‘Love the Way You Lie’ doesn’t promote partner violence

I’ve been a bit hesitant to throw in my two cents about the Eminem song “Love the Way You Lie” — a song about intimate partner violence — mostly because after reading blogs like this one, this one, and this one (and the corresponding comments), I thought I was being insensitive or missing something because I actually like the song — and lots of people don’t like the song:

[Rihanna]’s singing in that gorgeous voice of hers, and for a moment I think “Maybe this won’t be so bad.” A few seconds later, the recording fails and “I Love The Way You Lie” turns into a rap song. By Eminem. Who is literally the last fucking person I want to hear singing about intimate partner violence.

Garland Grey of Tiger Beatdown is just one of many who find the song and especially the music video disturbing — I can’t speak for the video because I haven’t watched it, but I can speak for the song, which I have listened to many times. And though some people think it’s a self-pitying rant by an abuser and/or a song that promotes staying with an abuser, I think it’s neither — it’s an honest look at intimate partner violence.

Eminem isn’t asking for pity on this track — his lines about being sorry are juxtaposed with lines that threaten his partner because that’s a common cycle of partner violence and likely an honest account of his feelings as an abuser (his physical abuse toward ex-wife Kim is well-known). Do I pity him after hearing this song? No. Can I appreciate that he’s honest about his thought process, deluding himself into thinking he will change, recognizing he shouldn’t be physically abusive, but then doing it anyway? Yes.

Rihanna is being heavily criticized for her part in the song, in which she sings lines like “Just gonna stand there and watch me burn/But that’s all right because I like the way it hurts” in the chorus. Rihanna is a survivor of partner violence, leading people like Tricia Romano at The Daily Beast to ask, “WTF is Rihanna thinking?” 

I think, like Eminem, Rihanna’s lines are equally honest. She recognizes how insensitive and hurtful the partner is, but she deludes herself into thinking that she likes the relationship, the partner, and the abuse. Rihanna herself admitted to Diane Sawyer that after Chris Brown physically assaulted her, she briefly reconciled with him — she loved him, she said, but she didn’t want her fans — especially the young ones — to see her go back to him and think it was OK to stay in an abusive relationship because Rihanna had done it.

It’s unfortunately common for women to return to abusive relationships. In fact, researchers at the University of Rochester found that half of women who leave abusive relationships go back to the abusive relationships, on average about five times — so, yes, Rihanna’s lines in the chorus are not direct calls against partner violence, but rather depictions of the real psychological abuse that manifests from abusive relationships.

So maybe I’m still being insensitive and missing something, but of course everyone hates the lyrics. You should hate the lyrics at a superficial level, and if you aren’t fazed or affected by them, that’s a problem. They are the thoughts that breed and continue partner violence, and they are thoughts that overcome both the person abusing and the person being abused, both who — as the song depicts — are cognizant that the relationship isn’t healthy but convince themselves to stay or that things will change.

I’ll agree with critics that the song never explicitly addresses that the partner violence depicted is unhealthy and wrong, which could lead listeners to misinterpret the message; whether this omission is because Eminem, Rihanna, and the others involved thought it would speak for itself as an anthem against partner violence, I don’t know. Personally, I don’t think the song romanticizes or condones partner violence. It’s an honest account that sends the message of how confusing, painful, and cyclical it can be — and we need to talk about those aspects to truly understand intimate partner violence.

As one commenter on Feministing put it:

This song IS pretty fucked up. So is domestic violence … What does it mean if we take these words at nothing but their face value? It was what it was. In Recovery [the name of Eminem’s new album], we tell the truth. Maybe?


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One Response to “‘Love the Way You Lie’ doesn’t promote partner violence”

  1. Rich Says:

    Your interpretation of the song is pretty spot on.

    Something I have admired about Eminem’s more serious songs is that he is not afraid to call things the way he sees it. What’s more is that he doesn’t just see what he wants to see (the hopeful resolution) but also the greater picture (the painful cycle of promises being made and broken). I think that based on other lyrics from the album, he has come to understand that loving somebody is not enough to stay with them. It seems that he still loves his ex, but he has accepted the two of them were just not compatible as partners. That does not sound like the mindset of somebody who would promote partner violence.

    Above all, it should be remembered that it’s his trademark to use abrasive lyrics for shock value, even in songs with serious topics.

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