened to you and make them your own. What’s more, Rihanna has been in an abusive relationship and probably felt some of these things, which makes her one of Stanislavski’s finest, because she’s method acting through a song. I choose to see the song as drama, not as fact, and I like to think that they are singing it to shed light on how a lot of women actually feel, not to say that it’s a good thing. But then again, that’s maybe not a good choice when many of your fans might not see the distinction. I don’t know that I would necessarily have been able to understand music as fiction when I was 11.

So I guess the real question is whether mainstream artists, whether they chose to be that way or ended up that way out of chance, have more of a responsibility to their own art or to the persona and public image and public role that they have been pigeonholed into.

I, however, really hope that I’m right about their intent, and I’m happy I bought the song. Because it’s pretty.

*The video, though, sucks. It delegitimizes the message that (I think) they’re trying to give. And also, like many music videos, it’s stupid and the “plot” doesn’t really make any sense. Though I love Dominic Monaghan.

(Find Eminem music on sale at Kmart.)

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