Today I like: Vanilla wafers
Not so much: Minivan. I’m just over it.
I’m one of those people who falls in love with a song and plays it over and over again. It drives my kids nuts. “This song AGAIN, Mommy?” accompanied by much rolling of the eyes. I can’t help it. Even in the days of cassettes I’d play…rewind…play…rewind… I listened to Mister Jones somewhere in the realm of ten-thousand times in the winter of 1994.
I listen to a lot of rap and hip-hop, so sometimes my kids are spared the annoying repetition simply because the lyrics of my latest obsession are not fit for tender ears. And so it is this week, as I’ve found myself playing Lighters by Bad Meets Evil OVER and OVER and OVER. I don’t really care about the chorus (Bruno Mars) or the other guy who raps (some other random rapper). A few verses keep me coming back. The Eminem verses.
“Eminem!” you scream. “That misogynistic, sexist, crude homophobe? And you call yourself a liberal.”
So as I’m listening to the song I started to think: What is it about Eminem that makes me such a huge fan? Why am I willing to forgive his admittedly all-of-the-above?
I came to an interesting conclusion: because Eminem is like a really well-written character.
I can’t claim to be an expert on rap techniques, so I’ll just mention my admiration for his rhymes in passing (I think Shakespeare would toast someone who can rhyme “public housing systems” and “Munchausen Syndrome”). All that aside, here’s what I love about Eminem.
His wears his childhood baggage on his sleeve. He acknowledges his fame, even while he seems eternally surprised by it. He openly professes his love of Detroit. My husband grew up in Detroit, and I’ve visited many times, and let me tell you, that is a hard city to love. Yet he appreciates where he’s from and sticks around.
He’s brutally honest about his own struggles, with everything from parenting to drug abuse to romantic relationships. The song Love the Way You Lie caught a lot of flack last year. Some thought it justified or glorified domestic violence. I thought of it as a painfully open explanation of how he felt in the midst of the abusive relationship: guilty, disgusted with himself, hypocritical; yet unable to control his actions. Few men, or women for that matter, are so willing to hang their dirtiest laundry on the line.
His voice incites all kinds of response in me: anger, sadness, regret, frustration. One a more positive note, he makes me laugh and makes me want to keep fighting when I’m feeling discouraged. I’m Not Afraid was my Eminem pump-me-up of choice last winter, when I was in the midst of querying hell.
“Cause I’m raising the bar, I’ll shoot for the moon. I’m too busy gazin’ at stars I feel amazin’ and I’m not afraid…”
Never failed to cheer me up.
So now we have the good, and here’s the bad. At times I do cringe. The song Stan, while thought-provoking, makes me uncomfortable, and I can’t even listen to Kim. Some of the others are just general hip-hop woman-bashing and silly bravado. Tiresome and (IMHO) below his talents. His life has, at times, been like one of those reality TV shows you watch just to make yourself feel better about your own problems. Arrests, drugs, fights with boy bands and sock puppets. And Moby. Why pick on him, Eminem? You’re one of the bestselling artists of all time. He’s just a bald guy trying to get along in a world that’s long since forgotten South Side.
In the end, yes, Eminem can be sexist, misogynistic and homophobic. He’s got some serious issues. But I forgive him, because he’s immensely talented. He makes me feel something in a time where popular music is often lacking in emotional depth. I admire his tenacity and success, and yet I still see something sort of sad and vulnerable in his face.
And that’s why Eminem is, to me, like a perfectly drawn, wonderfully imperfect story character. The guy I know I should hate, but I like him anyway. In the world of hip-hop, where personalities come and go in the span of a hit or two, Eminem has been on top for over a decade. A lesson for writers: enduring characters are complex. Emotional. And maybe most importantly, flawed.