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.

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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:

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