I went on an Eminem trip for a while this past Spring (yeah, I know, he is “so 2000’s”; well, deal with it). A number of songs have stuck. Others haven’t.
By far his #1 top-selling song (it at the moment has over 764 million hits on YouTube), from his 2010 album Recovery (yes, it was 4 years ago), is “Love the Way You Lie”, in which he raps the (brilliantly disturbing) verses, while the female vocalist Rihanna sings the brutally sardonic chorus:
…Just gonna stand there and hear me cry
But that’s alright because I love the way you lie
One could argue that the song is simply a dark romanticization (or, perhaps, Hollywoodization) of a domestic abuse relationship (and violent lyrics are Eminem, whose early life was, predominantly, violence), but there is plenty here that is real, plenty that poignantly captures a real relationship. (And I think it’s worth saying: more relationships–and, generally speaking, more lives–are traumatized by violence than one might think, not least in stereotypical white suburbia.)
A shot from the song’s music video (which, imho, melodramatizes the subtlety of the song)
So, what’s a real relationship?
One in which the very best of you comes out, in which your talents find their sweet spot and you become almost superhuman–or, should we say, superhero:
It’s so insane cause when it’s going good, it’s going great
I’m Superman with the wind at his back, she’s Lois Lane
But a real relationship is also one in which the worst of you comes out, in which you stand in utter disbelief at…yourself:
But when it’s bad it’s awful, I feel so ashamed I snapped
Who’s that dude? “I don’t even know his name.”
Eminem (a.k.a. Slim Shady), then, gives us the internal dialogue of the divided soul, the Gollum-like back-and-forth that ensues after we have lashed out in wrath at our partner, a dialogue in which Eminem inquires with genuine surprise, “Who’s that dude?”, with the alter ego responding with an honest, even exasperated ignorance: “‘I don’t even know his name.'”
A real relationship brings out not only the very best and worst, but also betrays the cyclical nature of unhealthy dynamics: like explorers who, realizing they have become lost in confusing terrain, journey for several hours only to find themselves retracing their steps:
Now I know we said things, did things that we didn’t mean
And we fall back into the same patterns, same routine
But perhaps most profoundly–and disturbingly–is the indissoluble mixture of truth and lie, of admission and domination, a mixture concocted by some lost alchemy, which plagues and afflicts the real relationship:
Come inside, pick up your bags off the sidewalk
Don’t you hear sincerity in my voice when I talk
Told you this is my fault
Look me in the eyeball
Next time I’m pissed, I’ll aim my fist at the drywall
Next time? There won’t be no next time!
I apologize even though I know its lies
Thundering claims of sincerity and self-accusation accompanied by an inescapable awareness of deception (and, perhaps, self-deception?).
Maybe it’s simply the great tune and hypnotic rhythm that have resulted in over 3/4 of a billion hits on YouTube. But maybe it’s more than that. Real relationships reveal what we can be at our best but, for the most part, at our worst. Maybe that’s why real relationships seem so impossible, why they are source of so much trauma. Is it better to stick with the superficial? Or is loneliness equally traumatic?