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“Love the Way You Lie” – Eminem ft. Rihanna

July 20, 2010

Yesterday, Eminem’s new song came on the radio. Joe said to me, “I’m not sure how I feel about this song.” I hadn’t heard it before so I turned it up. “Is this Eminem?” Generally, I like Eminem’s stuff. His style reminds me of slam poetry, which I really dig. As a person, I think Eminem is volatile but troubled. Joe said, “I think it’s pretty violent.”

I listened, curious and confused. Near the end of the song I heard this line: “If she ever tries to fuckin’ leave again, I’ma tie her to the bed / And set this house on fire.”

Needless to say, I was appalled. Immediately, I switched the station. I do not tolerate violence against women, even if the beat is good. In the car, Joe and I hashed this song out, as two good feminists are want to do. How could they put this on the radio? What does it mean for 14 year old girls who hear it? What is the whole story of the song? How could Rihanna lend her voice to this?

We looked up the lyrics and Joe found an article that explains the song’s intention. Each verse represents an act of violence and its apology. It’s a musical recitation of the cycle of domestic violence. Ah, yes, Social Work 101: Domestic Violence is Cyclical. If I remember correctly, a woman will return to her abusive partner, on average, seven times before she leaves him. He hurts her, she retreats, he apologizes, she thinks they’re better than ever…. and repeat.

I heard the song on the radio again today. And this time, I understood its intention. And this time, I thought it was brilliant. Just as a painting can depict emotions when written word cannot suffice, so can a song. A song can become an anthem, a movement… but I’m still conflicted.

In my opinion, art does not exist in a vacuum. Context is essential. Radio is not a good medium for contextual music. Without context, “Love the Way You Lie” is disturbing and offensive. Without context, it can be misconstrued as promoting intimate partner violence. And to the 14 year old girl who thinks it’s cool to listen to the hip-hop station and dance around to Eminem? Chances are she won’t get the context or intention of the song. Maybe she thinks she’s a volcano and her abusive boyfriend is just a hurricane and together they are just violent people, no more, no less.
And that is NOT okay.

Tell me what you think. Do you think I’m missing something? Should this song exist independently as a radio hit? Is this song Eminem’s most important message so far? Or does this song do the exact opposite instead, promoting intimate partner violence instead of shedding light on it?

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46 Comments leave one →
  1. July 20, 2010 12:56 pm

    In the case of Eminem, I have sort of a hard time separating art and artist– I don’t really see him as wanting to advance any sort of dialogue about the cycle of domestic violence or violence against women. Really, if anything, I feel like he’s a bit of a misogynist. I don’t know that I would say that this song promotes intimate partner violence, per se, because listeners are likely just enjoying the beat and not putting much thought into words; this is at least a missed opportunity to have a discussion about violence, and the way it’s depicted in music, art, and media.

    • July 20, 2010 1:03 pm

      Megan, you’re right on with this. It’s probably naive of me to separate the art and the artist in this song, especially complicated by the addition of Rihanna. I whole-heartedly agree that it’s a missed opportunity to discuss the issue it raises… but that’s the nature of radio, I suppose.

  2. July 20, 2010 12:59 pm

    Really poorly worded and thought out response…sorry – just can’t pull my brain together today but this is something I find really interesting and I loved getting your perspective.

    I really do think that we’re raising (and some of us are PART of) a generation where passion is never examined to determine whether it’s positive or negative. People are getting addicted to drastic highs and earth-shattering lows as if they are the foundation of excitement in a healthy relationship. I really do think this is scary for domestic violence rates in the future as men and women both seek out the most exciting relationships rather than the healthy ones.

    “If he’s screaming at me, that means that he’s upset because he cares so much.”

    I’m not sure where to place the blame or how to break the cycle, but as someone who lost too much time in, and subsequently recovering from, an abusive and unhealthy relationship, it’s something that needs to be looked at and talked about. I know personally how blurred the lines can get.

    • July 20, 2010 1:06 pm

      Wow, Ben, interesting observation. The rising generation is addicted to passion regardless of what that looks like. I feel like you just showed me the light of something ground-breaking.

    • July 20, 2010 2:05 pm

      ““If he’s screaming at me, that means that he’s upset because he cares so much.”

