Eminem and Rihanna
August 7, 2014
Now that all hip-hop and R&B superstars are required to tour with a “buddy” (see: Jay Z and Beyonce, Drake and Lil Wayne, Jay Z and Justin Timberlake) Eminem and Rihanna are kind of a cool pairing, at least on paper. Equally compelling are their differences — race, sex, country of origin, skill set, their generation gap — and their similarities, particularly their shared history of having been victims of abuse.
Unfortunately, they have nothing resembling chemistry, as was apparent from moment one last night at the Rose Bowl. A short film started things off: A buttoned-up Rihanna entered a prison, where Eminem was locked-up inside of some sort of solitary pod. For untold years, he'd had nothing to do except eat dry cereal and watch cartoons, he complained, cursing her for not coming sooner. She proceeded to curse him back, and then she left. That was it, the video was over. Never was it explained how the characters knew each other.
Then, IRL, Rihanna rose out of the stage's floor, clad in what resembled a black-and-yellow leather Zubaz outfit over a crop-top. Eminem was tied to a gurney, Hannibal Lecter-style. Thus began two hours and a half hours of lip synching.
The Crowd: People who were three-quarters white and one-quarter something else.
At a urinal, a guy with tattoos on his head in lieu of hair asked me if I had some yayo. I didn't, but most everyone else was getting sloppy, which is a good indication of a crowd's level of passion for the performers.
And, indeed, Eminem is almost impossible not to like. Anyone who can rap about raping his mother and brutally killing his wife and still maintain an ardent female fan base knows how to walk some sort of line, and with him the trick seems to be his infectious enthusiasm. He gives 150,000 percent, always, and even if you think what he's doing is corny, you never doubt his commitment to craft.
Sure, he let the backing track do the vast, vast majority of the heavy lifting last night. He was only actually, audibly rapping on a handful of songs, including slower ones like “Stan.” His lip-synching was especially obvious because he's so animated, constantly gesticulating in a way that pulls the mic away from his mouth, mid-lyric.
But hey, that energy. He does this cool hopping-around-on-his-toes thing while he's performing, which is sort of like dancing, but more like he just stepped into a boxing ring and is preparing for the fight.
He started the show in a black hoodie; he and Rihanna performed some songs together, and then she did her set. He came back out wearing a gray hoodie. At certain other points he wore a green cap, white t-shirt, black t-shirt, and dorky camo shorts. What can he say? He's hot. A girl held up a sign saying she'd like to be introduced to the monster inside of his pants.
And Rihanna's hot too. Too hot, probably, to the point where she thinks she doesn't have to try very hard. While a cavalcade of dancers behind her sweated their asses off, she could barely be bothered to move, save for some slithering and occasional lazy rubs of her Zubaz crotch, like Michael Jackson on Xanax.
The pair have some hit songs together, and those came off especially well, particularly the closer “The Monster,” but otherwise it was hard for them to figure out ways to collaborate. Rihanna gets points for singing the Dido part on “Stan” (she was actually singing on that one, and in general you could hear her live voice much more often than his), and pulled out her island patois on T.I.'s “Live Your Life.” But the other mash-ups were weird. Ri's part on Jay Z's “Run This Town” segued into Eminem's verse on Jay's “Renegade,” which sent the crowd for a loop. (There were no guest appearances of note at the show, which is also a trend for these stadium/arena buddy rap spectaculars of late.) One wondered why she couldn't do, say, Martika's part on “Like Toy Soldiers.”
In any case, touring is hard. One gets the sense that Eminem overcorrects for any sense of ennui/fatigue by being extra-excitable and jittery. There was one particularly absurd moment when he was performing karaoke on “Berzerk,” a record about bringing back old-school hip-hop. In one moment his rapping gets very fast on that song, and the crowd was egging him on as he gesticulated wildly. But he wasn't really rapping, and this wasn't old school hip-hop at all. This was a giant cash cow tour intended to give as wide an audience as possible as smooth an experience as possible.
But, as previously noted, he tries so hard it's difficult to get mad at him. Near the end of the show he did a medley of the lead singles from his first three big albums, “My Name Is,” “The Real Slim Shady,” and “Without Me.” He wanted to please. Rihanna seemed to have no such interest. On “Umbrella,” she seemed bored out of her mind.
Oh, and another thing; everyone on stage kept addressing the crowd as “Cali,” which annoyed the pants off of my friend Brook, with good reason. For future reference:
“Los Angeles” > “Southern California” > “City of Angels” > “La La Land” > “Land of Fruits and Nuts” > “Pasadena” > “Cali”
“Thanks Cali, hope we get to do this again soon,” Rihanna said near the end, seemingly ready for bed. She seemed to forget that she and Eminem are, in fact, performing again at the same location tonight.