On Tuesday, Radio 1 DJ, TV personality, and model Jameela Jamil wrote an open letter to Eminem. She is sick of his ‘misery’ music and his negative attitudes towards women, among other things. Immediately she received an onslaught of attacks from Eminem fans and general internet haters (sometimes they just attack for the sake of it – it’s anonymous and they can, so why not?). Trolls who attack others for expressing opinions – opinions which are perfectly valid, even if they differ from your own – are heinous. If you disagree with someone, opening it up into a discussion, a dialogue of different ideas, is absolutely acceptable (and what I hope this will be), but lashing out in hurtful ways doesn’t help anyone. If anything, it often supports the argument you are rallying against. So come on haters, wise up. Stop being asswipes and take a more mature path. I am, and always have been, a huge Eminem fan. I disagree with most of Jamil’s points, but my first instinct was not to attack her, but formulate my own cogent, constructive argument to the contrary.
I’m not denying that Eminem has said some pretty atrocious things about groups of people in his music, particularly women and homosexuals, but to say that he encourages a ‘vile approach’ is ignoring the status of his work as art. What do I mean by that? Art is there to allow people to explore ideas, express thoughts and feelings without telling someone to behave in a certain way. These aren’t political pamphlets distributed by someone trying to convince another to follow their ideological path. These are rap songs. They are no different to novels, poems, films, etc. Eminem even pointed this out way back on his Marshall Mathers LP in the track ‘Who Knew?’: ‘I just said it, I ain’t know if you’d do it or not.’ Hell, I even wrote an entire article about the literal interpretation of lyrics (and other art forms) a while back. If I write a story about murder, bestiality, or rape (and I have done all of those), that does not mean that I am encouraging any of my readers to participate in that kind of behavior, no matter how I presented the events in my works of FICTION.
It feels as though he is singing the same song again and again and again and again.
What is wrong, that with all the access to mental healthcare, all the money and luxury and adoration and ability to escape and live peacefully, you can’t just cheer up a bit? Are you still this angry about 20 years ago? Or are you exploiting a market of unhappy people and using their misery and need to be empathised with, in order to sell records. Are you preying on the vulnerable and neglected. Are you feeding them the encouragement to dwell on their pain and problems rather than use your profound intelligence and platform to encourage a way out of their pain? Are you condoning aggression when you should recognise that it’s a symptom of damage? Do you think it’s healthy to encourage men to hate women, and women to hate themselves? Do you want someone to speak about your daughter the way you speak about other people’s daughters? You want to murder all the bitches and Ho’s? You want to strangle them and beat them to death? Or do you want to shock a nation and empower those who use force to attain power? Are you proud when you see a beaten woman? Do you think that Ho deserved it?
I’m very confused by Jamil’s sentiment here. I know she’s heard his latest single featuring Sia where Eminem acknowledges that he is singing ‘the same old song’. And just let it go? Come on, while I (like most) love the Frozen song of the same name, forgetting where you came from and what you’ve been through just isn’t possible, nor do I think it is a good idea. Sure, letting go of some of the anger and hate might be a good thing, but that’s where we need to acknowledge the very real pain Eminem, and others like him, went through. Just because he is successful now does not mean that he is necessarily happy. Don’t you remember The Beatles’ words of wisdom, ‘money can’t buy me love’?! I don’t believe he is exploiting anyone’s pain and misery, except perhaps his own.
Eminem is obviously someone who still suffers a great deal from depression – something he has also rapped about and something that is quite common for creative types. He has trouble believing in himself, he struggles with the pressure of success, and he constantly battles negativity from critics and the media. True, none of this is an experience limited to him, it is something most celebrities go through. Some deal with it better than others; Eminem does not deal with it at all well. Does that mean he shouldn’t say so? He shouldn’t talk about how he feels or what he thinks? Go back, listen to ‘Guts Over Fear’ and really tell me that message isn’t a good one. In all honesty, I think ‘Guts Over Fear’ is promoting a very positive idea, and a very similar one to what is present in popular, more ‘peppy’ tracks like ‘Let It Go’ or Taylor Swift’s most recent, ridiculously catchy ‘Shake It Off’.
