Although his recent album commendably took on Trump, the rapper's new video is tediously unwoke
Eminem’s new single ‘Framed’ is one of the least impressive tracks from his extremely uneven latest album ‘Revival’, so it’s perhaps appropriate that the song’s recent video should be so disappointing and lame. The album was notable for the fact that it saw Marshall Mathers – albeit rather clumsily – take aim at the Trump administration, an organisation whose voter base greatly overlapped with the rapper’s fans. Alienating the people that bought his records and continue to make him a millionaire: a good look and a commendable move.
The album’s unevenness is two-fold. First: it is almost entirely devoid of hooks, formed instead from a tumble of stream-of-conscious verses, so far removed from current hip-hop that the New York Times dubbed it “outsider art”. Second: ‘Revival’ sees Em oscillate between insightful social commentary (“Fuck your Republican views / Pull ourselves up by our bootstraps? Where the fuck are the boots?) and the dumb, abrasive, violent, misogynistic – you name it – provocation that made him middle America’s worst nightmare back in the late ‘90s.
‘Framed’ finds him in the latter mode. The video opens with a news broadcast in which the reporter explains: “It’s been a terrifying two weeks in the city of Detroit after Marshall Mathers, professionally known as Eminem, escaped from an asylum. Right now he’s barricaded inside of that home right there behind me.” We see an abandoned wheelchair in a Victorian-looking psychiatric ward, mutilated and dismembered bodies strewn over a living room floor and a blood-splattered Eminem affecting involuntary twitches meant to convey his madness.
The video is an atmospheric pastiche of horror movie tropes – darkened woodland, a killer on the loose – which must lead us to ask: is Eminem seriously doing a joke about ‘mental’ people in 2018? The same joke that Kasabian made with their grimly ill-judged ‘You’re In Love With A Psycho’ video last year? Did no-one send these privileged, rich dudes the memo about increased awareness of mental health issues? And before you start, let me stop you there: yes, it does matter, even – especially! – if the video is meant to be lighthearted. 20 years on, tediously unwoke Em is starting to wear thin.
Last year, he told Vulture: “I have no issue with someone’s sexuality, religion, race, none of that. Anyone who’s followed my music knows I’m against bullies — that’s why I hate that fucking bully Trump — and I hate the idea that a kid who’s gay might get shit for it.” Weirdly, though, punching down on people with mental health issues looks a lot like bullying, doesn’t it? As the informative American website mentalhealth.gov points out: “People with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.”
The following statement goes without saying, but for posterity: pop culture has greatly overplayed the link between mental illness and violent crime. In 2016 a study was conducted into this link, and concluded that 4% of violence in America can be attributed to mental illness alone. It found: “Evidence is clear that the large majority of people with mental disorders do not engage in violence against others, and that most violent behaviour is due to factors other than mental illness.”
Those who reckon none of this matters – that the ‘Framed’ video is all just a joke, man – may underestimate the progress that’s been made in the last two decades in discussions around mental health. Looking at America for the purposes of this article, it’s staggering – and heartening – to consider the number of high-profile figures who’ve come out in recent years to reduce the stigma around mental health issues: Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, Kid Cudi, Pete Wentz and, just this week, Dwayne Johnson, a man widely seen as the embodiment of masculinity and strength.
Newsflash: Eminem has done something insensitive and provocative. We’ve had a taste of smart, socially conscious Em, though, and it’s a shame to see the rapper fall back on the same old lazy tropes. Even the lyrics on ‘Framed’ are a throwback to 2000’s ‘Who Knew’, on which he reminds everyone that – for all the moral panic – he’s a rapper, not a murderer. More than two decades into his career, it’s perhaps time for Marshall Mathers to decide if he wants to be taken seriously or not.