Shady Records’ new compilation album Shady XV is set to drop this week, and, true to form, Eminem is whipping up easy controversies in preparation for its arrival. Marshall Mathers has made headlines twice recently, first for lashing out at Lana Del Rey in a freestyled promotional video, rapping that he would “punch [her] right in the face, twice, like Ray Rice”; and then for threatening to rape Australian rapper Iggy Azalea in the new track “Vegas” (“Put that shit away, Iggy/ You don’t wanna blow that rape whistle on me/ Scream! I love it/ ‘Fore I get lost with the gettin’ off”). It would seem that all Del Rey and Azalea did to arouse Mathers’s wrath was exist while female and famous, which made them ripe for the picking for Eminem, who has a decades-old routine of generating buzz by shit-talking pop stars, politicians and wholesome singer-songwriters.
No one is exempt from Eminem’s tantrums, but he’s always reserved his most acidic bile for famous women: Fantasizing aloud about punching abuse survivor Pamela Anderson in 1999; leaking an invented sexual history for Christina Aguilera in 2000; masturbating to 17-year-old Miley Cyrus and then threatening to cut her open in 2009 (when he was 37); and nursing a seemingly never-ending obsession with Mariah Carey, which inspired her aptly titled 2009 single, “Obsessed.” Over the years, Mathers has targeted Lauryn Hill, Ellen Degeneres, Kim and Khloe (but not Kourtney) Kardashian, Lindsay Lohan and her then-lover Samantha Ronson, Norah Jones, Britney Spears, the (then-underage) Olsen twins, Sarah Palin, Rihanna, Jessica Simpson, Tori Spelling and even pseudo-celebrities like Lorena Bobbit and Casey Anthony. He shows no signs of relenting in 2014.
One cringe-worthy element of Eminem’s routine is the number of celebrities who, shortly after being dragged by him, claim that he’s a legend or that they love him; a face-saving move from soft-shelled stars who are desperate to seem chill and unoffended. But the impetus to laugh off Eminem’s lines speaks to the culture of acceptance that’s surrounded him: He’s well connected and respected within the music industry, and shrouded by the mythos that he’s uniquely talented. Mathers is a technically proficient rapper — that much is undeniable — but he coasted in on Dr. Dre’s production skills and industry reach (and this), and any suggestion that he’s overrated or that his hype is bloated is met with a special type of shrill indignation. Criticism of Mathers’s misogyny is swiftly pounced on because he’s “a genius” and “one of the greatest rappers alive,” and denying his talent is fruitless: both because his fans won’t hear otherwise, and because talent doesn’t preclude hateful bigotry.
Eminem is often defended on the related ground that he’s always behaved this way; that trashing celebrities and threatening to rape and maim women is his modus operandi and always has been. Like that one friend who always gets drunker than everyone else and starts talking shit and groping people, Mathers is excused on the basis that that’s “just the way he is.” It’s a logic-devoid, reflexive argument (“It’s OK that he’s like this, because he’s always been like this”), but the second half of the claim is certainly true: Eminem has always operated this way, and there’s nothing new to be seen here. Which leads to a larger point that perhaps isn’t as favorable to Eminem’s defenders: In a creative industry, is the fact that Mathers has “always been like this” anything to brag about? Is his stubborn refusal to shift up his formula really a positive quality in a rapper?
im bored of the old men threatening young women as entertainment trend and much more interested in the young women getting $ trend. zzzz
— IGGY AZALEA (@IGGYAZALEA) November 20, 2014
Iggy Azalea doesn’t think so. In response to Mathers’s rape lyric about her, she tweeted as though through a stifled yawn: “I’m bored of the old men threatening young women as entertainment trend and much more interested in the young women getting $ trend. zzzz.” Azalea, despite having a whole host of her own issues, is on point here: Eminem has misjudged the current climate and overestimated the appetite for his usual approach; the kind of lyrics that were “shocking” and “edgy” in 2000 need putting to bed in 2014, because they’re tired. Eminem, unlike people who are young today, didn’t grow up in the Internet era, and he seems oblivious to the fact that nothing he says in his songs is as bad as what a run-of-the-mill internet troll is spouting in people’s mentions and comments sections every 20 minutes of every day. No one’s heart rate is increasing about these kinds of lines anymore; they’re just an ambient nuisance as people (especially female people) try to carry out their lives online. What’s more, we’re firmly in the era of the clap back: Rihanna’s self-protective shade is widely adored; Lorde’s recent response to Diplo obliterated his feeble attempt to belittle Taylor Swift; and Azealia Banks effortlessly ethered Eminem when she came to her friend Lana Del Rey’s defense, her off-the-cuff tweet funnier and more cutting than anything he’s said in years. It’s not just that Eminem’s whole approach is worn out; it’s that he doesn’t even have the wit and clout to keep up with the cohort he’s trying to insult anymore.
The problem with Eminem is not just that he’s a cheerleader for violence against women (although, sorry to be quaint, but that’s still a problem), it’s that he’s no longer novel; he’s stale and about as relevant in 2014 as yellow-tinted glasses and the Y2K bug. Mathers has long been eclipsed by a wave of rappers who exceed him both in terms of talent and ability to generate buzz, and his refusal to dip out gracefully from the scene is becoming uncomfortable to watch. It’s probably about time for Eminem to heed his own famous advice to Moby: You’re too old, let go. It’s over.