Eminem feat. Rihanna, "I Love the Way You Lie"

What to think about Eminem and Rihanna's collaboration, "I Love the Way You Lie," not to mention the video, which you can see here, starring Megan Fox and Dominic Monaghan? I've thought about it for a month, just about, and I'm still not sure.

The song is remarkably honest on many levels: it describes the complexities of two volatile people involved in a relationship that is also volatile; it shows, importantly, that women are able to abuse physically, as well as emotionally, and aren't always only the victim of domestic violence; it describes a cycle of abuse, apology, abuse that, for some people, is, unfortunately, all too familiar; it's performed by two people who have held the roles of abuser and abused.

And perhaps it's that last bit that makes it very uncomfortable for me. The press surrounding the domestic abuse claims involving both singers is well-documented--any Google search will tell you everything, and perhaps more than, you wanted to know. As Rihanna herself has said in various interviews, the record was "something that needed to be done." And she's right: It does. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in four women has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime. In 2004, nearly 2.2 million people called a domestic violence crisis center or hot line to escape crisis situations, seek advice, or assist someone they thought might be a victim of domestic violence. Nearly 75% of Americans knows someone who is or has been the victim of domestic violence.

But while statistics put facts into neat categories, no two narratives of abuse are exactly alike. Eminem raps in the opening of the song: I can't tell you what it really is, I can only tell you what it feels like. We don't always understand or comprehend why people stay in those situations. The song, and the collaboration between these two artists, is important because this gives us a very public, by two very recognizable pop stars, telling of one kind of story. The song at once presents raw aggression coupled with a kind of masochism that appears to be a common theme in cycles of domestic violence.

Music videos are interesting, I think, because we get to see another narrative layer: how a video director, an artist, and actors, if they're in it, "read" the song which they're now visually presenting. Megan Fox donated the money she made from the video to Sojourn, a shelter for battered women and their families. But what we see, the visual for this song, is two beautiful people enacting violence on each other, where that violence begets arousal, which then turns back to violence and, ultimately, both Fox and Monaghan are engulfed in flames.

I live on a corner, and many early evenings for the past month I have heard and seen young men and women, windows down in their tricked out cars, blasting this song from their very-expensive stereo systems. It makes sense, in a way: Rihanna's part is a catchy hook, her voice isn't digitized but is clear and strong for singing about something so incredibly personal and, on some levels, so incredibly difficult to understand. I wonder, if they've seen the video, if they can get past the obvious play to sexual overtures, what with it starring Fox and the whole Rihanna not really wearing something that resembles shorts. Or pants. Or something other than underwear, and see what's really going on. I wonder if they're really listening, if they really get it, and if they're willing to help break the cycle that both stars talk about.

I hope so.

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