A teen and her critic dad rate Eminem’s new album
My editors cooked up the idea that I should listen to Eminem’s new release, ”The Eminem Show,” with my 16-year-old daughter, Hayley — you know, to contrast the old fogey with a teen who is Eminem’s desired demographic. Well, we both agreed to take on the job, and here’s how it went.
Hayley liked the album’s first single, ”Without Me,” and said, overall, the music was ”OK, if you didn’t listen to the words,” by which she did not mean Eminem’s endless flow of obscenities. These bothered her not at all. No, what she meant was, ”He sings about being white too much, as if being a white rapper is the greatest thing of all time.”
And in particular she disliked ”Superman” as being ”stupid about how he’s better than women.” As a young woman who’s fully aware of adolescent issues of insecurity and defensiveness, Hayley recognized that Eminem ”talked way too much about not caring about what everyone else thinks.” Ooh — gotcha, Em.
Me, I think he inflates the importance of certain events — referring to the duet he performed with one of his more famous fans, Elton John, last year at an MTV event, as playing ”career Russian Roulette” — as if the pairing wasn’t really just shrewd, audience-expanding self-promotion for both of them.
Eminem yells obscenities at Tipper Gore, mother of the warning-label sticker and a target so passe you wonder whether Em’s ever heard of Twisted Sister or Frank Zappa. Eminem calls himself ”a pitbull off his leash” and the ”boogie monster of rap… with a plan to ambush this Bush administration.” But the plan is something typically vague about ”pushing this generation of kids to stand and fight for the right to say something you might not like.” Now there’s an original bit of rebelliousness, eh?
Still, you have to like Eminem’s occasional glimmers of humor, as in ”White America” when he uses as proof of his political influence the ”hugs” he receives when he appears on MTV’s ”TRL.”
Over the course of ”The Eminem Show,” he picks up a bit of autobiography from his previous albums, about how much his Mommy never liked him (indeed, his mother felt so slandered by his earlier songs that she sued him and recorded her own rap answer-record to his charges). He also has the gall to call himself a ”soldier” whose ”shoulders hold up so much,” but then whines about being arrested for possessing a concealed weapon.
He bad-mouths his wife Kim again — she whom he has previously fantasized at great length about murdering — but to prove he’s got heart, now makes a sad little attempt at singing in a tune about his young daughter, Hailie. My Hayley (same name, different spelling) said ”’Hailie’ is the stupidest thing of all time. He’s, like, making fun of her mother in a song about his daughter.”
After a scant two lines about that daughter, in fact, Eminem immediately reverts to himself again, moaning with self-pity about how people ”don’t understand me/they just don’t see my real side.” Gee, except for the beats, he’s one step away from being a ’70s confressional singer-songwriter — impure, early-period James Taylor.
Yo, Em: If all you present are two facets of your personality — what he calls in that song ”a pistol-packin’ drug addict who bags on his mama” and the sensitive soul complaining about how you’re perceived — you just come off like a chump.
In the first single off this album, he refers to himself as ”the worst thing since Elvis Presley… to use black music to get myself wealthy.” Eminem as Elvis? About the only thing they have in common is that their names begin with the letter ”E.”
And while I’m no stickler for ”authenticity” in art (I think part of the point of being creative is making up things), Eminem is downright maniacal about being viewed as authentic, so it behooves me to point out to the erstwhile Marshall Mathers that, unlike ”Eminem,” ”Elvis” was Presley’s real name. Or as Hayley succinctly put it: ”He’s good at writing rhymes, he’s talented, but I don’t think he’s a very nice man.”