Popular music has become an essential part of the American (and increasingly global) youth culture especially since the 1960s and the era of Elvis Presley and the Beatles. The music has branched off into different forms and genres since then and has become an important part of what is generally termed "pop culture." Initially, an American trend created through the interaction of the community, artists and the music industry it has gradually taken on a global shape and grown to become a major money making enterprise. Commercialization of music has made it necessary for the industry to create stars and celebrities. This need has given rise to the phenomenon of the "manufactured celebrity." Apart from the commercial factor, there is also an urge in the contemporary society to have such 'stars' that can be followed, and worshipped. This urge is more pronounced in the adolescent and the youth and is part of the growing-up process. Due to the unprecedented development of communication and media technology the appeal and reach of such celebrities has grown tremendously. Hence, such popular figures now command a wider audience and have a more widespread influence than they used to in the past. Moreover, they fulfill an important need of the people (especially the youth) of hero-worship and as objects of love. They also evoke other more complex emotions to become hate objects, objects of ridicule, and derision. Celebrities are often the catalyst that set-off major changes in fashion, style, and taste and are mirrors of the culture they live in. This paper traces the life and career of one such celebrity -- Eminem a.k.a. Marshall Mathers -- the controversial rap artist cum actor. It will also attempt to explore the reasons behind the artist's rise to his present peak of popularity. Is he a 'manufactured' star created by the handlers, managers, spin-doctors, and the media? Or is he someone with charisma, and special talent? Or is he just a creation of circumstances -- a need of the American public?
Eminem was born on 17 October 1973 in Kansas City, Missouri, USA to a teenage mother Deborah who named the baby Marshall Bruce Mathers III. ('Eminem' represent the initials of his name (M & M) that he adopted while starting his singing career). His father abandoned the family while Mathers was still a baby and was raised by his single mother. "I don't know who my dad is. He left when I was a few months old and I don't want to see him now" says the rapper. While growing up, Mathers and his mother rarely lived in one place for more than six months, often having to change houses to dodge landlords demanding rent from his unemployed mother. At other times they lived in trailers or stayed at relatives' homes in cities such as Warren and Kansas City, Mo. He thus had an unsettled and unhappy childhood and never got around to make friends. He was a timid child and was once beaten so badly by bullies that he was in a coma for nine days. Predictably he retreated into his comic books and television. ("Eminem" All Stars Celebrity).
Discovers Rap & Leaves School
The best thing that happened to Mathers during his unhappy childhood was when his uncle Ronnie introduced the nine-year-old to rap music. He recalls now that Ice-T's "Reckless" was the first rap song that he ever heard. His other favorites were LL Cool J, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. When Mathers was 12, his mother finally settled down on the east side of Detroit. There, he attended Lincoln Junior High School and Osbourne High School, hanging out with friends and listening to the 80s rap music. He got into many fights while in school and didn't concentrate on acquiring an education. Skipping school became an art form that led to his failure in the ninth grade, (3 times in a row) and he finally dropped out of school altogether. ("Eminem" bio from MTV.com)
In the period after he left school, he got involved in several shooting incidents and was even arrested once. Another incident that affected the youngster deeply was the sad suicide of his uncle Ronnie -- the only stable role model he had. Mather was devastated but he found solace in practicing rhythm rap and working several minimum-wage jobs, including that of a grill cook. He also began dating a tall blond girl named Kim (the one he 'kills' in one of his songs: '97 Bonnie & Clyde.) The couple also had a daughter (Hailie Jade) in December 1995. He continued to develop his rapping skills by performing in groups such as Basement Productions and Sole Intent, and established a reputation for himself as the only white rapper on the Detroit music scene. ("Eminem" All Stars Celebrity).
Mather had changed his name to Eminem (based on his initials M. And M) before releasing his debut album named Infinite in 1997 through independent label FBT. The album was poorly received with Eminem earning unfavorable comparisons to leading rappers such as Nas and AZ. Despite the initial setback he showed his determination by continuing to appear in shows and on radio stations in Detroit to promote himself. (Ibid.)
His determination to succeed was eventually rewarded by a prominent feature in Source's Unsigned Hype column, and when he won the Wake Up Show's Freestyle Performer Of The Year award, followed by runners-up position in Los Angeles' annual Rap Olympics. Always looking for an opportunity to promote himself, he gave someone from the Rap Coalition a copy of his debut, Infinite while in LA. His big break came when his music was played on LA radio station and Dr. Dre former NWA member and Aftermath records producer happened to hear Eminem music on the radio. Dr. Dre was suitably impressed and marked him out as someone to work with.
The following year (1999) he brought out his second album The Slim Shady EP, again independently. The album was named after his sinister alter ego and featured vitriolic attacks on his detractors. "Slim Shady is just the evil thoughts that come into my head," says Eminem and works as catharsis for the rapper to let him release his angry pent-up emotions. The stand-out track in the album was, "Just Don't Give A *****," which became a highly popular underground hit.
Following the success Eminem was signed by Aftermath Records label boss Dr. Dre, who adopted the young rapper as his protege. Dre acted as co-producer on Eminem's full-length debut The Slim Shady LP that was a re-work of his earlier work -- The Slim Shady EP but contained some new tracks as well. Bolstered by Dr. Dre's beats and a provocative feast of violent, twisted lyrics by Eminem, The Slim Shady LP was a runaway success. The star had finally arrived! And there would be no stopping him now. The album was further buoyed by the commercial success of the singles "My Name Is" (with a striking MTV-friendly video and his collaboration with Dre "Guilty Conscience" (reflecting his freudian sense of guilt?). The album debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard Album charts, and has since gone three times platinum, which still pales in comparison with the success of his next release. ("Eminem" All Stars Celebrity).
The album also brought him a lot of awards -- an MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist, and 2 Grammys (one for Rap Solo Performance for "My Name Is...," and one for Best Rap Album).
The Marshall Mathers LP and more Success
Eminem's follow-up album, The Marshall Mathers LP, was released in May 2000 and debuted at number 1 on the U.S. album chart establishing him as the most successful rapper since the mid-90s heyday of 2 Pac and Snoop Doggy Dogg. It sold 2 million copies in its first week of release, and it stayed at number one on the charts for 8 weeks. The album contained huge hits such as "The Real Slim Shady" (triggering an ongoing war with bubble gum pop princesses Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera), "The Way I Am" and "Stan." Apart from the commercial success the LP grabbed a plethora of awards too.
Eminem received the Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance for "The Real Slim Shady," Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for "Forgot About Dre" (his collaboration on Dre's single), and the Best Rap Album of the Year Award, in 2001. Eminem was also a winner at the 2001 Brit Awards, where he won the award for Best International Male Artist.
Mother Files Suit & other Controversies
All the accolades and recognition did not come without their downside. He was severely criticized by gay rights groups, strongly objecting to the pointed gay-baiting in Eminem's lyrics. His wife (and mother of his daughter Hailie Jade) filed for divorce and attempted suicide while Eminem himself was charged with gun possession.