The Ones Of The ’10s: Eminem’s “The Monster” (Feat. Rihanna)

In The Ones of the ’10s, I’m reviewing every single that hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the 2010s and working my way up into the present.


Eminem- “The Monster” (feat. Rihanna)

HIT #1: December 21, 2013

STAYED AT #1: 4 weeks

In his Popcorn Champs movie review column, Tom Breihan talks about how the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series has become the type of franchise that continually pumps out movies that reliably make a lot of money but ultimately leaves little impact on the popular culture after people see it. It may capture people’s attention at the moment thanks to name recognition but it’s not enough to last beyond that.

That description Tom made perfectly describes what I’ve noticed about Eminem and his recent music. Eminem is an artist that lots of people take seriously even well after his imperial and creative peak. Anytime he puts out something, people take notice. The new album he releases will spawn several hits and sell pretty well but once the initial hype dies down those songs and albums quickly disappear from public memory. 

This activity explains why Nielsen Soundscan named Eminem as the best-selling male artist of the entire 2010s in their decade-end report last year and among artists overall finished third behind Adele and Taylor Swift. You probably don’t think of Eminem much as a ‘10s artist but he’s managed to remain a major commercial force even if his newer music isn’t going to be well remembered compared to his ’90s and ‘00s material. All of this culminating in his fifth and so far final #1 hit “The Monster,” a song whose video is coincidentally directed by someone who was involved with the Pirates of the Caribbean series.

At the beginning of the ‘10s, Eminem came back big after a late ‘00s nadir with Recovery, the best-selling album of 2010 in America which launched two #1 hits, the forgettable “Not Afraid” and the controversy bait Rihanna collaboration “Love The Way You Lie.” For the next few years, Eminem kept busy. As a guest, he hit #4 with 2011’s “I Need A Doctor” between his regular collaborators Dr. Dre and Skylar Grey. Also in 2011, he hit #4 as part of his Bad Meets Evil duo with the Bruno Mars collaboration “Lighters.” (Both songs are 4s.) When it came to his next album, Eminem decided to make the musical equivalent of a blockbuster sequel directly calling back to his older work.

For 2013’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2, a sequel to his 2000 best-selling The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem brought on a lot of collaborators and producers including Dr. Dre, producer of the first Marshall Mathers LP, and Rick Rubin who both served as executive producers here. The album helped to further his comeback immediately launching several big hits. The first single, the Rubin-produced rock-heavy sampling “Berzerk,” had a big premiere in Beats By Dr. Dre commercials that aired during the 2013 Video Music Awards and got enough buzz to debut and peak the week after at #3. (It’s a 6.) After the second single “Survival” peaked at #16, the next single “Rap God,” a song noted for having the most amount of words ever in a hit single, brought Eminem back into the Top 10 peaking at #7. (It’s a 5.) But to go all the way, it was the song with the Rihanna sung hook that did the trick.

The origins of “The Monster” start with Bebe Rexha. By 2013, Rexha was a songwriter struggling to create her first album. Her difficulties with the music business began inspiring a song after a quote she found that went, “We stop looking for the monsters under our beds when we realize they’re inside of us.” She brought her idea to fellow singer-songwriter Jon Bellion at a session who created the melody and with Rexha came up with lyrics around the monster metaphor touching on her industry struggles originally titling it as “Monster Under My Bed.” The song was then sent to Eminem’s camp with his producer Bryan “Frequency” Fryzel sharing the song to his label’s A&R who liked the song. Working with Frequency, Eminem wrote his verses and then brought on Rihanna to once again sing the hook now returned as “The Monster.” Some of Rexha’s vocals remained on the final cut but through her involvement “The Monster” ultimately became bigger than anything else she ever did. (Bebe Rexha’s highest-charting single, the 2017 Florida George Line collab “Meant To Be,” peaked at #2. It’s a 3. Jon Bellion’s highest-charting single, 2016’s “All Time Low,” peaked at #16.)

