Let’s start with three interconnected songs by the American rapper Eminem.
- 97′ Bonnie & Clyde is from his second album The Slim Shady LP (1999, on the labels Aftermath, Interscope, Web)
- Stan and Kim were originally released in his third album, The Marshall Mathers LP (2000, on the labels Aftermath, Interscope).
Though independent from each other, those three songs are connected together with strong thematic links and shared characters.
Let’s briefly sum up each of the songs:
- 97′ Bonnie & Clyde sounds like a criminal lullaby. The character of a father, who is also the narrator-singer of the song, addresses his daughter/baby while on a car ride. He explains her how and why they’re going to take “mummy” to the lake. Between the lines, the listener can understand that the father is actually getting rid of the corpse of his girlfriend, the mother of the baby he has just killed.
- Kim starts similarly with a man addressing his “baby girl”, then he starts having a fight with the mother. He accuses her of cheating on him in their house, in their bed. He takes her and the baby for a ride, and gets angrier and angrier. Finally, he has some murderous ideas and he kills her: we can hear him shouting “bleed, bitch, bleed!” while we can hear her choking.
- Stan is a letter addressed from a fan to Eminem. First verse: The fan tells Eminem that they’re nearly in the same situation: his girlfriend is pregnant and if it’s a girl, he thinks about naming her Bonnie… He tells Eminem about how much he likes his work, and asks him to reply. Second verse: The fan reproaches Eminem for not having replied, and to have refused signing an autograph to his 6 years old brother. Again, he talks about his feeling of proximity to Eminem: like him, he doesn’t know his father and his mother was an abused woman. He has the name of Eminem tatooed on his chest, and “My girlfriend’s jealous cause I talk about you 24/7”. He concludes his letter by threatening Eminem to lose his biggest fan. Third verse: This time, the fan sounds very angry and bitter. Eminem hasn’t replied since 6 months. The fan is very disappointed, he says Eminem could have helped and saved him but didn’t, so that “it’s too late” now. He says he’s drunk and driving fast on the freeway, with his pregnant girlfriend tied up in the trunk, “But I didn’t slit her throat, I just tied her up, see I ain’t like you”, then he gets aware he has almost reached the bridge and we can understand that in the next seconds he is going to crash his car in the river and die there, drowned, in the car, with his girlfriend and their baby. Chorus, then final verse: Eminem finally answers Stan: Eminem tells Stan he sends him an autograph for his brother, he thanks Stan for the compliments, and advises him to have some counceling to solve his personal issues. Then he tells Stan that his story sounds very similar to a recent story in the news: ” Some dude was drunk and drove his car over a bridge / And had his girlfriend in the trunk, and she was pregnant with his kid / And in the car they found a tape, but they didn’t say who it was to / Come to think about, his name was, it was you”.
Thus, we can see more clearly the links between the 3 songs. 97′ Bonnie & Clyde and Kim obviously work together and are different moments of the same story:
- Kim tells us about how a father (that we can identify with Eminem) kills his girlfriend in front of their baby girl.
- Then 97′ Bonnie & Clyde tells us about how the murderer goes to get rid of the girlfriend’s corpse into a lake.
- Stan then tells us the parallel story of a fan of Eminem who does nearly exactly the same: he kills himself and his girlfriend and his daughter. And the circle is finished.
Let’s now examine each song in details. We will simultaneously sum up the music and the lyrics, analyze their meaning, and comment on their special or remarkable effects :
- Eminem – Kim – Song analysis
- Eminem – 97′ Bonnie & Clyde – Song analysis
- Eminem – Stan – Song analysis
Eminem – Kim, 97′ Bonnie & Clyde, Stan – Synthesis
We showed how those three songs are interconnected, which is a very rare phenomenon in music, and which adds to the quality and originality of those songs. Let’s now examine their main features and try to conclude things for us as songwriters.
Those songs play with genres.
Indeed, the three of them mix different genres, which makes them more complex and thus more interesting.
The three of them are autobiographical, with significant variations.
- Kim tells a fictitious murder, but we can be sure that Eminem is crazy enough to really have had the intention to kill his wife, Kim Mathers. In the lyrics, Eminem names himself by his real name – Marshall – and also names their daughter, Hailie. All of that is true facts.
- 97′ Bonnie and Clyde lays on the same fictitious murder, and names Hailie again of her true name.
- Stan is more indirect as an autobiography since this time the elements of the true singer’s life are given by the fictitious character of Stan: Stan asks his idol about his daughter, makes the parallel between his own unknown father and beaten mother and Eminem’s, and evokes the climate of violence between Eminem and Kim. The story of Stan itself isn’t true, but the limits are really unclear.
Both Kim and 97′ Bonnie and Clyde contain elements of lullaby.
- Kim, in the Prologue, and 97′ Bonnie and Clyde all along.
But they’re a new kind a lullaby, one that integrate an element that totally contradicts the genre of “music for children”: ultra-violence.
The three songs are also crime stories.
- Kim tells a murder, 97′ Bonnie and Clyde tells how the criminal gets rid of the body to avoid being arrested and sued and stay free with his daughter.
- Stan tells exactly the same kind of murder.
The three songs follow the same patterns, we could also say the same fantasms:
- Kill the wife, in the three songs.
