I love pop music. A lot. Like, so much, that I’m often found dancing to the latest saccharine pop hit in the aisles of the grocery store or on the gym floor.
My latest guilty pleasure has been Eminem and Rihanna’s collaboration, “Love the Way You Lie“. To me, the song has the right mix of pop-y, I-can’t-get-it-out-of-my-head appeal with a surprising amount of gut-wrenching soulfulness. For a song written by a guy who brought us such high-brow audio fare as “The Real Slim Shady” and “Crack a Bottle“, “Love the Way You Lie” is refreshingly in line with Em’s more recent self-reflectiveness. (I think that Em’s Relapse album is one of the best thematic hip hop albums of the last few years.)
In “Love the Way You Lie” Em’s lyrics are intermixed with the haunting vocals of Rihanna, who expresses both anger and pain as she sings the hook. For me, the song has appeal because you can feel how intensely personal the subject matter is for both artists. Both have made headlines for publicly being involved in abusive and self-destructive relationships — Eminem with his ex-wife Kim, and Rihanna with artist Chris Brown.
Moreover, the song — and associated music video — feels so honest in its exploration of domestic violence. Em’s “boyfriend” alternates between rage and regret over his actions. He seeks forgiveness while in the same verse threatens assault and arson, reflecting the cyclical nature of abusive relationships. Rihanna’s “girlfriend” character acknowledges both the self-destructive nature of the relationship — he’s going to stand there and watch her burn — while she simultaneously explains her reluctance to leave — she loves him.
This video doesn’t hide the truth — relationships, particularly abusive ones, are messy and complicated. For me, the song strikes a deeply personal chord: it reminds me of abusive relationships I witnessed in my childhood. I remember the feelings of being trapped, afraid, and resentful of the anger and the violence, while at the same time wishing that the “good times” could last forever.
It’s tempting to simplify the issue of domestic violence into one where we villify the abuser and victimize the abused, but oftentimes, those simplifications only serve to blame the abused for being reluctant to leave the relationship. No relationship, not even an abusive one, is horrible and violent 100% of the time. How often have we heard Em’s first verse echoed by victims of domestic violence who are hesitant to abandon their partners: “‘Cause when it’s going good, it’s going great. / I’m Superman with the wind at his back, she’s Lois Lane. / But when it’s bad, it’s awful. I feel so ashamed, I snap.” In one scene, Monaghan and Fox kiss while sitting outside in lawn chairs, which reminds us how we even the most destructive relationships can appear, from the outside, to be loving and intimate.
Furthermore, sometimes it’s hard to remember that abusers don’t always wear the stereotypical black hat. Em reflects about how his rage transforms him into a different person, a person that even he doesn’t like. “Who’s that dude? I don’t even know his name. /I laid hands on her, I’ll never stoop so low again. /I guess I don’t know my own strength.” For people on the outside looking into an abusive relationship, it’s easy to forget that sometimes even the abuser knows his or her actions are wrong, and doesn’t know how to stop them.
Despite these lyrics, the video and the song make it crystal clear that this is not a relationship to be glorified. The music video, featuring Dominic Monaghan and Megan Fox, show both partners trapped in a cycle of violence, destruction, and passion — best exemplified by one of the last scenes that show Monaghan and Fox traveling through the set, going from a tender moment of forgiveness to another violent argument culminating in Fox locking herself in the bathroom to get away from Monaghan. Again, the video acknowledges why neither partner wants to leave — for all their abuses towards one another, and all the lies they tell to keep each other in the relationship, they love each other. But it also shows the viewer why the two must separate. The relationship is (in the form of a metaphorical fire) consuming everything within them, until it burns their house down in the climactic scene where Monaghan slaps Fox across the face.
Much in the same way that Em made a career out of connecting with disaffected White youths across America (which he cheekily acknowledges in “White America“), I think this song powerfully connects with those who have been affected by domestic violence. As I’ve blogged about before, domestic violence is a major, if not often talked about, issue in the Asian American community.
I hope that all men and women, particularly Asian Americans who struggle in abusive relationships, will be encouraged by a song like this to reflect on the health of their relationships and seek help.
Act Now! This is the DayOne domestic violence helpline included in the video above: 1-800-214-4150