Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a beautiful song. Rihanna’s vocals are gorgeous; it’s was hard to not feel heartfelt while listening to them. And that’s the problem. It’s a powerful form of socialization. That we might internalize the message that passionate love and incontrollable rage go hand-in-hand is really very scary. It suggests not only that you should tolerate interpersonal violence but that, if there is no violence in your relationship, perhaps you don’t really love one another.
Look me in the eyeball
Next time I'm pissed
I'll aim my fist
At the dry wall
There will be no next time
Even though I know it's lies
I'm tired of the games
I just want her back
I know I'm a liar
If she ever tries to fucking leave again
I'mma tie her to the bed
And set the house on fire
Graphic and shocking was largely the point. The song was authored by Eminem, who then asked to collaborate with Rihanna, in part because of her history as an intimate partner violence (IPV) victim (listen here for an excellent discussion on Rihanna, Chris Brown, and the gendered politics of IPV). Against my general principles, I dug into the "bee-bop" popular culture internet sites to see what I could find about how this song and video were intended to address IPV. In fact, there are direct connections being made between the video and IPV.
For instance, Megan Fox has donated her video appearance fee to a shelter for battered women. And in a VH1 interview with Rihanna, the music star explains her and Eminem's personal connection to the song's theme:
"It's something that, you know, [Eminem and I have] both experienced, you know, on different sides, different ends of the table," she said.
"It just was authentic. It was real," Rihanna continued. "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 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."
Ultimately, the song was something Rihanna felt was in line with her past relationship. "The lyrics were so deep, so beautiful and intense. It's something that I understood, something I connected with," she revealed.
Dominic Monaghan ads:
"The concept of 'Love the Way You Lie' was essentially a look at the relationship that Eminem was in with his wife, Kim, so I kind of felt like I was playing Eminem a little bit, and Megan Fox was kind of playing Kim.
"It's the story of them getting to know each other, and it's the story of their tumultuous relationship, and it was the story of the breakdown of their relationship," he continued. "Ultimately, what I think he's trying to say in the song ... is that he should have walked away a little bit quicker than he did and not let it get as messy as it did."
In my dissertation, adolescent research participants spoke quite openly about the ways they saw IPV as completely normal. These were teens who had experienced multiple forms of violence throughout their lives (peer, family, romantic, drug, physical, verbal) -- certainly not the average college student. I wonder what their interpretations would be.
As for the video, I think maybe it has good intentions, especially using two artists who have a history with IPV, but I don't think it will be beneficial. Using [Dominic Monaghan] and Megan Fox (a sex symbol for everyone today) [it] seems to glorify the topic by using two high end celebrities. This video seemed like it wanted to make domestic violence look sexy and possessiveness look masculine.
...an image containing references to pop music culture might be seen by a young audience as an index of freedom and heterogeneity, whilst to an older audience it might signal manipulation and homgeneity. Which codes are mobilized will largely depend on the triple context of the location of the text, the historical moment and the cultural formation of the reader (p. 80).
The song's and video's influence will likely diminish over time. Nonetheless, "Love The Way You Lie" demonstrates how people's readings of the same cultural product can vary greatly, and how received meanings can be shaped more by audiences' past experiences than by the cultural producers.
Non Internet Sources:
Storey, J. (1993). An Introductory Guide to Cultural Theory and Popular Culture. Athens: University of Georgia Press.