      No. No, he’s not. And I knew that, and yet… you know what? I bet it took seven times to figure that out.

      I love your observations, Renee. And I love that you took the time to dig a little deeper into this for a better understanding and then shared that, and I also love the backdrop of context and a good beat that you put that in. That being said, I wonder if Eminem knows how to convey this any other way? This might not be the ‘art’ or the best way to tell me about the cycles of abusive relationships, but it might be his best way to convey his thoughts around it?

      Not sure.

      Also – to Ben’s comment, that’s so interesting about the highs and lows, and I think he’s right to some degree. In the relationship I’m currently in, I remember actually NOTING how simple and easy it was and how *different* that was from other relationships where I had highs and lows and butterflies and tingles. Don’t get me wrong, my beau is exciting and wonderful and all of those sparkly things, but there aren’t extreme highs and lows, there’s a general, comfortable, feeling somewhere on the high end that just IS.

      But it’s an awesome observation to consider the path I took to get the place where this is what I appreciate and want.

      /end ramble 🙂

      • July 20, 2010 2:09 pm

        It took me three times before I broke away. Three.

        How do we as smart, wonderful people actually end up believing that we don’t deserve better or that tragedy is actually okay for us?

        If that’s how WE are, then there are a lot of people out there who don’t stand a chance.

      • July 20, 2010 2:28 pm

        Oh, Doni, you know me… anything that riles my little feminist feathers is blog-worthy. 🙂

        And I do think this is probably the only way Eminem knows how to convey his message, I understand that. He’s a hip-hop artist and radio is his medium… but radio muddles the message he’s trying to convey.

  3. July 20, 2010 1:17 pm

    This opinion is not based around domestic violence (which is a much deeper issue).

    I agree with Ben’s comment. I have family members that seem to feel that the drama is needed in their lives to prove that their lives are exciting. Not having something to fight about/get worked up about/break down about makes them feel bored or unimportant.
    An example of this is that I saw someone post on their facebook that they wished that someone loved them enough to “tie me to the bed & set the house on fire”. I felt such pity that this girl needed that to feel “loved”.

    • July 20, 2010 1:37 pm

      Some people will always cultivate drama because they are bored with their own pathetic lives.

      • July 20, 2010 2:07 pm

        YES. Somehow, somewhere, someday, people decided that DRAMA is what we need to keep ourselves interesting and relevant and it’s absolutely, one hundred percent consuming people with wasted, negative energy.

  4. July 20, 2010 1:22 pm

    This is such a difficult place to be in, because on the one hand I would never let my child listen to this song. Even understanding the context, I don’t think a 13/14 year old needs to be exposed to this kind of violence. That in itself is incredibly naive of me though, the things that pre- and early-teens are exposed to day to day is chilling.

    But then on the other hand, I don’t believe in censorship, and if this is on the airwaves, it should continue to play until we’ve all moved on to the next big thing.

    It’s our responsibility as people, and in some cases parents, to give context to the music, books, television and movies that we and our peers or children are taking in. If we educate ourselves, and educate others, then we can make educated decisions about what we’re exposed to, and if we as a majority decide that something is offensive or distasteful it will fade out much more quickly.

    • July 20, 2010 1:36 pm

      I agree it’s our responsibility to find context and intention, to educate ourselves properly… but what worries me is those who don’t make that effort, especially youth.

  5. July 20, 2010 2:12 pm

    First of all, I love that you have used your blog as a platform for such an important discussion. I believe the song being a radio hit desensitizes the intention of the lyrics. When someone is singing along with Rihanna and catching snippets of Eminem’s harsh words as s/he drives, s/he probably isn’t thinking about the meaning behind the song, which is a problem.

    Personally, I do enjoy the song. I bought Recovery the day it hit stores, and listened to the entire album while doing nothing other than reading along with the lyrics. Likely because of this, I immediately understood the intention of the song, and it hit home as I was reminded of a dear friend who is stuck in this pattern. Naively and maybe desperately, I hoped that the song could get through to her that the relationship she is in is NOT okay. Until I began hearing the song on the radio, I actually didn’t see how one could twist the song into shining a positive light on domestic abuse.

