In February, Eminem’s longtime manager Paul Rosenberg told Billboard, “We fully expect to be releasing a new Eminem album in 2013. He’s been working on it for some time. It’s safe to say that it will be post-Memorial Day at some point, but we’re not exactly sure when.” He mentioned August as a possibility, but “post-Memorial Day” could mean anything: Every date from now until eternity now falls into that category. But lo and behold, two days ago, Mr. Porter — Eminem’s longtime hypeman — tweeted, “Some of these Em fans will have something to talk about soon. Thank god cause y’all be killing my timeline.”
Eminem performed for an hour last night, taking the stage at G-Shock’s 30th anniversary Shock the World event, held in an airplane-hangar-sized basketball complex in New York City. He had hits — “Cleaning Out My Closet,” “Stan,” “Love the Way You Lie” — and he had songs that are bigger than hits. “Lose Yourself,” falling into the latter category, isn’t even a piece of music, it’s a round dot on a timeline, a tattoo that never fades. Leading up to those, B-sides like “Kill You” well, killed; “Dream On” and “Toy Soldiers” sort of made sense, finally, as popular hook-y ballads for Eminem to karaoke around. But, though hints dropped like crumbs, he revealed no new music, he let no cats out of bags, he showed no leg. Eminem doesn’t make many appearances. For now, this would just be a rare — if unexpected — opportunity to go whale watching.
Eminem’s had a lot of ups, a lot of downs and a bunch of drugs in between. The youthful exuberance of the TRL years has long disappeared behind his eyes. To watch him on TV is often to see a man who would rather not be on TV. But last night, he threw his body fully into the experience, practically choking on the microphone to give it more sound. His back muscles rippled his white tee and his neck bulged, always straining for more, more, more. It was a purely compulsive performance.
Even with his voice shot from song two, 40 minutes later he was singing Rihanna’s parts, rapping Royce Da 5’9’s lyrics when joined onstage, Lil Wayne’s, when not. His arm swung like a CutCo knife in accompaniment with his lyrics, slicing, dicing, a subject of Walt’s poetry, both Frazier and Whitman. He soft-shoed like Gregory Hines, long after pretending to kick a body and pulling a ballet move to boot. He seemed alive, and — as the show ended, as the live band roared to a crescendo — the slightest of smirks crept up his cheek. Blink and you’d miss it, but it was there.
His impending single could sound like, well, anything. His choices as of late have been more polished and positive, albeit bland. Still, Eminem loves to surprise. Even on the setlist — as in his head, I’d imagine — his 27-year-old impulses crash against his current ones. This whiplash can be off-putting. From “The Way I Am” — in which he tears out his insides and throws them into the buffet, opening up about his fears of going pop, of topping “My Name Is,” of being blamed for school shootings and being considered a jerk — he immediately led into “Airplanes Pt II,” a more-recent pop charter that offers the kind of inspiration one can find in Instagram quotes.
The trouble with Eminem is that he’s inevitably grown up. Or, the trouble is he hasn’t. Leading into “Cleaning Out My Closet,” he urged the crowd to scream, “Fuck you, Mom! Now, fuck you, Dad!” The audience, a mix of people put on a list by a company, declined. (Earlier on, they did join in for a chant of “If you don’t give a fuck like we don’t give a fuck, say ‘fuck yeah!'”)
Eminem first entered America’s living rooms in a straitjacket. We’ve seen him put on — and now take off — the bandages. It remains to be seen what he does once he finally gets off the doctor’s table. And so we wait.