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Track Review

It's an old, old story: the once passionate flames of love lashing out of control and laying waste to the very relationship that first stoked them. And it's the story behind Eminem's latest hit, "Love the Way You Lie," a song that's topped the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks.

That surge of popularity has no doubt been fueled by guest singer Rihanna's hauntingly melodic contribution to the song's chorus: "Just gonna stand there and watch me burn/Well, that's all right, because I like the way it hurts/Just gonna stand there and hear me cry/Well, that's all alright, because I love the way you lie."

If the chorus hints at the willful dysfunction of remaining in a relationship fraught with peril and the threat of violence—an experience Rihanna knows something about given her high-profile abuse at the hands of ex-boyfriend Chris Brown—the remainder of the song offers a raw glimpse at the jarring juxtaposition of love and hate.

Eminem's verses contrast the maddening mystery of how a love that began so sweetly could devolve into something so toxic. "You meet, and neither one of you even know what hit 'em," he chants. "Got that warm, fuzzy feeling, yeah, them chills, used to get 'em." But then, "Now you're gettin' f‑‑‑in' sick of lookin' at 'em."

Contempt soon spirals into violence: "You swore you'd never hit 'em, never do anything to hurt 'em/Now you're in each other's faces spewing venom in your words when you spit 'em/You push, pull each other's hair, scratch, claw, bit 'em/Throw 'em down, pin 'em, so lost in the moments when you're in 'em."

Eminem, who's battled through his own infamously stormy relationship with ex-wife Kimberly Scott (whom he married and divorced twice), demonstrates here a firsthand understanding of the psychology behind the cycle of domestic abuse—but not its resolution. At first, there's a genuine desire to do better ("But you promised her, next time you'd show restraint"), then pleas for one more chance ("Come inside, pick your bags back off the sidewalk/Don't you hear sincerity in my voice when I talk?"), half-hearted vows to change ("Next time I'm p‑‑‑ed, I'll aim my fist at the drywall"), inevitable failure ("And we fall back into the same patterns, same routine"), responsibility-deflecting excuses ("But your temper's just as bad as mine/ … Maybe that's what happens when a tornado meets a volcano").

Tempers eventually flare fiercely again, and the cycle of violence escalates to the point of a chilling homicidal threat: "Next time? There won't be no next time/ … If she ever tries to f‑‑‑in' leave again, I'ma tie her to the bed and set the house on fire."

The video stars high-profile actors Dominic Monaghan ( Lost, The Lord of the Rings) and Megan Fox ( Transformers, Jennifer's Body) as a combustible couple acting out—quite literally—several scenes from the song. Many of the scenes take place at home, where the two alternately kiss passionately and unleash their rage against each other in flurries of fists and feet. Monaghan sticks to the script and puts his fist through a wall at one point. Alcohol plays an obvious role fueling both passion and jealousy, and the result is a visceral vignette that forcefully captures the desperate, hopeless essence of the song.

So Eminem's collaboration with Rihanna delivers a dark, violent and profane cautionary tale. But it does a far better job of documenting the devastating downward spiral of domestic abuse than it does pointing toward any real escape from it.

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Seven weeks and counting atop the Billboard Hot 100.

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June 18, 2010

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Adam R. Holz

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