Renowned musicians frequently try to make political statements with their work to varying degrees of effect, and Eminem’s latest release is no exception.
On Jan. 17, Eminem released “Music to Be Murdered By,” an album featuring 20 songs, and his lead single is a grim reflection on gun and drug culture in the United States. The hard-hitting lyrics and imagery in its music video, though controversial, are essential to its impact, Ohio State professors said.
“Darkness” is accompanied by a video showing the rapper as the 2017 Las Vegas shooter who killed 58 and injured 413 at a country music festival. The video ends with a message reading, “When will this end?” and encouraging viewers to register to vote. Since its release, the video has garnered more than 25 million views on YouTube.
“A graphic description like this one hits us hard and makes us think. This is the kind of effect Eminem has cultivated in his work,” Ryan Skinner, an associate professor in musicology, said.
Skinner said Eminem has built a reputation as a provocative artist over the course of his career, and it’s something listeners expect.
Eminem’s ability to distribute his message across communities is what Skinner said makes the rapper politically effective. He said Eminem has a broad audience as a formerly working-class white artist who made a name for himself in a primarily black genre of music.
Skinner said if Eminem ceased to be provocative, the public would quickly lose interest.
“The music that seems to spark fire on social media, for example, is the stuff that surprises us,” Skinner said. “Even if it doesn’t engender a long-term change, it changes what we think is politically and socially possible.”
Skinner said social media gives celebrities a platform to espouse their views instantaneously. Whether or not this changes peoples’ minds depends on the messenger.
“[Eminem is] a very good storyteller. He brings people in, and they connect with him and his point of view,” Andrew Martin, a professor in the Department of Sociology, said.
In the case of “Darkness,” Martin said there is a potential risk of alienating people by referencing a tragic event such as the Las Vegas shooting. However, a nuanced message creates a narrative about a bigger issue that listeners could connect with.
Martin said celebrities are sometimes disregarded when talking about political issues, but if their celebrity status intersects with the issue in some way, they could have a more positive impact.
With issues such as gun control, Martin said most people already have a set opinion. However, when the issues are brought up differently, he said it can bring topics to the foreground and create conversation.
For Jaden Woodard, a second-year in finance, this statement rings true.
“I really enjoy when celebrity musicians implement their political opinions into their music because it usually provides a dynamic aspect to the song and, as a result, makes me think about it more, like it did with ‘Darkness,’” Woodard said.
He said he understands it is common for people to think celebrities are not credible when it comes to politics, but they too have political and social beliefs to discuss.
Woodard said the song strengthened his belief in a need for stricter gun control and allowed him to feel the magnitude of the Las Vegas shooting on a more personal level.