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Elton John and Eminem: A Perfect Combination?
(Written February 19, 2001)

The Grammys, long known as a celebration of the blandest pop music, hopes for a big boost in excitement from the highly anticipated duet between Eminem and Elton John on Wednesday.  It is a  pairing that makes as much sense as Johnnie Cochran backing up John Ashcroft on a court case.

What would make John propose such a hookup?  After all, it is very likely that Eminem's hardcore fans would find pleasure in conducting an assault on the likes of John, a perenially flashy, swishy gay icon.  The cynic in me believes this is a nicely orchestrated attempt by the singer to get himself back in the spotlight, for we know that queens must have periodic opportunities to showcase their divadom to the public.   After all, he hasn't been heard from much since that horrid "Candle In the Wind" tribute to Princess Diana.  Nonetheless, the official word is that he doesn't believe that Eminem is actually homophobic and he wants to act as a "bridge" between the rapper and gay critics.

First of all, since when does an oppressed group have the onus of reaching out to their oppressors for reconciliation?  Eminem has made no efforts to indicate that he's interested in mending fences, preferring to state, as his song says, that he is what you think he is.  Besides, it will take a lot more than a five minute performance to counter the harmful lyrics of the Marshall Mathers LP.

But it is the suggestion that Eminem doesn't mean what he's saying that I find very perplexing. It is one of the top responses offered by fans (most of whom are under the age of 21) and critics seeking to justify their role in fuelling Mr. Mathers' popularity.   But it doesn't hold up under scrutiny.

To believe that Eminem isn't keeping it real by presenting his true persona contradicts the very heart of an audience's attraction to an artist: credibility.  Unless you are a parody performer like Al Yankovic, people make emotional investments in their favorite performers on the basis that they are what their image represents.  That is why members of boy bands keep their relationships secret and gay celebrities stay in the closet.  The moment people detect there's some fronting going on, a dip in popularity usually ensues. This is particularly true in rap music.  Just ask Vanilla Ice.

If people truly believe that his lyrics are shock comedy, not to be taken seriously, Eminem has to be the most disrespected rapper since the gangsta edition of Hammer, since he's trying so hard to be, well, hard. Either that, or they are too caught up in the beats or Em's pin-up caliber looks to really listen to the words. 

It is interesting to note how similiarly controversial artists like the Geto Boys, Ice T or Tupac largely failed to receive this benefit of the doubt, as the mainstream media pointed to their work as the direct inspiration for criminal acts and helped lead censorship campaigns against them. Amazing what a little less melanin will do for people's tolerance of bad-boy behavior.

After their duet, Elton John and Eminem will go on with their multi-million dollar lives, probably generating increased sales of their catalog thanks to the publicity, and probably never cross paths again.  Yet the questions about the increasing acceptance of "artistic violence" (i.e., Hannibal, wrestling, Eminem and Oz) and its link to acts of aggression and hatred will remain unanswered.

Copyright 2001 Anthony Lamar Rucker.  All rights reserved.


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