    I do think the song is beautifully construed, and believe Eminem did a fantastic job at lyricising (not a word, wish it was) the cyclical pattern of domestic violence. At the same time, do I think it is suitable to be played on the radio where the lines of message implication and a good beat are blurred? No, I don’t.

    And finally, Ben’s comment is genius.

    • July 20, 2010 2:28 pm

      Very well said, Sarah. Thank you for being a responsible media consumer. 🙂

  6. July 20, 2010 2:21 pm

    It’s interesting to think that by listening to violent lyrics that the tendency would be to think the artist was violent and that the generation listening to this music would grow up thinking it’s ok.

    Eminem is a complicated artist. I think the point of the song is to highlight violence that does happen and is happening and will not STOP happening just because we turn the station. When you highlight or draw attention to an issue – doesn’t mean you are a participant or proponent of, in this case, domestic violence.

    • July 20, 2010 2:26 pm

      I didn’t intend to paint Eminem as a violent person or proponent of domestic violence. I don’t know much of his story, to be completely honest. Yes, I think he’s complicated and troubled, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I think he abuses the women in his life.

      However, when his song vividly depicts acts of violence against women in such a mainstream medium, I find it a difficult pill to swallow. As Sarahdotcom says, the radio making this a hit song has desensitized the message and, additionally, has potentially normalized the behavior of violence against women.

  7. July 20, 2010 4:18 pm

    For some women, and men, violence is normal. I don’t think it desensitizes the message. I think he talks about things that make people uncomfortable. If we all became desensitized to violence through music, movies, or video games, there would be large populations of people walking around like they’ve had lobotomies.

  8. July 20, 2010 7:51 pm

    I’m just gonna go right ahead and take the liberty of saying… everything Sarah (as in sarahdotcom) said? Yes. That. This. That. Yes.

  9. July 20, 2010 7:53 pm

    i actually like the song being catchy BUT the fact is, i wish at the end it would have been changed to “i hate the way you lie” or “i’m not gonna stand there”. I wish that, especially with rhianna singing, that it could have changed. i’m actually surprised no one has brought up the rhianna connection, coming from her relationship with chris i was VERY surprised she is on this song. i get that eminem is showing the perpetrator’s side of domestic violence but i dont like that the victims side doesn’t change.

    i think it is a good song to use as a discussion point for teens, much like this blog post brought up a lot of bloggers. if schools and other avenues could use this, combining pop culture and education, i think it will work.

    • July 20, 2010 10:11 pm

      If the song changed Rihanna’s lyrics, it wouldn’t be an honest representation of the cycle of domestic violence. Yes, Eminem is highlighting the perpetrator’s side of DV but it also sheds light on the victim’s rationalization. “He hit me but he loves me so I’m going to forgive him and be sympathetic to his violence because he loves me.” This is the mindset a woman in an abusive relationship has.

      A classroom discussion of this song would provide context for it, which is exactly what my post is trying to advocate.

      • July 20, 2010 10:29 pm

        i think that with rhianna singing on the song though, it changes the context because of her situation and the notoriety of it. i think that since the message is going out to many young listeners, there should be a positivity to end with. she was able to get out and she had felt all those things in the lyrics. i think because so many verses do enforce the cycle, to change the last would show hope.

        i mean, the fact that there are more animal shelters then domestic violence shelters is very interesting. the cycle of abuse is strong and many victims, including myself in the past, do forget there is hope. when a person becomes numb, sometimes a little hope can really help.

        i was really disturbed after the whole chris brown incident where many young girls and guys thought she deserved it and “what did she do to make him mad”. it was really saddening to see so many blame the victim and try to justify the abuse.

      • July 20, 2010 10:38 pm

        An aside: The Humane Society was established as an organization to stop the mistreatment of animals and women.

        I get what you’re saying about Rihanna/positivity/surviving DV… I am disappointed in Rihanna for not being an advocate against intimate partner violence. I wish she would do so much more since she has the platform to do so. But I also think she is the perfect voice to collaborate with Eminem on this song for that exact reason. She may not want to be the voice of The Survivor on television, in news articles, in tabloids, but she CAN be that voice in her own medium. She’s comfortable as a singer and having her sing this song adds so much more weight to its message.

