Love the Way You Lie: more part of the problem or the solution?

Eminem and Rihanna’s recent single “Love the Way You Lie? has been the No. 1 downloaded song for two weeks straight according to Billboard’s Digital Songs Chart . While this music collaboration ensures that the national dialogue we have been having about intimate partner violence continues, it’s not clear whether the popular track is more part of the problem or the solution.

In many ways, the song can serve to raise awareness about domestic violence. The title itself evokes an image about a woman in a domestic violent relationship who wants to believe her partner will no longer commit acts of violence against her, because he says he won’t. But what is explicit in the title is the notion that although the aggressor says he will reform, it is a lie. This calls upon some of the data available in the domestic violence literature on the high likelihood that a perpetrator of IPV will reoffend. In a 2004 study (see page 2) held in the Bronx misdemeanor domestic violence court, 62 percent of batterers who were arrested for domestic violence were rearrested within 2 years.

But at the same time, the song doesn’t clearly condemn violence against women or intimate partner violence. In some ways, it can be easily read as a song about relationship troubles that may not necessarily require an intervention because the woman never leaves. If the old adage is true that the first step in solving any problem is admitting that you have one, this song seems to fail at clearly identifying that what we are observing is dysfunctional violence. The fact that the track is included on an album titled “Recovery” doesn’t help in clarifying things. The situation is also worsened by the portrayal of a survivor who seems complicit in her abuse because she doesn’t just love the way her aggressor lies, she “likes the way it hurts.” For me, this line scream victim-blaming central and it calls upon the counterproductive accusations that survivors sometimes face.

But what are your thoughts? Does the song raise awareness about the pathological ways of batterers? Or does it fail to be a constructive intervention because it doesn’t clearly identify the problem of violence and can be interpreted as blaming the victim?

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18 Comments

  1. Comrade Kevin
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    To me it’s more a story about a co-dependent relationship which has major aspects of sadomasochism present as well. This doesn’t excuse the physical violence present, of course.
    And I read the line that “I like the ways it hurts” and “love the way you lie” along the same lines. It doesn’t connote victim blaming to me as much as someone who genuinely finds some sort of perverse pleasure in it, or maybe it’s a kind of sarcastic gallows humor from someone in the middle of an abusive relationship. I would have never thought to hold the woman being abused at fault, rather I feel sorry for someone so clearly scared and perhaps even unwilling to leave a very bad situation.

  2. Tiffany
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    I saw it as a fail. I didn’t consider that there were any positive aspects of it until I read this post, in fact. I think the song romanticizes the abuser-victim relationship and could be persuasive to a victim to stay with their abuser. It may shed light on the “pathological ways of batterers” for those inclined to think about that sort of thing anyway, but I think it’s more likely to convince a victim that she loves her abuser more than she hates the abuse.

  3. cattrack2
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    James Baldwin once wrote that art can be held back by political statements. He said this specifically while commenting about another great black author, Richard Wright. Sometimes its merely enough to tell a good story. Eminem and Rihanna do that here, and I think given her recent history that’s more than enough. Listeners will figure it out.

  4. knpeterson
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    I think that this song goes further than just a problem vs. solution message.
    First off, the people singing the song are on both sides of the domestic violence issue. Rihanna is a survivor of domestic violence and Eminem has been charged with domestic violence in the past.
    For Eminem to be the voice of the batterer in this song is a doubly powerful message. He has been charged as (and likely IS in my opinion) a batterer. His message seems to be that he’s admitting he’s a batterer, and he knows he always will be, and he is completely unapologetic for it. (Not that it would matter if he said he was remorseful.) I fear he is sending a message to an entire generation that it’s okay to hit women and you can even write a song about it and make millions of dollars. It’s okay to even think about killing her…tying her to the bed and setting the house on fire…
    For Rhianna, a survivor of domestic abuse, to be the voice of the victim in this song chills me. And for her to say she “likes the way it hurts” leaves me feeling nauseated. I saw the photos of what Chris Brown did to her, there’s no way anyone could enjoy that. It feels like she’s telling domestic violence victims that it’s okay to be beaten, you’re doing it for love and love is supposed to hurt. And maybe even a message to batters that it’s okay to hurt women because deep down they like being hit.
    Maybe in some way it does bring awareness to the issue. But I fear the only people taking an anti-violence message from this song are people like myself, who can hardly stand to listen to it and who were vocal about domestic violence issues long before this song. I fear the majority of individuals putting this song on ‘repeat’ aren’t looking for a deeper message. They just like the song. And if they are getting some message from this song it’s not likely a positive one.
    I respect that they are both artists and that we shouldn’t censor their creativity. But I can’t listen to this song without having an emotionally negative, almost tearful, reaction to it. And I don’t think that was the reaction Eminem intended the listening audience to have.

