building new castles every day

what can’t be packaged in pop music?

In Feelings, Hearings, Thinkings on August 9, 2010 at 9:51 AM

The other day a best girlfriend introduced me to the new Eminem and Rihanna track. Though I hold my preferences, I’m fairly open to new music. So in her car, I opened my ears to her recommendation.

First I just paid attention to the well-produced, tried and tested beats and the sweet, pained call of Rihanna’s chorus vocals. I liked it. Catchy. Then I started to take in the lyrics.

“Love the way you lie?” I queried, perplexed, double-checking I wasn’t hearing incorrectly.

“It’s an awesome song. It’s the words. They makes sense to me.”

My friend has been on and off with a guy for over the last year. We all have friends like this; perhaps we’ve been that friend. Perhaps the relationship’s foundation was rocky; perhaps you’ve broken trust; perhaps the commitment isn’t balanced; perhaps someone isn’t being honest with themselves; perhaps the communication just isn’t there. But you want it to work. So you make up, calm down. But the next flare up hits and the cycle begins again. You know in your gut that you’re not yourself or the best of yourself when you’re in the relationship. But for whatever reason, we keep coming back.

My friend and I listened to “Love the Way You Lie” several times that weekend. Each time I heard more and more of what I was scared to voice: she was in an emotionally abusive relationship.

And now there’s a song for that. That scares me.

It’s not the subject that scares me. I’m quite aware that such relationships exist. And I’d rather people talk about their relationships, use our friends for support, get our worries out into the open so we’re not bottling them alone.

I also get that passion and rage are of the same cloth, and many of us feed off both emotions in a relationship. Vampire sex is hot right now. Sex and biting, feeding off pain, etc. We’re watching it, reading it. We like it. And it’s been written about, sung about, made movies about before. I get it.

What does scare me is the way pop music wraps up volatile subjects in catchy tunes and then gets pumped into public places (Tim Hortons line up!) for men and women of all ages to consume passively.

Is this ok? When such a subject is masked in pretty packaging, does the subject matter become acceptable? Does it become status quo? Does it become, ugh, normal?

Let’s not forget the fact that Rihanna herself was in a high-profile abusive relationship — what is this saying about her, that she’s now professing her desire for such cyclical pain and insanity? I don’t care if she means it personally or not. This isn’t even about the young girls who look up to her. It’s about our society in general and how relationships are normalized and consumed.

Why is this my business, anyway, you ask. If I’m not in such a relationship, and if I’m so snooty about my music choices, I don’t have to listen to this. I can change the radio station, not download the track, not Google the video.

But I have to care because it’s out there. Because I know this cycle too; I know it’s hard to break. And because I know people in such relationships right now, and they are my best friends. These are strong, passionate, caring women who, like myself, are not immune to the urge to care for a broken man. But, like many of us (myself included), find ourselves in patterns that we are acutely aware are not good for us, yet we don’t change.

And I care because I want us to start talking about what’s happening to us in our relationships. There’s not enough of it. Call up your friends, tell them what’s confusing you, and listen to how they respond. Don’t be ashamed of confused emotions, don’t be scared to voice doubts. Best friends are the most honest. We love you enough to tell you the truth. And we know it’s hard to hear the truth, but really we’re just echoing your gut.

So let’s not just package the issue up in pop production techniques. Let’s talk. Please.

To clarify, I have spoken openly with my friend who I refer to here. This post isn’t a not-so-subtle plea for her to realize what’s going on in her relationship. She knows and has identified it herself. This post came about because of my introduction to this song. There have been other comments and criticisms on the Rihanna-Eminem video.


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