        The Chris Brown abuse issue and the victim blaming of Rihanna further proves the fact that, as a society, we are desensitized to violence against women.

      • michelle permalink
        August 6, 2010 10:37 pm

        “If the song changed Rihanna’s lyrics, it wouldn’t be an honest representation of the cycle of domestic violence. ”

        As someone who has been in an abusive relationship, I vehemently disagree with this statement. Her saying that she “loves the way he lies” and “likes the way it burns” is, in my mind, is at the very least a drastic misrepresentation the feeling that comes along with being abused. The issue isn’t that they stay with the abuser because they like being abused, or even that they feel sorry for the abuser (although this is often the case as well, it is not the main issue with leaving). The issue is usually that at the point where they realize that this is a bad situation, they’re already so dependent on the relationship due to social isolation, and factors like money, children, living arrangements, etc. Another issue with leaving is that the woman is most likely to be killed when she is trying to leave or has recently left an abusive relationship, so woman are afraid to leave.

        In my mind, Rihanna’s words in this song represent a romanticized version of domestic abuse (similar to Twilight novels), and to me it is very offensive. I feel that this song only hurts the case of people who are being/have been abused– it makes it seem like women willingly stay in abusive relationships, and it makes the situation seem exciting and desirable for young and/or vulnerable females.

        Sidenote– I also hate how in the video, the abuse is intermingled with kissing. When he smashes the wall behind her, she responds by passionately kissing him, as if the abuse turns her on, which is very much the same angle that the song takes. This is just disgusting, and very unrealistic.

        Please don’t try to argue with this unless you have personally been abused for longer than 5 years, like I have. You may feel like you know what it would be like to be in an abusive relationship, but if you agree with this song/video, I highly doubt that you really understand.

  10. July 20, 2010 10:39 pm

    Ok, I haven’t read *all* the other comments yet, so I apologise if I rehash anything, but I love that you wrote this post. My fiance and I were just having a conversation about this the other day.

    I come from an abusive relationship past (as so many unfortunately do) and I immediately loved this song.
    I can see how people would hear it initially and have it come across as violent and such as you did. I personally heard something different when I first listened to it, *especially* because of Rihanna’s involvement. I thought it was an expression of the cycle of abuse in a way – and my partner’s (whos mum came from a dangerously abusive relationship) first comment was “Did eminem write this song for Rihanna? After the Chris Brown thing?”. We had both interpretted it in the same way – that it was more of an expression of a situation than an exploitation of it.

    You are completely correct, context can be a dangerous thing when it comes to music on the radio. Film clips can do a lot for context I think, and unfortunately radio is not always the best medium for songs like this one. Where I took it in a certain context because of the way my mind wanders (for lack of a better expression) when it comes to these subjects, someone else – like you did – would take it in a different way. That is the danger.
    Music can be such a wonderful porthole for discussion about such huge subjects. Its a tricky path to tread in trying to put into an appropriate context, however.

    • July 20, 2010 10:48 pm

      I continue to be impressed by the people rallying behind this song, instantly understanding its intention. I’m actually ashamed that I didn’t get it at first; violence against women is the subject that pisses me off the most and I’m very sensitive to it. I agree that Rihanna’s involvement is fascinating and adds so much weight to the message of the song. Thank you so, so much for your comment and insight.

      • July 20, 2010 11:19 pm

        As you say, that is the danger though. While there are people who instantly understand it in one way, there are people who instantly take it another. It is all about context.
        Though, I suppose when it comes to opening up the lines of communication about certain subjects, however open for interpretation the meaning is, that is also exactly what makes people talk about it.

        I can completely understand why you took it the way you did – being of feminist heart and (obviously) being hugely aware of the issue of violence against women, I can see that it would be easy to hear it that way. But its that exact reaction – people getting enraged about it, and people explaining it, and people *needing* a discussion about it, that helps the cause.

  11. July 20, 2010 10:54 pm

    I don’t know that I have anything particularly enlightening to say on this topic, other than I love that you brought this up. I think it’s really important. That said—regardless of the intention, whoever is involved, etc.—it saddens me that this is the FIRST I’ve read of any sort of debate surrounding this song. It makes me wonder why so few red flags have been raised in the mainstream media. I heard the lyrics and felt sort of jarred by them—seems like a pretty intense song. But I never thought to engage anyone else around thE DISCUSSION> Great work, Renee.