  5. RMJ
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Considering Eminem’s epic history of lyrical violence towards real women he was actually married to (Kim, 97 Bonnie and Clyde – in which he uses his daughter’s voice to viscerally describe killing his wife), I can’t look at this in a particularly positive context.

  6. littlegirltoast
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    Even just taken on its own, the song is made up of sheer self-pitying sympathy for the abuser. Taken in the context of Eminem’s increasingly misogynist career, however, I can’t imagine giving it the benefit of the doubt on any level. On the same record, he brags (yeah, comedically and in character, ha ha ha) “I don’t need a tank top to be a wifebeater.”
    It’s just about the tamest flippant or threatening remark he makes about harming women on the last three albums. Relapse was loaded with detailed rape and murder fantasies directed at real young women, identified by name, and Recovery is more of the same.
    It’s a misguided attempt at capturing the already misguided attempt for redemption that 2pac somehow pulled on the world by releasing “Keep Ya Head Up” and “Dear Mama” immediately after each of his sexual assault scandals, only the sexual assault in Eminem’s case is – as far as we know – confined to the content of his albums.
    At best, it’s in extremely poor taste to put Rihanna on this track. At worst… everything else.
    (I’m writing this as not only a serious and decades-long fan of hip-hop as an artform, but an expert and accomplished critic and someone who stuck up for Eminem as an artist from before he even had a major deal until he seemed to abandon trying to be either a good rapper or a good person in the mid-2000s. I’m not the typical clueless-about-rap feminist commentator – I’m a total rap know-it-all-about-rap feminist commentator.)

  7. Edgy1004
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    It is horrible. I agree that there is NO condemnation of DV, quite the contrary:
    “Right before I’m about to drown, she resuscitates
    Me, she fuckin’ hates me and I love it, Wait!
    Where you going? I’m leaving you.
    No you ain’t. Come back. We’re running right back.”
    She is inciting her own abuse (in his mind “I can’t tell you what it really is,I can only tell you what it feels like”) She is controlling him in the all too tired Why-do-you-make-me-hit-you sense of the word.
    Eminem thinks he is a victim:
    “I feel so ashamed, I snapped, “Who’s that dude?”
    I don’t even know his name
    I laid hands on her, I’ll never stoop so low again
    I guess I don’t know my own strength ”
    Before anyone says that This is a character and not Eminem I would like to say that he has used 3rd person in previous work to separate himself from a narrative but very often speaks as himself (using I and me) in raps. Although he doesn’t mention specific individuals I think it is safe to assume that he is speaking as (at the very least) a character he identifies with. He is not othering the narrator at all.
    The perpetrator is a victim too. Didn’t you know that? poor poor abuser.
    “… fate that took over, it controls you both
    So they say, you’re best to go your separate ways
    Guess that they don’t know you ’cause today,
    That was yesterday, yesterday is over, it’s a different day
    Sound like broken records playing over
    But you promised her, next time you’d show restraint
    You don’t get another chance
    Life is no Nintendo game, but you lied again
    Now you get to watch her leave out the window
    Guess that’s why they call it “window pane” ”
    I could go on by I don’t want to. This is a confession as far as I am concerned, a public confession so that other abusers know that they aren’t alone. Did I feel like the Rihanna part illistrated an actually character and not just a reflection of what the abuser thinks of his victim? NO
    I understand when we are fans of some one and then they do something we don’t like it is nice to make excuses (south park, Jon Stewart, Family guy, Woody Allen, Michael Jackson just to name a few) But it is okay to like some songs and not others. It is okay to compartmentalize the work and the artist. I liked the Pianist and Billy Jean and the Daily Show and Brian and Stewie even if I don’t like everything. It is okay to be an Eminem and Rihanna fan. Just don’t try to feed me shit an call it cupcakes, I love cupcakes and I know the difference.

