Update 2014: Years later, I would read a magazine interview with Eminem and I was frankly impressed. He seemed so normal, articulate, intelligent, clearly conscious of his image, and what he was putting out there. I just wish he understood that the message in his music is so dangerous and deadly.)
by Robert Gillis
Published in The Foxboro Reporter 3/2001
Warning, the following column contains references to songs containing crude language and images of terrible violence. Parental discretion is advised. Parents are also advised to talk to their children about the music they listen to.
First off, I’m not one of those people who hits 35 and suddenly all the current music of the day is “noise.” I love most pop music, and I even enjoy the bubble gum sounds of Brittany Spears and Backstreet Boys. My music tastes run somewhat eclectic, my all time favorite is Springsteen, but I like adult contemporary, some Jazz, most kinds of pop music, a lot of the new age artists like Yanni and Enya, and even listen to hip-hop on occasion. I like all kinds of music.
Second, this is America and I don’t want to see censorship. Freedom of speech is paramount (and guaranteed) and must be upheld. When self-appointed moralists start dictating what is and isn’t appropriate for the rest of us poor slobs, I start to worry.
Third, crude language or “shocking” behavior is often just stamped as such because of the times, or because artists are trying to make a name for themselves. Elvis Presley was pretty shocking and offensive to a lot of people when he first arrived on the scene. So were many other musicians. But time passes, and some notions — such as Elvis being televised from the waist up on the Ed Sullivan Show — seem almost puritanical these days.
Finally, something offensive to one person might not be offensive to others. It’s like the difference between art and pornography — it’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it.
Last week, I tuned my car radio to one of the hip-hop stations, and listened to nothing else for a week. I found that I enjoyed many of the songs (they had a good beat you could dance to). It wasn’t the type of music I always listen to, but I found I liked a lot of it. I’ve danced to these songs in clubs.
But since these stations’ target audience is the 14 and up crowd, I was more troubled by the extremely explicit lyrics contained in many of the songs. There wasn’t any nuance or subtlety in lines like “put it on me” and “we were both buck naked, banging on the bathroom floor.” I was amazed by the number of songs with very explicit sex references, followed by a commercial talking about respecting girls who say no.
With all of the above in mind, I want to talk about the notorious singer called Eminem. You may have heard of him; he’s the guy who sings the “Slim Shady” song and there’s been a lot of controversy about him because of the lyrics and content in his songs. Many people are outraged that he’s been nominated for Grammies. For many people, the offense is not that Eminem’s song lyrics are those words you can’t say on TV (or here in this paper). The problem is the subject matter of his songs, and what those songs advocate.
I gave his CD a listen, then another. I had to make one immediate adjustment and simply filter out the vulgar language. Everything was F this and F that, every man was his enemy or a homosexual, every woman was a whore or a bitch, so I had to ignore it. It wasn’t always easy. Some of the language was so bad that I felt embarrassed to listen to it in the car alone while driving.
This guy is angry. He’s angry at the fans, angry with other singers stealing “his” style, angry with his family and all the vultures who want a piece of him. Many of the songs are “streams of consciousness” and ranting about how unfairly he is judged, and how angry he is. Others are just threats to hurt people. Drug use is so prevalent in the songs it’s almost casual, and the graphic violence is everywhere.
One song, entitled, “Stan,” was about a crazed fan who gets more and more angry with his idol when he won’t respond to his letters. The writer ends up tying up his pregnant girlfriend in the trunk of his car, overdosing on vodka and pills, and driving off a bridge. Charming.
Another song, titled, “I’m gonna kill you,” is the type of ranting that gets kids expelled from schools and restraining orders filed. “You don’t F with Shady, because Shady will F kill you,” the song goes, talking about cutting off one guys hands and feet with a chain saw, and dragging a woman into the woods to “paint the forest” (with her blood).
In another, Eminem talks to a classroom of kids about violence and murder, in another, the subject is attacking a musical group he hates, and encouraging fans to throw things at this group and hurt them.
Every woman in his songs is degraded; every woman is a whore, a slut, and a bitch. In one of the worst songs, the entire song is a very realistic “fight” between the singer and his girlfriend Kim. While their child sleeps, he finds that she has cheated on him, so he trashes the house, screams hysterically and threatens, finally dragging her by the hair into his car, where he screeches and shrieks some more, finally choking her to death in the woods. (He doesn’t just sing about it, you hear the struggle and the gasping). “Plead! Plead for your life” he raves, while he kills her. The songs end with the sounds of a body being buried and a car driving away.
I shut off the tape player after that one. It sounded so realistic it was chilling. I felt like I wanted to throw up.
There’s a lot of music out there that contains foul language, but some of it is clearly just for a little shock value or to make a song spicier. But this is different. Even getting beyond the language, there is so much deep, deep anger and vile hatred in these songs, and the images that are evoked: Rape, violence, murder, are absolutely overwhelming. It’s all uncontrolled, homicidal rage. This guy isn’t a trailblazer. He’s just dangerous. And his ideas are lethal. They are poison.
It’s like being inside the mind of a serial killer.
There’s no value in any of these songs; there’s no rebellion against outdated notions, there’s nothing that encourages a new way of thinking. There’s no nuances or subtlety. It’s all ranting and images of horror. Even some horror movies have artistic merit, but this is just … well, very angry and violent and destructive.
This is a cancer.
Any journalist who writes about musical lyrics invariably falls back on the old cliche’s: freedom of speech, if you don’t like it don’t buy it, parents, discuss this with your kids, parents have to be more involved in their kids lives, and so on.
All of that is valid. Freedom of speech is necessary and everyone’s right. If Eminem wants to vomit this filth into the record stores, that is his right. And yes, people — lots of people — will buy it. Nothing we can do about that, and we shouldn’t. Censorship is wrong, because I for one don’t trust the censors. But parents keep this away from your children. Hell, keep it away from yourselves.
We must not honor this music. We must not honor advocating hatred and violence and degradation and rape. We must not honor Eminem with Grammies. Grammies and other awards should be given for artistic merit and for redefining music. Even if the music shocks out and bucks the norm, it can have merit. a lot of past Grammy winners have done that. But when the music advocates rape, violence, hatred, intolerance, and murder, it should be squashed like a dangerous, poisonous insect.
Next week, his CD will be in a trash bag on my curb, waiting to be taken to the dump, where it will remain in a landfill for the next five hundred years. Hopefully, the idea of giving Eminem a Grammy will also be trashed.