    • July 20, 2010 11:02 pm

      Thank you, Amy. I, too, was surprised to see so little blog-fodder on this particular song, even some of the top feminist blogs seem to be silent.

  12. Cam permalink
    July 20, 2010 11:12 pm

    Eminem has had many important messages in his music. Usually the albums are different to his mainstream singles. Some people take all his lyrics literally or struggle to understand that concepts which have caused problems for him in the past but i guess also helped him be the best selling musician of the past decade. The fact he went from songs such as 97 Bonnie and Clyde, 10 years ago about killing his wife with his daughter in the song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2987gv2PDWs to now in 2010 hearing LTWYL is a good thing.

  13. July 20, 2010 11:21 pm

    It’s hard for me to see this song as something positive — hard for me to praise Eminem for examining the cycle of domestic abuse based on what I know about some of his previous songs. I don’t know much about Eminem’s music but the song “Kim” comes to mind.

    The song is about Eminem’s hatred for his ex-wife Kim Mathers, which ends with the rapper murdering Kim.

    According to wikipedia: “The song continues with Eminem slitting Kim’s throat, while screaming ‘Bleed, bitch! Bleed!’ The song ends in a prolonged outro during which the listener can hear the sounds of a body being dragged through the grass and placed in the trunk of a car.”

    Ugh. So sick.

    p.s. Great post, Renee! I love examining stuff like this. I think it’s so awesome you got so many readers to join the conversation.

    • July 20, 2010 11:31 pm

      Sarah, great input. This brings up the question of whether art acts independently of the artist. I’m inclined to agree with you: Can we separate Eminem’s misogyny from this song?… if we don’t, does that discredit its message? And what message does it convey knowing Rihanna participated in this song, too?

      I’m absolutely fascinated by this discussion and am grateful you brought up Eminem’s woman-hating past.

  14. July 21, 2010 8:52 am

    The first time I heard the song, I liked the sound of it, but the lyrics through me off, ESPECIALLY since I heard Rihanna’s voice in it.

    I agree with you–it’s a good song WITH context. I like that they are trying to call attention to the issue, and it makes sense that Rihanna be a part of it for that reason. Without context, however, it’s very easily confused with promotion of domestic abuse.

  15. July 21, 2010 3:26 pm

    I’ve really wanted to write a post about this song but wasn’t quite sure how to approach it… and Renee, I love this. I think my initial reaction to the song was somewhat similar to yours, but I understood the message of the song right away. The first time I played it for my husband he asked me to turn it off and though he knows the songs’ intention, he refuses to listen to it.

    I’m really on the fence about it. Musically, I love the beat and mood of the song. Lyrically, I’m on the fence. I think Eminem is a brilliant lyricist, but this is a kind of song that you really have to listen to to understand its message, and why its written the way it is. The message is there, but instead of blatantly rapping the message against domestic violence, he tells a story instead which can easily be misconstrued or the concept can be missed all together depending on who is listening to it, and where.

    So, I don’t know. There is so much about the song I like, but then as a teacher, I see how teenage girls take lyrics to mean whatever they want them to and I hope this song does good, not harm. I can’t even begin to tell you how many young girls I saw shaking their boobs in young boys faces to Usher’s new song when it came out… ugh.

  16. July 22, 2010 2:42 pm

    It’s funny you should write this, because I had the same two reactions to this song. At first I heard that violent line and was horrified that it was on the radio because I know that there are children out there listening to those stations. Then I heard it again and compared his decisive rhymes with Rhianna’s soft chorus and began to see that it really was poetic. Scary? Yes. Violent? Absolutely. But real? Unfortunately so. It might not belong on the radio, but I think it’s an excellent song that touches on a subject that few have the guts to put into words.

    Great post!

