On December 15, 2017, Eminem released an album called Revival. He and singer Ed Sheeran collaborated on the song “River,” which I heard for the first time last December. A music video of “River” was released on February 14, 2018. Here I would like to address the fictional characters in that video, in which a drama layers over the music.
The song is about two men who forced women to have abortions.
In the chorus, Ed Sheeran cries alligator tears over his lapsed moral character, as he asks for holy water to wash over him like rain and absolve his sins. He reasons:
Well, little one, I don’t want to admit to something
If all it’s gonna cause is pain
Pain to whom? You?
Eminem’s character is a different animal. At the beginning of the drama, he is being interviewed. He sits on a stool against a blue wall and tries to answer the question, “What does love mean to you?” Fingers interlaced, he stares at the camera.
Quickly, the plot reverts to a flashback. The camera aims at a mirror surrounded by grimy wallpaper. In it we see two people talking on the other side of the room. A woman’s animated arms shake like an addict’s body in withdrawal. She is desperately trying to get Eminem to trust in her love for him. Instead, he sees a wife, who is using him to get revenge on an unfaithful husband. He turns away from her.
In another interview room, the woman closes her eyes when she is asked, “How would you describe your relationship with men?” Eminem’s lyrics answer the question:
Cause she loves danger: psychopath
Meanwhile, he admits: “My personal life is not exactly a highlight reel.”
In a particularly annoying act of cowardice, Eminem tries to end the relationship, hiding in a studio, recording a rap. His fictional lyrics tell her:
Don’t take it personal, I just can’t say this in person to you
As the story progresses, the director invokes a pathetic fallacy indoors: Chairs fling, wallpaper tears, papers swirl, rain falls. Was there a partridge in a pear tree? I forget.
However, when push comes to shove, the woman becomes pregnant—in the middle of a love triangle; in the middle of conversations where the words, “love,” and “hate,” are thrown around like beach balls; in a squalid apartment that reflects squalid decisions. The camera points at the mirror again.
Her: I’m pregnant.
Him: Are you f****** kidding me? Are you sure this is right?
Her: I’m sure it’s right.
Him: I can’t have a kid. I’ve already told—we’ve already talked about this.
Her: Maybe this is supposed to happen for us. Maybe there is something more between us.
Him: Hold on. Hold on. Just listen. You’re saying “us,” as in like we’re “together,” together, but I thought we were just making out.
Her: You’re f****** kidding me. You’re involved in this, too, and you need to take responsibility for your own f****** actions. You’re so . . . selfish . . .
Him: I’m selfish? How am I f****** selfish?
Her: Because you’re choosing you over another f****** life.
Him: You told me you couldn’t get pregnant. Do you remember that? Do you remember us having that conversation?
Her: OK, well anyone can get pregnant. . . . Well make a d*** decision.
Don’t be fooled by the wallpaper. This discussion takes place everywhere. In the lyrics, Eminem’s fictional character reveals what happens next.
But I made you terminate my baby.
The decision of a man entangled in adolescent confusion is revealed. He does not love her enough. He cannot expose an innocent child to the evil in the world, which he defines by his own moral chaos. He is a fly buzzing in a jar with the lid on tight.
It’s not only your baby. This story isn’t about you. Behind your bravado, you’re a scared little boy, hurt by your own fears. However, this time you’re destroying two other lives. Your entire song talks about her, but you only mutter five words to her. They are almost drowned out by the music.
I f***** up.
It’s the voice of a child who forgot he left the stove on, having to explain to his mother why the house burned down.
Five words. Most women don’t even get that. I dare you to say them clearly. If men’s tears make rivers, women’s tears make oceans.
The water is rising. We have to start winning these fights.
(Author’s Note: I chose to censor the expletives. The video’s lyrics and script remain as the artist wrote them. Viewer discretion is advised.)
Eminem’s video, “River,” from his ninth album, Revival
Release date: December 15, 2017
Record Companies: Aftermath Entertainment, Shady Records, Interscope Records
Writers and Cast: Eminem, Ed Sheeran
Producer: Emile Haynie
Director: Emil Navva