“The Monster” is obviously an attempt to recreate “Love The Way You Lie.” Not only was it a #1 hit but became both artist’s best-selling single so it only made sense that a sequel would be made. Only, they was already a sequel. Later in 2010, a “Love The Way You Lie” sequel titled “Love The Way You Lie (Part II)” was included on Rihanna’s album Loud flipping the perspectives. But the song was not released as a single and therefore was not a hit. They also teamed up for “Numb,” a track from Rihanna’s 2012 Unapologetic album. “The Monster,” though was the real sequel, another team up set to dominate the charts. Aside from pure marketing, Rihanna also acted as a perfect messenger for Eminem’s lyrics with her honeyed voice helping to sweeten his songs for mainstream acceptance.

Like a lot of blockbuster sequels, The Marshall Mathers LP 2 suffers from bloat and tired-out ideas that make the whole thing feel longer than it needs to. “The Monster” shows up in the second half and at about four minutes is one of the shortest songs on an album where songs regularly run upwards of six or seven minutes. Lyrically, the song is squarely about Eminem as he reflects on his career, the fame, and how he has struggled with it. He raps about wanting to be famous but not become big of a celebrity to where he appears on the cover of Newsweek, wanted the privacy that someone of his stature doesn’t really get, realizes the need for intervention, and talks about his dreams to be able to walk around and be treated like a normal person which will probably not happen. To him, the monster is fame and it becomes so addicting that he becomes friends with it to where he rejects any interventions to save him.

These lyrics make for an interesting character study if only the song itself was interesting. I’m not an avid follower of the Eminem saga but I have to imagine for those that are, a song like “The Monster” feels played out. You’ve heard this all before. There are some things I like about “The Monster.” The strumming acoustic guitar that plays during the chorus and the dark production courtesy of Frequency and Aaron “Aalias” Kleinstub hooks you in. Rihanna’s performance isn’t hugely special but through her chorus manages to sell the paranoid and suffocating nature of the song that Eminem can’t really get across in his parts. But for the most part, “The Monster” just exists as another catchy yet slight piece of music that you can hear, sing along with the chorus, and immediately forget about after you listen to it.

Chris Molanphy, who started his ongoing Why Is This Song Number One series on “The Monster,” makes a good point that “Love The Way You Lie,” for all its personal backstory was about something and ultimately felt more compelling than “The Monster” does. It’s a pure sequel and naturally, people went crazy over it.

For “The Monster” music video, Eminem and Rihanna worked with Rich Lee who had worked with Eminem before directing his videos for “Not Afraid” and “Rap God” as well as in relation to this column the Black Eyed Peas’ “Imma Be.” Lee manages to effectively translate the character study nature of the lyrics to the screen centering the video as a therapy session. Rihanna is playing Eminem’s therapist but she doesn’t talk. She puts a tape into the TV that is one long slideshow of Eminem’s career all as he watches on the couch. As the song starts, Eminem finds himself trapped in an elevator being forced to watch his past selves from his previous music videos and performances. The video doesn’t raise the song too much but through its dark look and setup it makes for an entertaining visual.

The Marshall Mathers LP 2 was released in November 2013 and as usual with Eminem, it was an instant hit debuting at #1 on the album charts and after getting knocked out the week after to Lady Gaga’s Artpop went back to the top for one more week. The album sold about 1.7 million copies in 2013 alone to finish as the year’s #2 album behind only Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience and has since been certified at four times platinum. The album though did not have many more hits after “The Monster.” Its fifth and final single, the Nate Ruess collab “Headlights” stalled at #45.

Rihanna will eventually appear in this column again but Eminem will not. Since “The Monster,” Eminem has continued to release albums and singles to varying success. The next album, 2017’s Revival, proved so divisive with critics that Eminem quickly followed it up the next year with Kamikaze, an album released with little notice to prove he could still deliver. Eminem used the same marketing tactic for his latest album, 2020’s Music to Be Murdered By. All three albums went to #1 and sold well but not to the figures he had before. He’s also still been making hits. He’s gotten as high as #3 twice in the past eight years first with 2018’s “Killshot,” a non-album single directed at fellow rapper Machine Gun Kelly, and the 2020 Juice WRLD collab “Godzilla” from Music To Be Murdered By. (Both songs are 3s.)

