Eminem’s new “Music to Be Murdered By” album has an album title and cover that pay comical homage to Alfred Hitchcock, suggesting a collection full of light-hearted mayhem. But a couple of its tracks reference real-life mass murders that occurred at concerts in recent years — the Las Vegas Route 91 Harvest Music Festival shootings and the Manchester bombing — and fans and detractors are reacting with appreciation and outrage.
The video for “Darkness” has Eminem reenacting the 2017 shootings at a Vegas country festival that left 60 dead and more than 800 wounded, taking on the role of mass killer Stephen Paddock and portraying him opening fire on the crowd before ending with a written message demanding greater gun control.
Tactful or not, there’s clearly serious intent behind the “Darkness” song and video. But the rapper may have undercut claims to having a truly socially conscious agenda by using another track, “Unaccommodating,” to make a joke that uses the 2017 bombing at an Ariana Grande show in Manchester that killed 23 concertgoers as the punchline.
“But I’m contemplating yelling ‘bombs away’ on the game / Like I’m outside of an Ariana Grande concert waiting,” Eminem raps on the latter track.
The “Darkness” song and video plays heavily off an interpolation of the Simon & Garfunkel track “The Sound of Silence.” Variety has put in a request to Simon’s camp to ask if he was aware of the content of the song and video when he licensed the 1960s classic.
Grande has not made any public comment on the track that name-checks her. But in England, surviving family members of those killed in the terrorist attack have spoken out to the press there or made their feelings made known on social media.
“Eminem is a traitor to his talent. This is disrespectful, unwarranted and needlessly cruel,” Elkan Abrahamson, a lawyer for some of the families of those killed in Manchester, told the Guardian. “Disgusting” and “disrespectful” were the words used by the mother of Charlotte Hodgson, a 15-year-old who died while attending the Grande concert.
It’s not the first time he’s referenced the Manchester tragedy for irreverent purpose; he’d earlier raised ire by including an entire verse about Grande and the killings in a freestyle rap battle in 2018, right after declaring that “nothing’s off limits.”
The “Darkness” video begins as what initially seems like a more typical Eminem track, with the refrain of “I don’t wanna be alone in the darkness” recurring over the sample from the Simon & Garfunkel tune. He’s seen pacing a hotel room before he’s eventually replaced by an actor resembling the real-life Vegas killer, breaking a window and opening fire on the festival grounds, then shooting himself to death just before police move in.
Eminem returns at the end of the video, watching a bank of TV screens with news footage recounting not just the Route 91 Festival news but reports from other mass shootings around the country. The screens are revealed to be grouped together in the rough outline of a map of the United States as the news reports turn to flag images. “When Will This End?” asks a message on screen. “Register to vote at Vote.gov. Make your voice heard and help change gun laws in America.”
Reactions to Eminem’s “message” video were mixed on social media.
“Eminem… your ‘Darkness’ video goes way too far… I have friends that ran at Route 91, ones that saved others. Those scenes, they don’t need to relive,” tweeted Gunnar Helman.
Others pointed to how Eminem has not exactly seemed averse to shows of weaponry in the past, as gun shout-outs and sounds have been a controversial hallmark of his work.
“I’m a fan of Eminem. But advocating for gun control by making a song about the Las Vegas shooting? Same dude who said ‘Spray em, 50.’ Smh, ok,” tweeted a user identified as Jspence.
“I was there in Las Vegas seeing all the dead bodies; that new Eminem song is beyond disgusting especially the video,” wrote a Twitter user. “I understand you want to bring light to the violence in America but that’s not the way to do it. … Now every sick person will … think you will make a music video about them. Your creativity did not show in this one.”
Many fans, though, have stepped up to call the video “powerful” and “moving.” “Thanks to Eminem for this very touching music video,” read a typical fan response on Twitter. “No one cares until someone steps up and do something about it.”