Gen Z and Millennials Are at War Over the Attempted Cancellation of Eminem

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Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

From Esquire

On Friday, Eminem released an animated lyric video for the 2020 single “Tone Deaf," which appears to be a response to a TikTok campaign to cancel the 48-year-old rapper. The video, in typical antagonistic Eminem fashion, features images of disgraced figures like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein. The #canceleminem movement has highlighted a divide between Millennial Eminem fans and younger Gen Z critics.

When dropping the lyric video, he quoted the lines of his own song: “I won't stop even when my hair turns grey (I'm tone-deaf) / 'Cause they won't stop until they cancel me."

This particular clash began in February, when a TikTok user, who has since been removed from the app, uploaded a short clip from the 2010 Eminem and Rihanna song, “Love the Way You Lie.” The user called out the line, “If she ever tries to fucking leave again, I'm a tie her to the bed and set this house on fire.” In the text written over the uploaded video, the user wrote, “Yesssss lets cancel him.”

Since then, that initial post has gone viral, launching an age-old debate about the artistic value of Eminem's controversial lyrics in a time of heightened sensitivity. Posts related to the #canceleminem hashtag currently have approximately 3 million views as of Monday. A quick scroll through the videos indicates that the hashtag has been commandeered by Eminem fans who are defending the rapper. Many of these fans point out that Eminem has always been controversial and this particular Gen Z campaign is nothing new.

Another user argues that the point of "Love the Way You Lie" is to draw attention to domestic assault, referencing the fact that Rihanna, an abuse survivor who was assaulted by Chris Brown, is the featured vocalist on the song. Rihanna herself has defended the song's message in the past. "It just was authentic. It was real," Rihanna said of the song in 2010. "It was believable for us to do a record like that, but it was also something that needed to be done, and the way he did it was so clever. He pretty much just broke down the cycle of domestic violence, and it's something that a lot of people don't have a lot of insight on, so this song is a really, really powerful song, and it touches a lot of people."

But the most common refrain, from Millennials in particular, is that “Love the Way You Lie” is one of Eminem’s tamer songs, especially in comparison to songs like “Superman” and “Kim,” which features the lyrics:

You and your husband have a fight
One of you tries to grab a knife
And during the struggle he accidentally gets his Adam's apple sliced
And while this is going on, his son just woke up
And he walks in, she panics, and he gets his throat cut
So now they both dead
And you slash your own throat
So now it's double homicide and suicide with no note

This appears to be the most popular defense of Eminem among older generations: Eminem's music has always been controversial, and critics have been attempting to bring him down for his entire career. Users have also pointed out the long list of feuds and disputes Eminem has been a part of over the years, most of which he emerged from relatively unscathed. In the past few years, amid the age of public outcry for celebrity accountability, Eminem has largely evaded any kind of tangible blowback for his lyrics, which have glorified misogyny, domestic abuse, homophobia, and murder.

This particular debate comes at a time when Gen Z has been labeled as "puritanical" by older generations because of popular campaigns to "cancel porn," recognize Call Me By Your Name as a film about grooming, and mock Hamilton.

While "Tone Deaf" was released in January of 2020, long before this current campaign to cancel Eminem, the song serves an unsurprising example of how the provocateur has responded to critics throughout his entire career. In the song, Eminem—always one to take the bait—doubles down on his reputation, pushing back against cancel culture and alleging that “they won’t stop until they cancel me.” He also references a number of powerful men whose crimes against women have landed them in prison in recent years:

But ask me, will I stick to my guns like adhesive tape?
Does Bill Cosby sedate once he treats the cheesecake and the decent steak?
You think gettin' rid of me's a piece of cake?
I'm harder than findin' Harvey Weinstein a date (Haha)

This all comes from the playbook Eminem has used throughout his entire career. And while Eminem will likely dodge any serious cancellation effort, as he always has, this conflict represents an ongoing divide between Millennials and Gen Z when it comes to re-examining popular culture. If anything, this seems to highlight the shifting of Eminem's own legacy, and why he's seemed so increasingly concerned with how he'll be remembered.

Eminem has always used these conversations as a way to promote and brand himself as an outsider. And as we've seen in recent months, any serious attempt to "cancel" someone can seriously backfire, which has been the case with Morgan Wallen's domination of the charts after being filmed using a racial slur and Dr. Seuss books occupying 13 of the top 20 best selling books on Amazon after the Seuss estate suspended production of six rather obscure Seuss titles. As of Monday afternoon, Eminem holds seven of the top 30 spots on Apple's Hip Hop and Rap albums chart. It seems that, at least for now, Eminem isn't really going anywhere.

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