Outside of his music, Eminem is still big enough of a celebrity to capture the public’s attention whether it’d be performing a freestyle at the 2017 BET Hip Hop Awards that went after Donald Trump to making a surprise appearance at the 2020 Oscars to perform his 2002 #1 classic “Lose Yourself” 17 years after it won Best Original Song. Eminem didn’t appear at the Oscars when the song won at the 2003 ceremony for its use in 8 Mile so his 2020 performance was him accepting the award however belatedly.

Considering his recent schedule, Eminem will probably release another album soon. Like his recent albums, the next one will probably be big for 15 minutes before fading from memory as has become routine.

GRADE: 5/10

BONUS BEATS: Here’s the pretty nice acoustic mashup of “The Monster” and Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” that YouTube guitarist Megan Davies posted in 2014 with her sister:

(“Wake Me Up” peaked at #4. It’s an 8.)

BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the video for YouTuber Bart Baker’s 2014 parody of “The Monster:”

BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s YouTuber Mikey Bolts performing “The Monster” in the voices of Family Guy characters:

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Eminem and Rihanna have performed “The Monster” together a few times and even did a small summer tour together in 2014. Here’s the two of them performing the song at the 2014 MTV Movie Awards:

10 thoughts on “The Ones Of The ’10s: Eminem’s “The Monster” (Feat. Rihanna)

  1. I lost track of Eminem’s stuff really from 2007 or so… I’m pretty sure I could still have a stab at rapping ‘Without Me’ in its entirety (a sign of how huge he was back in the early ’00s, that fact that I once knew all the words). It is impressive how he still manages to have hit records – he had a UK #1 just last year – though they simply don’t impact on the general public these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah I was way too young for Eminem when he was at his most culturally relevant in the early ’00s but his hits like “Lose Yourself” and “The Real Slim Shady” still get plays. Everything that Eminem has put out after has an inessential feel to it. Not that there are moments where he can still deliver but you’re not missing much without his recent material. His continued success over the past decade has just been the big fans going crazy and not much else to sustain it. But at this point in his career, that’s pretty much all you need. And I’ll get to talk more about Eminem in my Best Sellers column with him having the best-selling albums of both 2002 and 2010 with The Eminem Show and Recovery respectively representing two different aspects of his career.

      Think you’ll find this interesting with the latest Number Ones review at how this weird British rock hit from the ’70s got turned into a forgettable American #1 by making it sound like everything else on the radio in 1989

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is interesting though, as streaming has kind of ended the idea of ‘fan base’ acts scoring hits. That was reliant on CDs being released and bought in a rush the week they were released. So for Eminem to still score hits as a streaming artist, 20+ years in to his career, is an anomaly really.

        That ‘Rock On’ cover is very odd… I wonder if the late-80s was the time of the biggest disparity between the UK and US charts, at least in terms of the number ones. We were going wild for SAW, while the US was going for that soft-rock, Depeche Mode-lite sound

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah Eminem is a true anomaly nowadays.

        In many circles, 1989 has gotten this bad reputation as one of the worst years for the charts. Granted, some great stuff was happening musically in the US like new jack swing and rap music reaching its golden age of creativity while making more and more of an impact on the charts. Even in pop, you had moments like Madonna’s Like a Prayer album and Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814. But aside from that, a lot of the big music in 1989 is stuff like “Rock On”, obnoxiously slick and watered down music with a lot of the big trends that defined the ‘80s getting stale. You also still have a lot of the boring ballads and boomer yuppie pablum. It’s telling that this was the time when people and radio stations were going crazy for songs of the recent past with “Red Red Wine” getting to #1 here five years after its release in fall 1988 and in winter 1989 the weak power ballad “When I’m With You” was a #1 hit six years after it came out by a band that was already broken up. Perhaps people at the time weren’t liking the new songs dominating.