  8. Wolf_22
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    some of it sounds like the type of abuse we don’t talk about very often – mutual abuse.
    we normally think of abuse as one partner hurting the other and the other only being the victim.
    but sometimes you have horrible relationships where one hits the other and then the other hits back. or one says something insulting and the other throws something at them or starts to vandalize things in the home belonging to the partner who insulted them.
    its unhealthy fighting – not using constructive words, but insults and even threats or actual agressive violence.
    I might be listening to the long and reading the lyrics wrong, but that was the image I got. especially when Em uses the term ‘we’ and not ‘I’ indicating that they both lost their tempers and did things during fights that were abusive (mentally, emotionally, verbally, or physically)

  9. MishaKitty
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    Every time I’ve heard this song on the radio it’s been followed by the dj saying how powerful the song is and that it was a great message and condemnation of domestic violence or violence against women. I think most people who listen to Eminem know the type of characters he portrays in his music and that that is not his reality. And they also know Rihanna and what happened to her so they’d see this in more of a positive light anyway. I’m glad it’s gotten to #1 anyway because it’s opened up the discussion and this is something that needs to be discussed. Silence about the subject is not the answer for sure.

  10. Lydia
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    I would add that sometimes the best way to make a point about a larger social problem is to tell a good story and allow the the reader or hearer to infer the message herself. It’s not necessary for the artist to insert their own voice into the work and say “This is evil and I condemn it!” In fact, usually it’s tacky and less effective.
    Songwriting is a form of fiction and writers of fiction often assume the point-of-view of characters whose actions and views they don’t endorse. Toni Morrison wrote “The Bluest Eye” from the perspective of multiple characters, including the “villains” and it’s not only a brilliant novel but a much more chilling and powerful statement about the intersecting forces of racism, misogyny and sexual violence than if Morrison had just given us some didactic lecture on these issues. Fiction should show, not tell.
    I’m not saying Eminem is any Toni Morrison and, in fact, I’d never thought I’d see the day where I’d be defending him or his music (which I’ve often found disgusting and indefensible) but I can’t fault him for this particular song. To me, it seems like he’s just providing windows into the minds of an abuser, with his back-and-forth of self-justification and self-loathing and his victim, who can’t quite bring herself to leave what she knows in her heart is a toxic situation. Many such people exist. I see nothing wrong with telling their stories and letting them speak for themselves.

  11. kandela
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    We discussed this on the community forum a month ago: http://community.feministing.com/2010/06/disturbing-eminem-leak-feat-ri.html

  12. wonderbabe
    Posted July 9, 2010 at 1:04 am | Permalink

    I once loved a man who loved Eminem, a recreational rapper back in the 90s who thought that crazy white kid from D12 was worth a jaunt to nearly any pit in Detroit. I myself rather thought he was a potty-mouthed jerk with a lousy attitude, but hey – passing judgment on your beloved’s musical tastes is not a recipe for harmony. Eventually even I became a fan of sorts, although I’m pretty sure that there was plenty of what shrinks would call transference involved. But when that beloved gave me a personal, guided, front-row tour through the warped world of DV, I figured that getting out meant at least I didn’t have to listen to that mean-spirited tripe anymore.
    This song caught my eye, popping up on the corner of my YouTube screen when I was trolling for something to pass the time. Really? Rihanna? So I listened. And halfway through, I found myself jamming the headphones into my ears with both hands, trying to catch every word as it sailed by. I had heard it all before. Some of it was practically verbatim. I couldn’t stop hitting “replay” as four years of my life burbled up in front of me in the kind of savage detail that made Eminem world famous. I was dazed when I finally peeled the headset off, and all I could think was, “He told the damn truth.” Anyone who has been through intake counseling for DV can tell you there’s a script for abusers, and this one was the one I had heard, had felt, had breathed, and more than once, had believed.
    I actually got to this post because it continues to haunt me. I want to hear someone, anyone, ask Rihanna about it. I don’t know what to make of her lines – they look about as awful as could be on the page. And yet, when I came back the next morning to listen again, to see if maybe the powerful, gut-socking reaction I’d had the night before was unduly influenced by my couple of sangrias, I felt them. Closing my eyes and letting the ghost of that craziness wash over me, I remembered laughing in his face even when it would seem wildly imprudent to do so. When his rage was going to go where it was going to go, and I hadn’t yet figured out how to go, it was the only power I had left to sneer at his fury, to mock his ungentlemanliness, to taunt him with a perversion of the word “love” that seemed to match his own.
    This song IS pretty fucked up. So is domestic violence. Thanks for listening.
    (I posted this as a comment a while back on .community, but I came to the discussion late. It still haunts me. Did anyone, anywhere else hear themselves, too? I came across their first live performance of this song and was struck by Rihanna, her hand coming up to hold the head she knew wasn’t saving her, her arm reaching out in a gesture that looked exactly like the yearning I’ve heard in at least a dozen women’s voices sitting in support groups. I know deconstruction is valuable and generally there’s nobody who likes a good what-are-they-trying-to-say-here better than me, but this, to me, was as bare as could be. What does it mean if we take these words at nothing but their face value? It was what it was. In Recovery, we tell the truth. Maybe?)

