Music festival season is nearly upon us, and I like many other fans have been following lineup announcements like opening gifts on Christmas morning. But this year, Santa, or in this case the producers of festivals, seemed to all have the same idea: Marshall Mathers.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Eminem as much as the next guy. His bars occupy a lot of space on my workout and motivation playlists. I have appreciated every “return” Eminem has made to the charts, and welcomed his growth as an artist, despite being fonder of the original Slim Shady. But when it came to the announcements of these music festival lineups—Coachella, Governors Ball, Firefly, Bonnaroo, Boston Calling—seeing Eminem’s name appear in the largest letters on all the posters frankly bored me. Now certainly, I was not planning on attending all of these music festivals, if I could even afford to, but seeing the repetitive headliner bewildered me.
If I were to compile a list of the greatest artists of my generation, Eminem would likely be on there. But if I were to only pick one artist to play at every music festival, it wouldn’t be him. I don’t know that I could do that if given the chance, especially not if I was to be attending all of these festivals. Eminem’s latest album, Revival, debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200, but only spent a week there. The album dropped in December of 2017, which likely contributed to its absence on notable year-end “Best Albums” lists, but I, for one, am still not seeing the merit of giving Slim headline spots at 5 major music festivals across the nation. Are the festival powers that be shoving Eminem down our throats? It kind of feels like it. Every year there is some overlap and in some years, an act has been the headliner at two festivals or so. But as far as I can tell, nothing like this has happened since Outkast reunited in 2014 and headlined Coachella, Governors Ball, and Firefly.
I asked my friend why she thought this happened with Eminem. She offered, “Because of what he did at the BET Awards.” Ahhhh. My friend was referencing the now notorious moment from October’s BET Hip Hop Awards when Eminem freestyled a roast of Donald Trump. It was a viral moment that coming from anyone else may have incited a tweetstorm from the President. But it didn’t. Eminem did something spectacular and unlike a lot of white artists by telling his fans outright, “If you’re for Trump, you can be against me.” The president did not respond. There are a number of speculations on why, but I think we all know the real reason—Eminem is a white man. That’s really all there is to it.
So while I think Eminem’s move was commendable, it still leaves me wondering if this is what earned him a spot headlining all these festivals. Does Coachella pick its artists based on activism? It’s unlikely. And if that is the case, if these festivals decided on Eminem because they think it’s a slap in the face of the presidency, I would advise them to think again. Yes, Eminem has picked his side and does not align himself with Trump, but if organizations are also trying to align themselves with the Trump resistance, it seems there are better options. Artists of color, artists who have been anti-bigotry since before the 2016 election, women, LGBT artists, Muslim artists, artists from “shithole countries,” the list of those better suited to stick it to the man is endless, and I appreciate the effort, but Eminem is not at the top of my list.
There are a number of different criteria for festivals to pick their artists, but the choice to have Eminem at all these venues baffles me. I’m underwhelmed musically and politically. If music festivals were really trying to take a stand, Slim Shady should probably sit down.