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Jewish World Review Jan. 24, 2001 / 29 Teves, 5761

Mark Lane

Mark Lane
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Ugly lyrics should make trendies squirm -- THE National Academy of Recordings Arts and Sciences is in full-fledged, mid-life crisis. The kind where a guy buys a red convertible, black leather jacket, gets a tattoo, suddenly catches up with a decade of music that he never remotely liked before and generally baffles the kids.

"We ba-a-a-ad! We ba-a-a-ad!" You can just imagine the relaxed-fit, gray-goateed Grammy judges repeating to themselves as they nominated Eminem's "Marshall Mathers LP" for album of the year among other honors.

Nominating Mathers, who goes by the stage name Eminem, guarantees the awards will not be yet another dreary classic-rock tribute. It shows the academy is listening to the critics. It proves they are all terribly edgy. Out there. Angry. Got street cred, dog!

It may be argued that Eminem is taking rap to another level ... or something like that. But lyrically, there's this PR problem.

It seems the songs celebrate the mind-set of a violent sociopath who hates women and gay folks. This does not require close reading between the lines. It's not a matter of listeners just not getting it.

Take a lyric like this from the song, "Kim":

"Now bleed, b-tch, bleed! Bleed! Bleed! Bitch bleed! Bleed!" (Preceded by choking sounds, presumably representing the eponymous Kim.)

Then there's "Amityville," in which he imagines arranging the gang-rape of his sister. And his ode to his mother, "Kill You." ("B-tch, I'ma kill you.") And his violent hatred of gay people. ("hate fags? The answer's 'yes.'")

The critics and trendies who awarded Eminem a free pass on his song content explain it away in three ways.

1. Just kidding. "I think the kids see it as theater. I don't think they take it seriously at all," said Michael Greene, president of the Recording Academy. Yes, but there is such a thing as bad theater.

2. This is no different from past music acts considered provocative. Here's the logic: People thought Elvis was outrageous. People think Eminem is outrageous. Therefore, Eminem is Elvis.


3. Any criticism of popular music is a call for censorship. Small-minded attacks on popular music by would-be regulators of public morality have forced anyone criticizing musical content to prove that you are not small-minded, would-be regulator of public morality.

Fair enough. But sometimes criticism of the music is just criticism of the music. And when someone sings songs celebrating the murder, rape and torture of women and gay people, it seems legitimate to ask if just maybe a subtle moral line has been crossed. This doesn't mean you want it banned. But do you really want to declare it the best of your industry? A work of rare genius?

All of which promises to enliven this year's music-award season by watching the ultra-cool squirm a little. To see how they might try to put a tiny bit of moral distance between Eminem and themselves.

Over the past decade, these shows have become strangely preachy. Each year, guys in tattoos, supermodels, white guys in dreadlocks, gangsta rappers, hollow-cheeked singers in leather pants, child stars and people with pink hair walk to the podium, acknowledge G-d as their co-manager, warn us of repression in Tibet, and scold society for the repression, racism and hatred rampant in the world outside the studio.

All of which will sound pretty hollow as they also honor an artist whose principal theme -- other than being Persecuted by Society -- is hatred of women and gay people and how cool it would be just to stomp them.

The charming way the entertainment industry considers itself beyond hypocrisy will be put a wonderfully public test.

I think the kids will realize that this is all theater and not take it seriously at all. The idea of music awards, I mean.

Comment on JWR contributor Mark Lane's column by clicking here.

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© 2000, M. R. Lane