Why did Eminem’s latest track blow up? Brandy Pettigrew has some thoughts on the subject.
A friend recently introduced me to Eminem’s new video, “Headlights.” The theme of the video and the song is a letter to his mom, Debbie Mathers, apologizing to her for the things he’s said about her in songs and interviews. The video is primarily from his mom’s perspective. It shows her trying to reconnect with her son and being turned away by various strangers. Many articles have been discussing a possible reunion between Eminem and his mom. Fans are applauding him for his growth and for apologizing to her. However, no one is asking, “Should they reconcile?”
Marshall Mathers, aka Eminem, has always had a tumultuous relationship with his mother. Marshall’s friends and co-workers say that she often kicked him out of the house when he was a kid. Three of her ex-husbands have stated that she was a drug user and abusive towards Marshall. Eminem has said in several interviews, and in his song “Cleaning Out My Closet,” that his mother suffers from Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Munchausen is an illness in which someone creates illness in others, to gain attention for themselves, and is a form of child abuse. This is the reason that Marshall’s younger brother, Nate, was placed in foster care for a year at nine years old. Marshall had to testify against his mother to get help for his little brother.
Debbie’s and Marshall’s dysfunctional relationship only escalated after he gained success. In 2001 Debbie filed a $11 million dollar defamation lawsuit against Marshall for the lyrics of his song “My Name Is.” One of the lyrics specifically mentioned in the lawsuit was “my mom smokes more dope than I do.” Eventually the lawsuit was settled, leaving Debbie with $1,600. At one point Debbie Mathers even appeared on the Sally Jessy Raphael show to talk about her famous son. She told the audience that her son was instructed by his managers what to write in his songs and that his rage was just artistic expression. Also in 2001 she recorded a three-song album called Setting the Record Straight. One song from the album was called “Dear Marshall.” The tune was essentially a letter to her son asking him to stop lying about her and detailing how difficult his birth had been for her. In 2002 Eminem released “Cleaning Out My Closet.” This was essentially his response to his mother’s song where he calls her out for her drug abuse, abusing him mentally and physically and for trying to exploit him for money.
In the last few years Eminem has waged his own personal battle with drug addiction. He stated in a recent interview that he never realized that addiction could be inherited. He said he knows now that he will always struggle with it.
Eminem has always asserted that he is telling the truth in his songs. Most of his songs sound like a confession to his therapist. I believe that the lyrics in “Headlights” are sincere and heartfelt. He’s apologetic for speaking and rapping about his mother, but he never said that it wasn’t true. He also never says that he wants to reconcile. The song’s underlying message is about forgiveness. He’s asking for forgiveness and I believe giving it. He grieves for his mother missing out on her grandchildren and for her lost health but he isn’t saying, “Let’s fix this.” Debbie and Marshall’s relationship is too toxic to be closer than it is. They have been dysfunctional for so long. You can forgive, accept, acknowledge, but there isn’t always a way back. There isn’t always a way to repair the damage that is done. Sometimes relationships are too damaged to repair and too dangerous to the health of those involved to continue. I believe he’s doing his best to acknowledge his mother and her role in his life without giving up the mental health he’s worked to achieve.
“Headlights” is a moving tribute. It’s a celebration of how far Eminem and Marshall Mathers have come. However, it isn’t about him reuniting with his mother. It’s about needing to get the words out. He needed to say “I’m sorry” and he needs to hear it, but he isn’t holding his breath for it anymore. He’s ready to move on.