Last week, MTV News kicked off our countdown of the Top 25 Songs of 2010, an all-encompassing list that has already included the likes of Rick Ross and Robyn, Lady Gaga and Kanye West , to name just a few. Now, we’re pulling the curtain back on our pick for #9 … Eminem and Rihanna’s massive “Love the Way You Lie,” a song that resonated with both fans and critics alike, mostly because it was unafraid to get unspeakably real.
For more than a decade now, Eminem has always operated with a safety net: his Slim Shady alter ego. Slim says and does the kind of things that normal people can’t (or don’t), dealing almost exclusively in wanton acts of violence and/or depravity and never, ever apologizing for any of it. At times, the act has been so convincing that you’re not quite sure if Em is Slim Shady, which is how he’s been able to get away with songs like “Kim” (in which he stuffs his wife in the trunk of his car), “Kill You” (where he rapes his own mother) and even “3 a.m.” (the one where he goes on a pill-addled murder spree).
Because of Slim, no matter how brutal or unflinching Eminem’s subject matter, his fans have always been able to laugh it away, even if, deep down inside, that darkness still terrifies them. “That isn’t really Eminem,” the logic goes. “It’s Slim Shady. It’s different.”
But in 2010, Eminem changed things up. He got sober, he got serious and — for the most part — he shelved the Slim Shady character altogether. It was a bold, if not necessary, move, and the end result was Recovery, an album that has wowed critics and fans alike, thanks in no small part to the complete absence of that alter ego. Instead, we all got to see Em as his most honest, his most brutal … and, in the case of “Love the Way You Lie,” his darkest.
On the surface, “Lie” is an unblinking, unyielding examination of a relationship gone horribly awry, a rapidly descending tale of two lovers who cannot live without each other, and seem destined to die because of it. It’s a masterwork of unfiltered angst, full of violence (both real and imagined) and threats (or promises), and the fact that it resonated to such a degree with the record-buying public — it was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for seven consecutive weeks — is both a testament to its power and more terrifying than a dozen songs about stuffing someone in a trunk.
But no matter how you choose to analyze the song and its success, you cannot deny the fact that the song works mostly because it’s so terribly real. When Em screams “Next time/ There will be no next time,” you can’t help but believe that he’s telling the truth, no matter how frightening that may be, and you get the creeping suspicion that he’s actually shouted that threat to someone very close to him at some point in his past. Perhaps even more terrifying is the fact that he follows that line up with “I apologize.” You cannot write a song any better than that, because that’s how this kind of thing happens in real life.
And though she might seem an odd choice to sing the hook, Rihanna more than holds her own against Eminem’s bluster. She returns serve, her rage and heartbreak are equally as tangible as his … once again, because you get the feeling (well, or you know for a fact) that she’s been in situations like this before. Sadly, there’s no substitute for experience.
“Love the Way You Lie” is about many things, most of which are very bad. But it’s also a testament to Eminem’s courage and willingness to put it all on the line, his gifted skills as a storyteller and his deft ability to turn his gaze inward. For the first time, he sheds Slim Shady and walks the tightrope without the aid of a safety net, a balancing act that’s scarier — and more thrilling — than a dozen ax murders. For better or worse.
Where would you place Eminem and Rihanna’s “Love the Way You Lie” among the top songs of 2010? Let us know in the comments!
MTV News’ Top 25 Songs of 2010 countdown continues. Make sure to keep checking back to see what song we’ve named #1, and don’t forget to share your picks with us in the comments below!