- Lock the wife or her corpse in the trunk of the car in the three songs.
- The “double homicide and suicide” described in Kim and realized in Stan.
- Slit one’s throat and slit the lover’s throat – in Kim and Stan
This creates a dense network of thematic interconnection that makes each song resonate with the others, and of course with other songs of the albums The Slim Shady LP and Marshall Mathers LP.
The three songs are also love stories, even if they’re very paradoxical and ambivalent ones. Indeed:
- Kim is the declaration of love (and hate…) of Marshall and Kim to each other (they both say “I love you” in the lyrics),
- Stan is a declaration of love (then hate…) from Stan to Eminem, then it’s at least a proof of concern from Eminem to Stan,
- And 97′ Bonnie and Clyde is the declaration of love (and only love this time!) from Eminem to Hailie, from the father to the daughter.
It is likely that a significant part of the audience will not acknowledge those songs as love stories, and on the contrary they will feel them as far too violent and hateful to be expressions of love – especially Kim which some listeners will refuse to hear. Yet, what Eminem had the huge audacity to write and sing, is a true expression of the realities of love and the couple – if it had to be proven, then psychoanalysis would make clear that “pure love” without conflict, without contrary feeling, does not exist. The way many real love stories end in deception, hatred, jealousy, sadness, despair – and sometimes murder – show that it’s not Eminem who is wrong, it’s all those love songs which pretend describing “purely positive” feelings, those love songs which idealize love but do not describe its cruel realities.
A study published by The Wall Street Journal, accessible online (http://projects.wsj.com/murderdata/ ), shows that among 165,068 murders committed in the USA (except Florida) between 2000 and 2010, a total of 15,751 – i.e. more or less 10% – are crimes between wife/husband, girlfriend/boyfriend, ex-wife/ex-husband, or homo partners. 1 real homicide over 10 takes place inside a love relationship!! It shows how realistic the songs of Eminem are, far beyond the edulcorated fantasies of perfect lover, “You’re The One”, “Love Me Tender”, etc.
So, it’s a lesson for songwriters: we will have much better chances of success if we write about topics that are true but taboo, realistic but generally denied. In our case, those three hyper-dramatic songs by Eminem contributed to make him the worldwide recordman of sales in music industry in the decade 2000-2010 – he sold more than 100 million albums worldwide…
To finish on this topic, we can ask this question: does Eminem contribute to sexism and violence against women, with songs describing how boyfriends kill girlfriends? Or, in other words, does the audience concludes from those songs that killing one’s love partner is a right thing to do? We don’t think so. It could be the case – we think it is in Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue’s song Where The Wild Roses Grow. But here on the contrary, those songs appear to be incredibly honest – the singer takes the world as a witness of his own destructive compulsions, and lets us see how unhappy and obsessive his own violence makes him.
Instead of disguising reality as many works in mainstream popular culture do, instead of avoiding this difficult topic of violence against women, Eminem (the son of a beatten woman) and his love/hate songs make it a topic of emotion, debate, and questioning. It’s not because we write a murder story that we are murderers, on the contrary we may have the opposite effect to create disgust, distance, reflexion…
Last, but not least, remark about the genres of those three songs: they’re all dialogues, which is also rather rare and original in songwriting.
Most of the times, a song is the lyrical expression of the songwriter, a modern and more personal expression of poetry (by the way: poetry as a genre belongs to music more than to literature: from the African “griots” to the modern lyrics writers passing by the medieval courtly poets, poetic texts were not made to be written, but to be sung and listened at, accompanied with music – drums, guitars…)
In our three songs, and more generally in Eminem’s works, dialogue is an essential component:
- Kim is a dialogue between the aggressor, Marshall, and the victim, Kim.
- 97′ Bonnie & Clyde is a dialogue between the father and his daughter Hailie, who punctuates nearly every verse by her charming babbling, her answers, her lyrical expressions. Giving voice to a baby is something nearly unique in the history of songwriting.
- Stan belongs to the wider genre of epistolary literature, that is a form of dialogue in which each intervention is differed from letter to letter. Epistolary literature counts great works in world’s literature, for example the latin Lucrece’s De natura rerum, the christian Paul’s Epistles, or the Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos. With originality once again, Eminem’s “Stan” breaks the rule of the genre by telling about letters that don’t meet their destinator, or meet him too late: Stan’s letters to Eminem are read too late, and when Eminem answers them, Stan already killed himself.
Autobiography, lullaby, crime stories, love stories, dialogs, epistolary literature: in 3 songs, not less than 6 genres are convocated to structure the lyrics. This density looks phenomenal, exceptional!
Eminem has been criticized, of course, for the crudity, violence, hyper-realism and triviality of his lyrics, as if all those qualities were faults. Actually, a genuine literary analysis of his works clearly shows they are worth many more mainstream authors. He makes more dramatic effects, uses more genres, respects AND breaks more rules, than many other songwriters. Being provocative, playing with vulgarity, never stops a good writer from creating genius songs. And finally, Eminem’s art prove something very important: that it’s not because you come from a ghetto, from misery, pain and despair that you can’t reach the highest literary level. Eminem, the Shakespeare of the American ghettos, yo!