Few would have suspected that the hot-headed, brilliant rapper who lyrically lacerated his twice-divorced ex-wife Kim would find chart-topping satisfaction with this eloquent hit single, one of the most accessible, albeit troubled, romantic numbers in his career. From Eminem‘s seventh full-length album, “Recovery,” “Love the Way You Lie” is fictional, but the man born Marshall Mathers clearly identifies with the anger and self-hatred of his narrator.
The father of three daughters told Rolling Stone in a November 25 cover story that he continues to grapple with his lack of trust toward women. Unlike other Eminem tracks that bandy violent themes with cartoonishly over-the-top imagery or gross-out black humor (“’97 Bonnie and Clyde”), “Love the Way You Lie” looks straight at the switchback duplicity of its tortured, anguished teller. Alternately defensive and conciliatory, the song has a total absence of irony and a gravity that reflects the now two years-plus clean-and-sober Em, with spare piano, acoustic guitar, and dead serious strings. The narrator says, “I love you too much / To walk away though / Come inside / Pick up your bags off the sidewalk / Don’t you hear the sincerity / In my voice when I talk / Told you this is my fault / Look me in the eyeball / Next time I’m pissed / I’ll aim my fist / At the dry wall / Next time / There will be no next time / I apologize / Even though I know it’s lies.”
Eminem’s emotionally pointed and psychologically precise rap pushes forward in raw contrast to the melodic elegance and ache of Rihanna’s vocal hook. Her part hinges on the double entendre foregrounded in the video starring Megan Fox and Dominic Monaghan of “Lost.” They play a couple caught in bedroom repose when not entangled in game-playing lies, playing out a mutually destructive tryst that burns so hot, it threatens to engulf them. Of course, Rihanna’s personal backstory — her 2009 pre-Grammys assault by then boyfriend Chris Brown — brings an almost masochistic dimension to her verse: “Just going to stand there / And watch me burn / But that’s all right / Because I like / The way it hurts.” All elements conspire to make the song Eminem’s fourth No. 1 and Rihanna’s sixth, tying her with Mariah Carey, Beyonce, and Lady Gaga as an artist with the most No. 1s in Billboard’s history.