Eminem uses sensationalism and shock value

By Caitlyn Christensen

After a brief upset by Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, Eminem’s Recovery album… After a brief upset by Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, Eminem’s Recovery album returned to the top of the Billboard Chart last week. This signified a restoration of balance in the natural laws of the pop universe. The people crave sensationalism, and Eminem is always willing to fill the order.

It’s believable that people who listen to Arcade Fire are also familiar with Eminem’s music, even if that familiarity might be ironic. Those who follow rap closely would never include Slim on a list with Lil Wayne or Jay-Z. As the black sheep of rap music, it seems arbitrary when Eminem addresses other rappers in his songs.

In the song “Talkin’ 2 Myself” on Recovery, for example, Eminem lends a shout out to Kanye West, Lil Wayne and T.I. It’s hard to believe that Eminem is in the same league as those guys. Naming them on his album hardly associates him with their music, but successfully connotes a feeling of celebrity. And celebrity sells.

People listen to Eminem less for his beats than for his ability to create controversy. Because he’s such a loudmouth, even those who hate him are usually forced to listen. And people love him because his lyrics are full of a combination of inner turmoil and parody. Taking into account his bashing of celebrities like Nick Lachey and Mariah Carey, people have learned not to take him seriously. When he attempts to present a more mature image — as he does on Recovery — people listen anyway. No matter how much he claims to grow, his anger and insults draw a crowd. He continues his reign over pop charts.

Both Eminem and Arcade Fire verge on the overblown. Yet, Eminem’s epic rants are more successful with the popular audience than Arcade Fire’s epic arrangements because Eminem’s are relatable.

The Suburbs follows the pattern of large-scale arrangements set out by Arcade Fire’s two prior albums. The whopping 16 tracks feature interludes and multi-part songs. Arcade Fire aims for grand statements. As a concept album evoking the bitterness of growing up in suburban America, it seems as though the album should be more conducive to the American psyche than Eminem’s. The songs address family life, wasted youth and philosophical meditations during car drives to nowhere. In short, each song addresses part of the life that every kid in suburbia has known at one point or another.

The Suburbs wants us to tap into our own culture, but the suburbanites who influence Billboard rankings prefer Eminem’s tendency towards self-exposure to Arcade Fire’s call for self-examination. The kids don’t want to look at themselves; they want to watch Eminem fume about personal issues and make drama. On Relapse, his sixth album, released prior to Recovery, Eminem rapped about jacking off to Hannah Montana and imitated Christopher Reeve. On “The Eminem Show,” his third album, Eminem included private voicemails from his (alleged) girlfriend Mariah Carey. Whether the voice really is Carey’s doesn’t matter. Eminem is always in a feud or picking a fight.

On the new album, the feuds are fewer but the drama still remains. The music video for the single “Love The Way You Lie” was a spectacle of celebrity, featuring Megan Fox and Dominic Monaghan. Eminem rapping in a field of wheat is too ridiculous to not watch for at least a few minutes. He takes himself more seriously, and perhaps tries to make himself more believable, but the element of spectacle still remains. Marshall Mathers has always been known and listened to for his outrageous personality — a gimmick that continues to work on precedent.

On Recovery, Eminem continuously asserts his love of hip-hop and raps about finding out who he really is. It’s hard to believe that Eminem ever doubted who he was — a musical act who draws attention to himself by saying whatever first comes to mind.

The website Pitchfork.com incorrectly assessed Recovery as Eminem’s attempt to restore his 1999-era Slim Shady persona. It called his attempt to resituate himself in the pop world a “bizarre spectacle.” The truth is, Eminem doesn’t seek to be anything except a spectacle. His success comes from exposing himself and allowing listeners to deflect attention away from ourselves. With every release, he essentially stands up, waves his arms, and beckons the audience to see the show. Pop chart rankings fall into place accordingly.