  17. July 23, 2010 6:09 pm

    bellerenee,

    I had a similar experience with “Love the Way You Lie”. It is so catchy and Rihanna’s voice is almost angelic. But I have a ten year-old daughter and we listen to the radio together in the car. We listened and then talked about the lyrics and then she had some context to think about the song. It was surprising to her that Rihanna had been the victim of abuse and yet agreed to sing the song. I hope Eminem meant to create a song that will force people to think about domestic violence and wasn’t just trying to be controversial.

    http://c-dawson.blogspot.com/

  18. Sarah permalink
    July 24, 2010 7:32 pm

    This thread is completely therapeutic for me. I actually searched for the intentions behind this song because I wanted to know that my reaction to the song was along the lines of its intention. This song is honest. And for me personally, put into words a lot of what I have felt in past relationships; I found a song that helped me to relate to the painful emotions involved in such a relationship. This song offered me an emotional release.
    There is an amazing beauty of art in that the self expression of the artist is not necessarily the same as the message received by the audience, and as many of the above posts have shown, there are many levels and messages to be interpreted here, all with personal twists of contect. Some recognize the harsh meaning by the lyrics. Some worry about the commonality of abuse in relationships and that this song desensitizes the issue. I see it differently. Eminem and Rhianna are using their musical medium to artfully, beautifully, and painfully describe an incredibly serious and all-to-common issue to the mainstream. I think the common definition of domestic abuse is physical in nature. This song cleverly illustrates the more destructive and subtle flavors of emotional and verbal abuse as well.

  19. Maya permalink
    August 10, 2010 9:00 pm

    I think this song is to help spread the message about domestic abuse. Plus, if you watch the music video, you might understand the story as well.

  20. October 15, 2010 12:46 pm

    I have just read the first para, and Im somewhat amused… “Generally, I like Eminem’s stuff. His style reminds me of slam poetry, which I really dig.” If you think this was abusive, you obviously havent heard Eminem AT all hon. I think there are more disturbing songs with lyrics that can hardly be called as slam poetry.

    About this song, my personal opinion is that he is just trying to tell what it is like from the other persons point of view, like most of his songs there is no conclusion, its just a cold accurate account of what it is, the way it is. Open to interpretation.

    Since I have been in a abusive relationship myself, I can say that the words hit me where they hurt the most. They made perfect sense, and coupled with the video, I hope if there are any more watching it with memories like mine, they learn a lesson.

    Peace.

    Annie.

  21. Leanne Behrns permalink
    November 16, 2010 12:48 pm

    I had to read this article for class last semester — Close to the Edge: the Representational Tactics of Eminem http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-5931.2010.00753.x/abstract

    Enjoy! I’m interested to read more about your research paper.

  22. Jenna permalink
    February 16, 2011 8:48 pm

    I’ve read over and over that this video glamorizes and/or promotes abuse. I however think it shows what an abusive relationship can really look like. Why do you think its so hard for people to realize they are in one. Everyone has this horrible idea of what an abusive relationship looks like…they are wrong.

    I sat my children down ages 7 and 10 and asked them what they thought of the video and what they got from it. My son said “Its about a bad relationship that keeps going in circles.” I don’t think we give children the credit they deserve. And if your child is saying “this is true love with real passion.” then its time to get those perspectives changed. This video is an excellent opportunity to bring up the topic with your children. Show them that things don’t have to look bad to be bad – Abuse isn’t in cookie cutter form.

    • February 16, 2011 9:09 pm

      Not everyone knows they are in an abusive relationship. I’ve had enough conversations with a specific person where I had to hear about how great the guy was. Never assume that logic can override the heart.

  23. Suzy Pepper permalink
    March 4, 2011 9:01 pm

    His lyrics are violent. The stories he tells are violent and sometimes scary. But as a writer, he is incredible. As an artist, he is amazing. I was a teenage girl once and I loved him. I don’t internalize the things he says because I understand what’s behind the words. Eminem once said that he has two different personas – Eminem, his stage name, the violent guy, and Slim Shady, his crazy, psychotic persona. Neither, apparently, are Marshall Mathers. I love the way he writes. He is different from every other rap artist. Though I didn’t internalize his words, I did internalize some of the abuse I got to witness when I was growing up. I guess to me, there was a difference between what I saw, which was real, and what I heard from Eminem, which was commentary.

Trackbacks

  1. Eminem, Rihanna and domestic violence: Or, how Eminem almost tricked me (again) « Gender Across Borders
  2. Third Time’s a Charm! « Belle Renee

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