Why Eminem's 'Houdini' Is Thrilling Fans and Stirring Critics

Why Eminem's 'Houdini' Is Thrilling Fans and Stirring Critics

Yes, you read that right—an Eminem music video is trending in 2024. On May 30, the 51-year-old rapper dropped “Houdini,” the first single from his upcoming album, "The Death of Slim Shady." Teasing the release with magician David Blaine, Eminem promised to “make [his] career disappear.” Now, "Houdini" sits at the top of YouTube’s trending music videos, and “Eminem” is the leading trending topic on both X and Google. This surge in popularity can be attributed to three key elements: nostalgia, shock value, and celebrity cameos.

Nostalgia

The past few years have seen a resurgence of Y2K nostalgia. TIME TV critic Judy Berman highlighted this “20-year nostalgia cycle” back in 2022. From Olivia Rodrigo reviving Paramore to Jack Harlow sampling Fergie, the early 2000s are back in vogue. Eminem, a massive star from that era, has ridden this wave of nostalgia. His 2004 hit “Mockingbird” went viral on TikTok last year, reaching over 1.5 billion streams on Spotify.

Eminem leans into this nostalgia in “Houdini.” The video sees him emerging from a time portal from 2002, echoing the era when “Without Me” topped charts in 15 countries. “Houdini” pays homage to “Without Me” with its familiar “guess who’s back” refrain, the return of his Rapboy superhero costume, and similar comic-book graphics and camera shots, including a cameo by a disgruntled Dr. Dre.

Eminem also resurrects the bleach-blonde look-alikes from “The Real Slim Shady” and heavily interpolates Steve Miller Band’s 1982 hit “Abracadabra.” This blend of nostalgia and humor has been welcomed by many fans as a return to form for the rapper.

Controversy

However, “Houdini” has also sparked controversy, particularly over a line that references Megan Thee Stallion: “If I was to ask for Megan Thee Stallion if she would collab with me, would I really have a shot at a feat?” The line alludes to the incident where Megan was shot in the foot by Tory Lanez, who is now serving a 10-year prison sentence. The video even includes subtitles to emphasize the feet/feat pun.

While some see this as a groan-worthy wordplay, others perceive it as a deliberate provocation. Megan’s shooting has been a flashpoint for debates on misogyny, the persecution of Black men, and the scrutiny of female rappers. Eminem, known for his provocative lyrics, seems to have intentionally stirred the pot, a tactic he's used throughout his career. His alter ego Slim Shady, described as a “psychopath” by 50 Cent in a recent promotional video, is notorious for such antics. This line has ignited heated discussions, resulting in significant online engagement.

“Houdini” is replete with other provocative lines, including jabs at his own children and references to sensitive issues. While some critics, like Stereogum, have slammed the song, others argue that Eminem’s detractors simply can’t take a joke. The backlash and counter-backlash have only fueled the song’s virality.

Celebrity Cameos

The third element driving “Houdini’s” success is its celebrity cameos. In a culture that thrives on star power, the video features appearances from rap legends Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, and producer The Alchemist. Comedy fans will spot Pete Davidson and Shane Gillis, adding another layer of appeal.

Much like Taylor Swift’s music videos, which are packed with references and Easter eggs, “Houdini” leverages celebrity appearances to maximize engagement. These cameos have helped the video capture widespread attention.

In essence, “Houdini” checks all the boxes for going viral. Whether you love or hate him, it’s clear that Shady is back, stirring the cultural pot once again.

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