        In terms of the UK and US chart disparities, I’d put the ‘90s and ‘00s as when it was at its biggest with all the Britpop, manufactured pop groups, and reality show acts dominating in the UK while not making much of a dent across the pond outside of the really big acts. Though I noticed the UK charts didn’t have the ‘90s US chart issue of big songs like “Killing Me Softly,” “Men In Black,” and “Don’t Speak” not charting due to labels not releasing them as retail singles which on Billboard was required to chart until 1998 when it became big enough that it was jeopardizing their integrity. The labels wanted more money made off the albums so they would withhold an act’s biggest song from commercial release to entice people to buy the full piece meaning much of the mid to late ‘90s Billboard charts are inaccurate to what was truly popular.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, I agree, he’s a large fanbase act that doesn’t impact much beyond that these days – Monster was a top 40 hit for me in my charts, and as you suggest, I don’t recall a thing about it 8 years later – but I do remember and rate Love The Way You Lie, his last great single. The best thing he’s done since is the track from the movie Venom, and that’s at best a top 20 track rather than a top 5 substantial great. In terms of superstars reflecting on how miserable they are with Fame, poor things having to cope going through life with bags of money and the ability to do whatever they want and get whatever they want, or get the help they need to help them with their issues, my heart bleeds for them. The rest of us can SO relate to that it’s great that they feel the need to share it!

    That might sound a little unsympathetic, and I don’t the support immoral abuse of celebrities by anyone if that’s the issue, but the solutions are easy: retire, or get a job doing something else out of the public eye like 99.9999% of people in the world do. Anything beyond that comes over as whining about being rich and successful, oops!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m gradually posting all my charts (started in 1968 as a kid, sporadically, and then weekly from 1971 onwards) but I went digital in 1997 so have a complete spreadsheet of chart peaks for that period, work in progress for the years before ’97. Eminem’s run goes like this (Highest pos/wks on chart/song/act/sales/year):

        22 9 MY NAME IS.. Eminem 128900 1999
        19 13 THE REAL SLIM SHADY (198,000) Eminem 192200 2000
        72 2 THE WAY I AM Eminem 10600 2000
        5 17 WITHOUT ME Eminem 451100 2002
        6 13 LOSE YOURSELF Eminem 321150 2002
        40 8 BUSINESS Eminem 108900 2003
        26 11 JUST LOSE IT Eminem 159450 2004
        71 1 THE REAL SLIM SHADY Eminem 5800 2004
        69 3 ASS LIKE THAT Eminem 17400 2005
        72 1 MOCKINGBIRD Eminem 5600 2005
        73 1 SHAKE THAT Eminem 5400 2006
        46 4 WE MADE YOU Eminem 35100 2009
        60 3 BEAUTIFUL Eminem 20000 2009
        72 1 NOT AFRAID Eminem 5600 2010
        36 4 SPACE BOUND Eminem 56800 2011
        25 6 VENOM Eminem 86250 2018
        67 3 SING FOR THE MOMENT Eminem featuring Aerosmith 18800 2003
        3 17 STAN Eminem featuring Dido 506150 2000
        74 1 STAN Eminem featuring Dido 5200 2011
        20 8 GUILTY CONSCIENCE Eminem featuring Dr Dre 112100 1999
        50 5 CRACK A BOTTLE Eminem featuring Dr Dre & 50 Cent 47100 2009
        59 3 RIVER Eminem featuring Ed Sheeran 24400 2018
        61 3 THOSE KINDA NIGHTS Eminem featuring Ed Sheeran 21500 2020
        66 2 NO MORE Eminem featuring L’il Joe & Haddaway 13600 2010
        19 9 LIKE TOY SOLDIERS Eminem featuring Martika 106050 2004
        4 15 LOVE THE WAY YOU LIE Eminem featuring Rihanna 456100 2010
        35 9 THE MONSTER Eminem featuring Rihanna 106100 2014

        Some of the “featuring”s are just me giving credit for samples, and the “sales” are chart points I allocate to songs in my charts (based on some UK sales I got hold of for a UK chart in 1976, and applied to all my charts over the years), and he’s not had that many huge tracks, but he’s had a lot of tracks….

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I listened to the Bebe Rexha demo, and let me just say that I’m glad that she was relegated to backing vocals, because good lord is she not a good singer. Anyway, I like this song, if only because the chorus might just have the catchiest melody I’ve ever heard (well, that and Domino by Jessie J).

    Liked by 1 person

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