|February 8, 2001
Two Sides of the Same Coin
One dates a bad boy, one thinks he is a bad boy, but Eminem and Jennifer Lopez are just two heads of the candy-ass beast that is pop music.
By Mike Haney
In the song "I'm Back" off his most recent release, Eminem offers the following incestuous rape fantasy about Jennifer Lopez:
'Cuz if I ever stuck it to any singer in showbiz
It'd be Jennifer Lopez and Puffy you know this!
I'm sorry Puff, but I don't give a fuck if this chick was my own mother
I still fuck her with no rubber and cum inside her and have a son and a new brother at the same time
What makes this passage so sad is not simply its subject. We have come to expect this kind of mindless shock dribble from Eminem. Nor is it the fact that Time Out New York called the verse "sidesplitting." Critics have repeatedly proven over the last year that they are clueless when it comes to Eminem's music. (For proof of this, see Eric Boehlert's excellent media criticism of the Eminem reviews.)
No, what's really gross about these lyrics is that they suggest that somewhere in his pot-addled mind, Eminem actually believes he is somehow different than J Lo, when clearly he is as pure pop as the wedding-planning-Latin-ass-queen herself.
|Critics have repeatedly proven over the last year that they are clueless when it comes to Eminem's music.|
It would be easy to think these two TRL mainstays have little in common: one projects hateful posturing, one projects trampy bubble gum; one is a West coast rap prodigy, one dates the East coast rap godfather; one is ashamed to be Caucasian, one tries too hard to be Puerto Rican. But what makes them so similar is that they have both risen to fame on the wings of the same pop criteria:
Neither has any real talent or originality.
There is nothing inherently wrong with pop music. Sometimes it's nice to hear a song that like Kenny Banya's act, you don't have to think about too much. When pop gets offensive is when it takes itself too seriously or refuses to recognize its own mindlessness. While Lopez's second album proves her abject popitude, Eminem has built his career on the myth that he is something more.
Neither has a point.
Both are products of media hype.
Oh, and both are multi-platinum selling Grammy nominees who have captivated every 12-year-old in the country.
Hiding Behind the Thin Veil of the Studio
Although Lopez rarely attempts to reach the vocal heights of her pop predecessors like Whitney or Mariah, thick production plays a significant role throughout her album in hiding one of the most limited ranges this side of a karaoke bar. She also relies heavily on the people who turn the knobs and dials, employing as many as nine producers on one song. While all this production might be appropriate for a true dance album, J Lo's plain, uninventive beats are intended less for a club than for the chain sports bars that clear away some tables on Friday nights to let white guys who clip their cell phones to their belts pick up white women who are impressed by guys like that. It is, in other words, the kind of dance music that eventually becomes Muzak.
While Lopez hides her vocal inability behind a bevy of producers, Eminem needs only one (ever-widening) producer to cover his rhyming inadequacies. And while Dre is obviously adept at capturing catchy hooks, his sound is becoming stock. Every one of the hooks employed on Eminem's two albums under Dre might as well have been outtakes from the "Chronic" sessions. Similarly, Eminem's fast-paced rhyming style, often touted by critics as one of the his strengths, only appears to be fresh because it is a shift from the traditional laid back west coast sound pioneered by Dre. East coast rappers like KRS-One were more effectively using the quick-tempo rhyming style as early as 1989.
|Eminem is simply another of kingpin Dre's prodigies called on to help the aging producer hype his own projects and secure him a name in rap history.|
Eminem is simply another of kingpin Dre's prodigies called on to help the aging producer hype his own projects and secure him a name in rap history. But unlike Dre's last golden boy, Snoop Dogg, Eminem brings no natural talent to the table. He is a purely a product of Dre's studio savvy. For those of us who weren't hanging out in Los Angeles prisons in the early 1990s, Snoop's Behind the Music offered a fascinating glimpse at his early efforts and revealed that the bouncy, laid-back rhyming he later became famous for was present long before he hooked up with Dre. Eminem's first failed album, 1997's Infinite (yes, he made one before he met Dre), shows instead the rhythmic shortcomings one would expect of a white boy from the Midwest.
