Eminem is one of modern music’s most prolific artists. He has almost 40 million monthly listeners on Spotify and is even credited for coining the term ‘Stan’ (now a popular part of fan culture terminology). Recently, however, the acclaimed rapper has found himself in hot water. Some of his most controversial lyrics have resurfaced online and Generation Z is less than pleased. Thousands have taken to TikTok calling for the cancellation of one of the most rap’s most celebrated stars. Is this the end of an era for Eminem?
TikTok vs. EMINEM
Before I can tell you what I think, let’s look at the facts. The drama began with ‘Love the Way You Lie’. More than a decade after Eminem released this chart topping Rihanna collaboration, TikTok users began to feature it in their videos. This did not go over well with other users, who took to the platform to highlight how the single’s lyrics do not, as Eminem has suggested, condemn violence against women but glorify it.
Much of the criticism stems from two lines. “If she ever tries to f**king leave again,” Eminem raps, “Imma tie her to the bed and set this house on fire.” The TikTok blowback is believed to have originated with a user originally posted by a user @snmmerr. “Yesssss let’s cancel him,” she shared as she played audio from the song.
The post went viral. And while the @snmmerr account has now account been deleted, thousands have echoed her sentiments. Since the post was made in February, hashtag #CancelEminem has shot to popularity. Posts featuring the hashtag now total a collective 13 million views.
Though some of the original commenters supported the claims against Eminem, what gained the movement traction was actually other fans coming to the rapper’s defence. One video, in particular, went viral, of a woman rapping over an Eminem beat with her own improvised lyrics hitting back at “Gen Z”. The video kickstarted a trend of similar rap parodies, further cementing a growing divide between Millennials and Gen Z.
A Brief History of Eminem’s Controversies
This isn’t the first time fans have called Eminem out for offensive lyrics. Most recently, he came under fire after a leaked ‘Rihanna Diss Track’ drew criticism. “I’d side with Chris Brown,” Eminem controversially rapped, “I’d beat down a bitch too”.
This references a savage 2009 assault of Rihanna by then-boyfriend Chris Brown which left the 20-year-old popstar hospitalised. Eminem was quick to apologise to his friend and former collaborator. “And wholeheartedly, apologies, Rihanna,” he rapped in reply, “For that song that leaked, I’m sorry, Ri. It wasn’t meant to cause you grief.”
Much to Gen Z’s dismay, Eminem also has a long history of using the homophobic slur “faggot”. One recent instance of Eminem using the term was a diss track aimed at 30-year-old rapper Tyler, The Creator in 2017. “Tyler create nothin’, I see why you called yourself a (faggot), bitch,” he raps on ‘Walk on Water’, “If you’re gonna critique me, you better at least be as good or better.” Tyler – who is believed by fans to privately identify as gay or bisexual – was, predictably offended, and expressed as much in a Tweet made in response to the diss. Once again, Eminem released an apology, expressing his deep regrets particularly around the use of a slur.
What Does Gen Z Really Think About Cancelling Eminem?
For most of his 20 plus year career, controversy has followed Eminem. The rapper and many older fans view his work as satirical. Any harm caused to others is “not serious”. Many older fans defend the artist as playing a character. What he says is not to be taken at face value.
This rings hollow for a new generation of music fans whose education has placed a heavier emphasis on explaining the negative aspects of sexism and homophobia. Many find it confusing that one one of today’s most popular rappers, one who once drove his ex-wife Kimberly Anne Scott to attempt suicide after she witnessed him beating a life-sized doll made to resemble her likeness onstage, can get away with what he does. As time goes on, more and more content from the past is being reevaluated in a less than positive light. Where once Eminem caused a scandal for being at odds with “good taste”, he is now criticised for not upholding modern ideals.
One Fan’s View on Cancelling Eminem
It would be misleading, however, to say Gen Z is unified in cancelling Eminem. Looking to know more I spoke to one fan, who disagreed with this sentiment. “I have been listening to Eminem all my life,” he shared, “and it was always pretty clear that he was playing a character – I think if he’s going to be cancelled, then there’s plenty of other rappers who couldn’t even have careers.”
He went on to talk about Freddie Dredd an artist who got his start on TikTok in early 2020. Like Eminem, whose most famously controversial lyrics have been rapped under his Slim Shady alias, Freddie Dredd also plays the part of an “alternate”, “villainous” version of himself in his music. Controversial lyrics are by no means limited to Eminem.
Cancelling Eminem or Something More?
As arguments are being made around the legitimacy of Eminem’s provocative work, a generational divide has become apparent. This makes Eminem is a particularly interesting case as few other pop-cultural figures cause such significant intergenerational division. Eminem has come under fire many times over the years for controversial lyrics. But the story of why TikTok has taken exception with Eminem runs deeper than lyrics that did not age well.
Since February 2021, a stark generational divide began playing out on TikTok. Gen Z (born 1998-2012) users have started mocking what is being called ‘Millennial Meme Culture’. Younger users began making fun of the use of emoji’s, “wine mums” and “Harry Potter houses”. A video making fun of skinny jeans was the catalyst for an onslaught of response from Millennials (born 1981-1996) defending their taste in fashion. In the past, online discourse generally consisted of Gen Z and Millennials teaming up ‘against’ Baby Boomers. This change represents another shift.
It seems like more than a coincidence that this latest Eminem controversy and these Gen Z-Millennial beefs have come to a head all at once. There is certainly a crossover between the two movements. This curtain call for Eminem may be more than a genuine attempt at exposing an individual artist. It seems to me like part of a generational war of words.
Eminem poses for a publicity photo.
Why Eminem Will Survive
Eminem has, of course, also entered the fray, releasing his ‘Tone Deaf’ music video in response to claims he was being cancelled. The track currently has over 13 million plays on Spotify and attracted attention to his latest album release. Eminem is known for not only surviving attacks against his name but taking them head-on. After all, he has released more than 15 diss tracks over the course of his career. Eminem has done what he has always done and took to music to express his frustrations.
Although #CancelEminem gained a lot of traction online, and even in news, the artist appears to have come out unscathed. Even managing to turn the movement into an opportunity to profit. Whether you agree with the content of his music or not, it’s hard to argue the movement has enough movement to topple Eminem.
While the #METOO movement removed many many from power, some of music’s most problematic figures remain in place. Regardless of the opinion of a section of the public, Eminem is an established musical force. His music and opinions find a ready reception within his millions strong and ever-loyal fanbase.
Caught Between Two Generations
As a 20-year-old, it’s easy to feel caught between the two generations. However, it is hard to look at how things have played out and not think Millennials are being overly reactionary to statements that were not actually directed at them. The format of response – dated song parodies that haven’t been popular since 2016 – just goes to show how out of touch many Millennials really are.
I think a big reason ‘cancelling Eminem’ had such a small effect on streaming is because Gen Z doesn’t actually care about Eminem. For most teens, Eminem represents a legend past his prime. To them, Eminem and his music are a relic of the past with little relevancy to today.
More than that, it has been established that, for most of Eminem’s discography, he takes on the role of a character made up of the worst parts of himself. Art is meant to subvert. An artist’s role in challenging the dominant cultural values of their day is something I strongly believe in. I don’t think artists like Eminem should be criticised for their work. Especially against modern ideals. Mainstream media has a history of letting ‘straight white men’ get away with it all too many times, but I don’t necessarily think our energy is best spent on Eminem.