Did you know that Eminem has used his lyrics to spew something misogynistic toward a female celebrity? It’s true, just like in 2000 and again in 2009, and really, in any year in which Eminem has been a mainstream performer.
In a new track in support of the upcoming Shady Records compilation, Eminem targets Lana del Rey in a reference to the violent attack on Janay Rice from her husband, NFL star Ray Rice. In the verse, Eminem says: “Play nice? Bitch I’ll punch Lana Del Rey right in the face twice, like Ray Rice in broad daylight in the plain sight of the elevator surveillance/ ’Til her head is banging on the railing, then celebrate with the Ravens.
Eminem’s uber-misogynistic lyric toward Lana del Rey is neither shocking nor surprising. For 15 years, he has used our culture’s feigned anger toward acts of misogyny, and our obsession with celebrity, as a shortcut to staying relevant.
We pretend to be shocked by his words, and yet the world remains as misogynistic as ever. He causes temporary controversy until we move on to something else, forgetting why we were upset in the first place. As a method of inserting himself into the current cultural conversations surrounding women (and in particular, women in music), attacking women in his singles offers instant selling publicity.
The earliest example came in the The Real Slim Shady, the lead single from his second major label album. In the single, Eminem attacks Britney Spears and, particularly, Christina Aguilera: “Christina Aguilera, better switch me chairs / so I can sit next to Carson Daly and Fred Durst / and hear ‘em argue over who she gave head to first.
This gossipy, misogynous abuse of what were then two of the world’s most famous women re-established Eminem at his most critical moment as a performer – his “sophomore” record. The accompanying video, featuring Spears and Aguilera lookalikes, exacerbated the insult and was a particularly smart touch.
After a nearly five-year break from the spotlight following a series of personal tragedies, Eminem returned to the music scene in 2009 and immediately used the same tactic. His 2009 album, Relapse, included the single We Made You, which took on targets including Lindsay Lohan, Jessica Simpson, Amy Winehouse, Spears (again) and Kim Kardashian.
Eminem’s attacks fit a tight mould: celebrity-directed, often homophobic, and usually geared toward women. Whether aimed at Aguilera, Kardashian or Del Rey in 2014, they are a quick grab at inserting himself into modern culture. These women are also, usually, reflective of major social changes, whether they be the rise of hypersexuality and teen pop (Aguilera), the public embrace of celebrity for celebrity (Kardashian) or the embrace of the artistic and weird (Del Rey).
For someone who traffics in cultural relevancy and cachet, Del Rey is a smart target for Eminem. Over-the-top, outrageous and with an eerie beauty, she challenges our understanding of celebrity and American culture. But make no mistake. If this was two years ago and Lady Gaga was still on top of the world, Eminem would have merely slipped in her name instead of Del Rey’s
Eminem’s words seem less like a brazen representation of his true, malicious feelings, and more like an attempt to touch on two very different, yet comparable intersections in contemporary American culture: our desire to be shocked and our obsession with celebrity.
He continues to traffic in misogyny (and homophobia earlier in the new verse, he criticises Anderson Cooper) because he knows it will give him attention. What better way to keep your name in other people’s mouths than to say the most despicable, hurtful things imaginable? And yet, as long as we give him attention, as long as we act as if what he says is any way different or more shocking than the still-troubling, discriminatory, and offensive world we live in, he will still find “success” in his “controversies !!!