  13. sammylif
    Posted July 9, 2010 at 1:04 am | Permalink

    I definitely agree. I was disgusted when I heard this song on the radio, I thought all it did was cause more confusion and problems and misconception about seriously unhealthy relationships. It never crossed my mind that it could be an attempt at shedding light on pathological abusers or instigating a conversation on violence.

  14. cmb
    Posted July 9, 2010 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    how is it victim blaming when a woman says she enjoys being abused? nobody’s blaming her for it, she’s saying it herself. you might want to listen. what looks like a bad relationship to you looks like a good relationship to somebody else. i know it sounds crazy but you know she could be telling the truth, she likes abuse. i was looking through a girlfriend’s file of sexy pictures and there was a picture of this girl tied up, dirty, cut, bruised laying on a concrete floor and my friend looked at the picture and said “this is a girl that somebody loves”. listen. this is important. some people don’t know how else to love eachother. i’m not saying it’s healthy or good. it’s just true.

  15. steppenalex
    Posted July 9, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    I think that in order for this song to be sympathising with the character of the abuser, which is what I have taken to be most people’s problem with it, the character (not Eminem, and I do believe that this is a fictional character) must himself be sympathetic. We get flashes of this throughout the song, which worried me to begin with because it seemed like it was focusing too much on trying to see the situation from the abuser’s perspective and attempting to use that as a mitigation of the violence.
    However, I think the last few lines of the last verse are important “If she tries to leave again I’m gonna tie her to the bed and set this house on fire” and I think that this in particular shows the character to be morally reprehensible, irrationally violent and NOT a sympathetic narrator. You take those lines, apply it to the rest of the song and come to the conclusion that he can’t be trusted, he’s not be liked or felt sorry for and that he is in the wrong. It makes you take a second look at where he says he loves her and that he’s [inadvertently] sorry and know that it’s all wrong and doesn’t make up for him being abusive.
    I don’t, however, know what to make of Rihanna’s part. I don’t believe that it’s poor taste to put her in the track; I think it’s more poignant that she chose to be in the track as that character and we should look at what message that says, instead of assuming her to be in a subordinated and silenced position where she’s not given a choice to be in the song. I think it shows strength for her to do that, and I’d prefer to understand it as her creating a voice which could be representative of a portion of domestic violence victims instead of something she has been forced into without any understanding of what she’s saying; that’s a bit patronising. If we’re looking at Eminem’s intention, you must ask, why would she choose to be part of what she knew would be a popular song in mainstream music, if she thought its intention was to sympathise with abusers?

  16. katemoore
    Posted July 9, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    A bit off-topic, but this is the best comment I’ve ever seen on this site, or possibly any site.

  17. kandela
    Posted July 10, 2010 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    What you are describing in the first two paragraphs is text-book Swift Irony.
    Here is part of what I wrote on the other thread:
    Stan’s first part initially evokes sympathy from the audience (I can’t tell you what it really is // I can only tell you what it feels like // And right now there’s a steel knife // In my windpipe // I can’t breathe // But I still fight // While I can fight). The idea here is to get us thinking with the character, so that when his actions become increasingly indefensible, we are shocked that we could ever support him. This in turn is a technique that has the listener examining their own actions, wondering how close to the immoral they are.
    It’s a similar technique to that used by Swift in ‘A Modest Proposal’, where he begins by highlighting the plight of the Irish, getting you to think you are in accordance with the writer, before suggesting that the solution is that they sell their children as food. The reader then has to re-examine every principle that lead them to be in accord with the writer earlier because the conclusion is indefensible.

  18. ebetty
    Posted July 12, 2010 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    interesting you should post this.. it’s even more interesting how different the community response is the second time around.

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