Like a needy, motor-mouthed grizzly bear, Eminem emerged from hibernation Friday morning to slap the unsuspecting public across the face with his patented mix of sensationalism and provocation set to a sick beat.
If everyone but him was offended, so be it. At least people were talking.
“Darkness,” the lead single from Eminem’s surprise album “Music To Be Murdered By” and the only song on it to be accompanied by a music video, evokes the Route 91 Harvest festival massacre with the rapper taking aim at gun violence and, at times, putting himself in the mind of shooter Stephen Paddock.
However you feel about “Darkness” — and, no doubt, emotions are more raw in Las Vegas than they are anywhere else — at least it’s more nuanced than “I’m Back.” That track, off Eminem’s breakthrough album, “The Marshall Mathers LP,” seemed to find the rapper sympathizing with school shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold just 13 months after the 1999 killings at Columbine High School.
“I take seven kids from Columbine, stand ’em all in line / Add an AK-47, a revolver, a 9 / A MAC-11 and it oughtta solve the problem of mine / And that’s a whole school of bullies shot up all at one time.” Shortly thereafter, he goofed on ’NSync before rapping about how badly he wanted to sleep with Jennifer Lopez.
Then there’s this beaut from “Criminal” off the same album: “Hey, it’s me, Versace! Whoops, somebody shot me!”
With “Darkness,” Eminem bemoans that, because the shooter was a licensed gun owner with no prior convictions, “The sky’s the limit / So my supply’s infinite, strapped like I’m a soldier.” There’s also the senselessness of the tragedy and the sinking feeling that the motives for it, however nonsensical, will never be revealed: “If you’d like to know the reason why I did this / You’ll never find a motive, truth is I have no idea / I am just as stumped, no signs of mental illness.”
Eminem isn’t the first artist to come out against gun violence. He isn’t the tenth or the hundredth.
Madonna used an eight-minute video for “God Control,” from her 2019 album “Madame X,” to simulate a mass shooting inside a nightclub very much like the one at Orlando’s Pulse in 2016.
Rapper Childish Gambino’s 2018 single “This Is America,” as well as its arresting music video, called out the inescapability of gun violence in the U.S. on its way to winning four Grammys, including record of the year and song of the year.
The “Darkness” video, which shows a man in a hooded sweatshirt eventually opening fire out a hotel window, is a blend of realism and artistic license. References to the shooter taking Valium and placing a video camera on a room service cart in the hotel hallway are far more accurate than the bottles of booze that litter the room or the shooter killing himself as police were about to breach his door.
As uncomfortable as those re-creations can be to watch, Eminem handles them with far more concern than another act of terror from 2017. Elsewhere on “Music to Be Murdered By,” the song “Unaccommodating” reduces the bombing of England’s Manchester Arena that killed 23 people, including the perpetrator, to a throwaway joke: “I’m contemplating yelling ‘Bombs away’ on the game / Like I’m outside of an Ariana Grande concert waiting.”
“Darkness” isn’t even the first piece of entertainment to use the Las Vegas tragedy to induce queasiness. On the Apple TV Plus series “The Morning Show,” when the news crew descends on the city hours after the shooting, a senior member of the show preys on the vulnerability of a young staffer, who’s spent the day interviewing victims and their loved ones, to get her into bed.
To some, Eminem’s message will be obscured by the political statement at the video’s end: “Make your voice heard and help change gun laws in America.”
To others, the song comes off as a far cry from “Ohio,” the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young reaction to the 1970 shootings at Kent State.
But Eminem has, at least for one news cycle, gotten people’s attention.
Even if, as the song’s closing lyrics note, “By the time it’s over, (it) won’t make the slightest difference.”