As someone who also suffers from depression, the idea that artists should only be allowed to explore a way OUT of depression is ridiculous. Why should he be expected to solve everyone’s problems? Because he is famous, has wide exposure? That is an unfair expectation and would cause art to be incredibly boring and homogenous. I don’t agree that he encourages people to ‘stay down and be angry with their situation’ at all. He is exposing his deepest, darkest fears and feelings to show people what not to do. His examples of being angry of feeling this way are not presented as the way to go, but something he dearly wishes he could escape from. He know he should move past it, but can’t. Isn’t that how almost everyone who has ever suffered from depression feels? We know these feelings are a destructive cycle but we feel we can’t get out. Is Eminem not supposed to suffer this way? Why not? And why can’t he discuss it? I have never, ever thought he was encouraging his listeners that being so miserable was a life choice they should make. He shows us how he feels so we can learn from him. Make better choices, feel better about ourselves. We aren’t alone in feeling miserable. Someone truly talented and successful also feels shit sometimes (or all the time), so you aren’t lesser for feeling that way or experiencing life the way you do.
‘Guts Over Fear’ is actually an incredibly moving song. He is asking others who might be experiencing pain to stop holding it in and let it out. To use the pain in some kind of constructive way, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, and move past it. If you are afraid, whatever the object of your fear, find the strength to confront it. Let people talk and ‘take it with a grain of salt’ (or if you’re Taylor Swift, ‘Shake it off!’). How is this not a positive message? I don’t think this song in any way encourages people to engage in bad behavior or wallow in self-pity. It is uplifting and asks us all to be brave and speak out for things we believe in. Jamil is right that Eminem is intelligent and a role model for many people, but to say he is a negative role model is to misunderstand him and his output. Whatever art you put out there, someone is bound to take it the wrong way. On occasion, novels inspire people to do terrible things, killers basing their murders on what they read in a book, does that mean writers shouldn’t write murder mysteries or crime novels? Should Stephen King be held accountable for all crime that matched something he has written about over the years? I don’t think King would ever say he encourages murder, but that’s what he writes about. Why are you holding Eminem to a different standard than King? Are singers different to novelist? If so, why?
Most importantly, I think it needs to be called out that Eminem’s rage is part of who he is. Something he addresses directly in ‘Guts Over Fear’, ‘What am I gonna do when the rage is gone?’ He has been struggling with his pain and anger for so long that he doesn’t know how to be anything else. If he doesn’t have his anger anymore, what would he rap about? Think back to Alanis Morisette. Everyone loved her when she was angsty and troubled, but then she got all zen and nobody gave a shit anymore. It isn’t an irrational fear Eminem has, worrying how to remain successful if he didn’t have that same pain driving his passion and his music. What is he without it? To dismiss it as an easy thing to move past is cruel and does not acknowledge the difficulties that come with mental health problems. Bringing the issue to a more down-to-earth, relatable level, think of him as someone who has been in the one job all his life to suddenly be let go, the industry he was in isn’t hiring anyone new. What should he do then? Who is he if not defined by that job he’s had for his whole life?
At the end of the day, music is an expressive art. To argue that it should only be created in order to ‘help people’ misses the point of art entirely. Art should exist for art’s sake. Not to change the world. Sure, a lot of great art can have an incredibly positive impact on the world, but it doesn’t need to in order to be art, or even good art. It isn’t an artist’s responsibility to mitigate against any and all interpretations of their art. If the only art that was ever created was safe and only interpretable in a positive way, the world would be an incredibly boring place. It makes me think back to Groove Armada’s ‘If everybody looked the same, we’d get tired of looking at each other.’ I’m glad that Eminem is one of the thousands of creative voices out there. I would never want him to be anyone but himself.