Why Is Rihanna Singing in Eminem’s Domestic Violence-Fueled Single?
It has been a year and a half since Chris Brown was arrested for assaulting Rihanna, his girlfriend at the time, the night before the 2009 Grammy Awards. Both of them have released albums since then, acknowledging the incident in their own ways – Brown with songs like the over-the-top “Changed Man,” and Rihanna more subtly on tracks like “Stupid in Love” and “Cold Case Love.”
Though she shouldn’t have to forever wear her victimhood on her sleeve, Rihanna did express in interviews following the incident that she felt to compelled to speak out about her ordeal out of concern for her young fans who might be dealing with similar problems. It’s pretty bizarre, therefore, that her newest hit has her singing the hook on a domestic violence-fueled Eminem track, the single “Love the Way You Lie,” currently No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Rihanna’s portion of the song is rather tongue-in-cheek. She moans the refrain throughout: “Just gonna stand there and watch me burn, well that’s all right because I like the way it hurts/Just gonna stand there and hear me cry, well that’s all right because I love the way you lie.” In between her bouts of singing, though, Eminem hurls angry words that paint a scary picture of a relationship gone wrong, a theme typical of his raps. “I feel so ashamed, I snap … I laid hands on her/I’ll never stoop so low again/I guess I don’t even know my own strength,” he spits, before closing the song with this terrifying revelation: “I’m tired of the games, I just want her back I know I’m a liar/If she ever tries to fucking leave again, I’ma tie her to the bed and set this fucking house on fire.”
Subtle, Eminem is not. Which makes Rihanna’s participation in such an explicitly violent song all the more hard to understand. She has lent her vocals to countless rap tracks by other artists, giving a strong feminine touch to songs like “Run This Town” with Jay-Z and Kanye West, and “Live Your Life” with T.I. And while some of those songs contained vaguely violent elements, they were rooted in metaphor (“Get your fatigues on”), and had Rihanna as an active participant – she dons the same all-black outfit and badass swagger as the men she’s next to. But in “Love the Way You Lie,” the girl at the center of the story is clearly and unequivocally a victim, even if Eminem describes being hurt by her too.
Rihanna certainly isn’t obligated to forever use her music as a platform from which to speak out against abuse. There has to be a happy medium, however, between advocating for women and participating in a song in which one is getting beaten to death.