I knew this video would be upsetting. We had lots of discussion earlier this week on Pop Off about duets and the tortured relationship that's featured in the number one song in the country right now, as played out by Eminem and Rihanna.
The video for "Love The Way You Lie" opens with Rihanna standing in front of a house on fire and singing the hook. Eminem does most of his verses in a field. The heart of the video plays out between actors (Megan Fox and Dominic Monaghan) who fight and have sex alternately. It's graphic and upsetting, calculatedly disturbing.
Rihanna's function here is similar to the way commenter Heidi Woeller (Karen05) described her role in the song on our earlier post:
"I am somehow reminded of the notion of a Greek Chorus in plays ... A song's chorus in pop music tends to function as ... the element that keeps the rest of the song held together and somewhat cohesive between stanzas. Nevertheless, it can be used as narrative, point of view, commentary on the 'story' of the song."
Rihanna's voice is a magic powerful elixir. Sprinkle it on a track, and the song has a way of rising to the top. If Euripides had her at his disposal 2500 years ago, she would have led the Chorus, without a doubt. But after her assault by her boyfriend, R&B singer Chris Brown, played out so publicly so recently, it's extremely uncomfortable to have her relegated to the hook in a song about domestic violence — where she functions as an echo of the thoughts in an abuser's mind. I hoped the video would open the stage up to both of them, but it's her hotness that Eminem's director, Joseph Kahn, is exploiting here, as well as her public storyline that they've already abused by including her in the song.
Even in the video for "Live Your Life," rapper T.I.'s number one anthem from two years ago, the director seemed to acknowledge that the song owed its success to Rihanna. She was still the Greek Chorus — but she had her own dressing room, she put on some makeup — in short, she had her own storyline, in a way that Euripides would have never allowed.
I should acknowledge my bias: I love Rihanna. I really, really do. I don't like to see her propping up Eminem in this context. Jay-Z throwing a verse on the top of "Umbrella?" That's the kind of power sharing I like to see.