The Message is Not in the Medium
What we learn about Lopez in J Lo's lyrics is as predictable as the rest of the album: She has an affinity for bad boys, expensive jewelry, and dancing in slutty outfits. Interestingly, none of these themes are probably appropriate for the girls who actually buy her albums, 90 percent of whom are likely 15 years her junior. (It's usually a safe bet that any artist who stays on TRL for more than a week could count on one hand the number of albums they've sold to anyone over 30.) She is Britney had Britney broke 10 years later in life; another in what Salon's Janelle Brown aptly called the new "passel of virginal sluts" ... only without the virginal part. (Being that she's over 30 and dating Puff Daddy, that might be a bit hard to sell.)
So while Lopez's lyrics probably don't deserve any songwriting awards, their trite messages are so buried in hackish beats and are so commonplace among today's female pop singers that any negative effect they might have on our nations youth is probably inconsequential.
Eminem, on the other hand, is so blatantly trying to inspire another Columbine with his lyrics that Marilyn Manson's bleached skin is turning green. Eminem masks his lack of creativity and attempts to toughen up his catchy pop ditties by tossing into his lyrics every potentially offensive phrase a teenage boy could imagine. But unlike the sometimes violent and shocking lyrics of his rap predecessors, there is no plausible defense for Em's dribble. Early gangsta rappers like KRS-One and N.W.A. always had in their pocket the mostly-true argument that they were simply reflecting the reality of their surroundings, exposing a blind middle America to the harsh settings in which they and their music were born.
|What we learn about Lopez in J Lo's lyrics is as predictable as the rest of the album: She has an affinity for bad boys, expensive jewelry, and dancing in slutty outfits.|
Eminem, while clearly from a dysfunctional family, can't fall back on that argument. While he tries occasionally to convince people that he is from a home as tough as his hardcore rap counterparts, he need only call Vanilla Ice to see where that story will take him. He is simply shock for shock value, a phenomenon that is as fleeting and socially inconsequential as all other aspects of pop. Just ask Marilyn Manson (recently dumped by Rose McGowan and mocked in an Onion article) or Howard Stern (ratings dropping like a rock as he runs out of topless lesbian guests) how long one can milk pushing the societal envelope.
No More Pictures, PLEASE!
Today's pop stars are rightly averse to the vehicle most bands use to push record sales: the live performance. And so to keep their name in front of every record buying teen from Montana to Miami, they have become masters of media savvy. There are two surefire ways for today's pop stars to win magazine covers and news bytes, and they can be split along gender lines: girls gotta be sexy and boys gotta be tough.
Lopez knows well the requirements for garnering media attention and has built her career on the photogenic and ample foundation of her bootiliscious ass. Never a real sex symbol in her movie career, Lopez seized the opportunity music videos afforded her to don revealing outfits and shake that ass around every sexually charged set her people could cram into a sound studio. That budding music career also won her invitations to camera-saturated award shows, where she managed to steal the spotlight from her bustier peers by creatively exposing as much of her modest cleavage as network TV would allow. A testament to her efforts, this month she has been awarded the coveted trophy of temporary stardom, the Rolling Stone cover.
|There are two surefire ways for today's pop stars to win magazine covers and news bytes, and they can be split along gender lines: girls gotta be sexy and boys gotta be tough.|
While Eminem occasionally attempts to flex his stringy white muscles in those crazy lyrics of his, the image he projects to the media is well honed to fulfilling the bad boy persona. Small in stature, he surrounds himself with real thugs, and makes sure to get at least one minor weapons or assault charge every few months. But his drooped head and mumbled interviews also suggest enough apathy to keep him in touch with all his teen post-grunge male disciples. Finally and this where we see his real brilliance at work he recognizes that deadbeat dads are even more socially taboo than his lyrics, and so he strategically places his daughter at the center of all his efforts. MTV's documentary on his rise to fame even went so far as to claim the only reason he worked so hard to succeed in rap was to put food on the table for poor little Hailey.
Between them, Eminem and Lopez have five Grammy nominations this year. Their collective record sales are staggering. But while one has become a critical darling, the other has earned nothing but the standard apathetic pop music review. Eminem has held the national spotlight far longer than his talent warrants thanks in large part to his affinity for hammering on pop stars like Lopez, Britney Spears and Fred Durst. But like the playground bully who punishes others for his own inadequacies, Eminem is really just ripping himself.