'He particularly appeals to troubled kids," says Senator Sam Brownback. "I want to join in the chorus of disapproval," adds Senator Lynne Cheney. And so it goes. The Eminem intro video makes great capital by reminding us exactly who it is that doesn't get him, blatantly manipulating our instinct to side with the underdog. But who are the people that do get him? A recent survey of music fans put his single "Lose Yourself" at number four in an all-time poll, and I have to admit I couldn't whistle it if Mathers held a gun to my head (which of course he'd never do now m'lud, he's a reformed character, etc). I only heard the album whence it came (The Eminem Show) once in one of those insulting hotel-room playbacks, and I was too underwhelmed to fork out for a copy.
Personally, I've always had mixed feelings on the blond bard. Those "Eminem: the new Keats?" thinkpieces in the broadsheets a couple of years ago had a point. His rhyming skills are impressive, the twists of syntax, assonance and alliteration, the way he plays with the scan of a line, are sometimes breathtaking. And yet, he is one of those people who, while clearly talented, is insufferably irritating (that shrill, whining voice doesn't help). Like Victor Lewis-Smith. Or Richard Stilgoe. But a glance around the (predominantly white) crowd in the Milton Keynes Bowl shows that Eminem has tapped into a mood, and articulated an experience which goes beyond the Detroit trailer parks. All around are faces of sallow, sullen, resentful rebelliousness, a sub-class which takes pleasure in saying "fuck you", but doesn't know or care who the "you" ought to be. These people are trash, and he talks their language: "so much anger, aimed no particular direction" ("White America").
What he has going for him - and what, say, Vanilla Ice did not - is that demonically problematic word, authenticity. Whereas Ice clearly wanted to be black, but at the same time have the sellability of clean-cut white boy - to have his vanilla cone and eat it - Eminem is the real deal, take it or leave it. If Eminem had never come to the attention of Dr Dre, you can still picture him and his family on primetime TV. Jerry Springer: "So, Mrs Mathers, you say that your son Marshall has gone wild, constantly boasts about taking illegal drugs, and once beat somebody up for dating his ex-girlfriend?" Debbie Mathers: "Yes (sob). And he keeps disrespecting me in public..."
Before Eminem takes the stage, stepping off a giant ferris wheel, the mob entertains itself by hurling bottles back and forth. I take a direct hit on the left ear; another young man walks past me with a broken nose, his evening ruined before it's begun.
The appearance of the man himself calms the aggro and raises the roof: contradictions from the word "yo". (That's "Yo LONDON!" by the way, Eminem's advisors clearly having the same grasp of English geography as those people who decided that Milton Keynes was a reasonable home for Wimbledon FC). The words coming from his lips are "no friend of Bush", but he wears a stars and stripes bandanna.
Of course, this is not necessarily a contradiction: perhaps Eminem is, like Springsteen circa Born In The USA, mourning the American ideal betrayed. But I doubt it. The film 8 Mile is essentially a hymn to the WASP virtues of self-sufficiency, hard work and the anyone-can-do-it dream. What were those Senators getting so worked up about? "You don't want to mess with Shady/ Because Shady will fucking kill you..." Ah, maybe that's what. But given that the US establishment cares little about black-on-black crime, why should it care about trash-on-trash crime? In any case, the circus ringmaster (think The Penguin from Tim Burton's Batman) and the fireworks, let off as cheaply as farts, clue you into the fact that this is nothing but pantomime.
Then his sidekicks, the mainly clueless D12, blunder on and almost ruin the show, notably the fat bastard who knocked a Slim Shady over my shirt backstage, and now insists on jiggling his naked man-blubber around for the cameras. But one very special guest elevates things to a higher level. 50 Cent, another man who - thanks to some very real bullets in the face - scores highly on the authenticometer, comes on to earsplitting cheers, and MK parties like itshyabirthday. The man's sheer charisma, plus his good fortune in having a hit which outshines anything Eminem's done lately, damn near steals the show. It remains to be seen whether his follow-up, "Wanksta", gets anything like the same airplay (British slang, oddly, is taking off in the States bigtime).
Speaking of which, the man himself is back on - after a fancy magician's vanishing trick - complaining that "the radio won't even play my jams." Oh really? So the constant rotation of "Stan", and the subsequent rise of Dido, was a bad dream? By now, though, he has the crowd in his little pink palm, encouraging a mass flicking of the middle finger and a chant of "Fuck you, Debbie Debbie!", and in the next breath whimpers "Sorry Mama, I never meant to hurt you" (make sense of that, senators). Eminem is not the Messiah. He's a very naughty boy.
Kelly Osbourne: would you? Don't tell me you've never thought this one over. Whenever I've discussed it, the consensus always seems to be that you probably would, but she looks so much like her father that you'd be constantly terrified that she might suddenly bark at the moon.
Bounding on like a well-stuffed leather sofa (she soon takes off the cow-hide coat to reveal, rather disarmingly, an outfit from Top Shop), the first surprise is that the Princess of Darkness cannot sing. Although this isn't a surprise at all, is it? Nepotism is something we take for granted these days. But genetics do not, as has been demonstrated countless times, bestow talent. And you suspect that Kelly O would make no case for herself as the world's greatest singer: she gives the impression that she can't believe she's managed to ride MTV micro-celebrity this far, but she's gonna enjoy it while it lasts. What I would make a case for, however, is Kelly Osbourne as a fantastic pop star: a cartoon persona, a simple and easily-understood icon of spoilt teenage brattishness. And she always has the best shoes and hair (although when she pours a bottle of Evian over her expensive blonde 'do, my God she looks like her father). Which is why her crowd - the shortest I've ever seen - are made up largely of spoilt teenage brats, average age 13/14.
Her pick-up band - one punk boy, one Interpol guy, a black girl drummer, and a goth chick on bass (Grog of Die So Fluid, also Mel C's four-string foil) - rattle through the album (slightly above-average pop-punk reminiscent of The Go Go's), plus a rocked-up cover of Corey Hart's "Sunglasses At Night" (already peerlessly reinvented as an electroclash anthem by Tiga). It's occasionally great ("Dig Me Out"), and never less than engaging, and that "blah blah blah" moment in "Shut Up" is worth turning up for on its own. If "Papa Don't Preach" - for which she is joined by best buddy (and support act) Har Mar Superstar - was vaguely aimed at Ozzy, then "Shut Up" was presumably aimed at her disciplinarian mom, but Sharon herself is dragged onstage for hugs before the love-in "More Than Life Itself". "I wrote this cos my mom has cancer but now she doesn't," Kelly explains, somewhat bluntly.
Squinting up at the back balcony, she spies a handmade sign. It reads "KELLY, WE LOVE YOUR DAD!" Harsh, but fair.Reuse content