Friday, July 3, 2015

Is It Time To Close The Curtains On Johnny Depp and Eminem?

They both rose to fame and became major stars on different ends of the 90's.  Johnny Depp, the ambiguously ethnic actor made his name on the Fox series 21 Jump Street in 1987 before starring in movies like What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood. Eminem, the underground battle rapper out of Detroit.  Became a star after his major label debut on Dr. Dre's Aftermath with The Slim Shady LP.  The album would go quadruple-platinum and would win him the Grammy for Best Rap Album that year.

In the aughts, Eminem would release four albums The Marshall Mathers LP (2000), The Eminem Show (2002), Encore (2004) and Relapse (2009).  Each one of his albums would go number 1, keeping the new white rap sensation atop the charts and in the tabloids with the controversy surrounding his lyrics.  He would star in 8 Mile, a movie loosely depicting his come-up as a Detroit battle rapper.

Depp entered the year 2000 with his starring role of the retelling story of Sleepy Hollow.  Choosing roles that he found interesting, Depp made a choice of taking the role of Captain Jack Sparrow in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.  The movie would become a huge success, spawning two more Pirates movies before the aughts would end.  Depp starred in the retelling of two classic tales, dawning the top hats of Willy Wonka in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and The Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland, the 19th highest grossing film of all time.   
Both artists are very selective.  Despite Depp's personal choices in selecting roles, he frequently opts to work with Tim Burton and the movies Burton made for most of the 00's earned a lot of money.  Aside from touring, Mathers genuinely didn't stick around much nearing the release of one of his albums.  Made very few TV appearances.  He rarely appears on other artist's features outside of his Shady label. Whether this was due to other rappers’ fear of being ‘Renegaded’, or Mathers himself turning features down, we may never know.

For Mathers, the tides began to turn at the release of his fifth album Relapse in 2009.  After taking four years off due to drug rehabilitation, he returned with an album that was in layman’s terms, the same old same old. It was a horrorcore album that primarily focused on murdering women, and poking fun at celebrities in a joyless attempt to maintain relevancy. Oh, and accents.  Very bad accents.

After eclipsing a billion dollars with Alice in Wonderland, Depp would take on yet another ‘interesting’ role in the critically panned The Tourist. In 2011, Depp starred in Rango and the fourth film in the Pirates series, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Both movies achieved relative success, but On Stranger Tides was rated by far the worst of the franchise. Later that year he would make The Rum Diary, and it would be around this time that we would seem to see Depp's streak of box office success come to an end.

Eminem would collaborate with Drake, Kanye West and Lil Wayne for 'Forever' in 2009.  In 2010 he would release Recovery, making it his sixth album to debut at number one.  On 'Forever' he would adopt a rapid-fire flow that he would end up overusing throughout the next few years.  In the following two years, he would release his collaborative album Hell: The Sequel with fellow Detroit native Royce Da 5'9 and The Marshall Mathers LP 2, bringing a return to his old persona Slim Shady.

In this same timeframe, Depp wouldn't make much noise at the box office when his name was attached to movies. Dark Shadows, the often-delayed The Lone Ranger, and Transcendence all underperformed.  Only Into The Woods was a ‘hit’ by any means, but to be completely fair, a musical about Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Rapunzel, opening on Christmas Day is sound recipe for a successful movie.

Both stars have found trouble adjusting in the 2010's.  Depp once said he would attribute his least successful films to the studio not understanding the film; but if your films bomb five times in a row, are the studios that dumb, or are your film choices that bad?  On the other side of the coin, we have Eminem's multi-syllabic, fast-paced rap flow that has been overbearing at times and most times, not needed.  There's no question that he’s rapping his ass off, but the songs themselves just aren't very good. 

What is next for the two who have lost a bit of their footing?  Agree or disagree, but Depp is still a leading star and box office attraction and Eminem is still rap tactician who has a way with words.  Either they’re realising their money mobile needs some tinkering or they believe they just need to rotate the worn out tires. 

Depp has never really jumped at every script that he come across.  He goes for movies that can become passion projects (counterpoint: The Lone Ranger).  There's been a buzz surrounding the Whitey Bulger biopic, Black Mass.  It has the potential to be his best performance in years, and could be a box office hit or even attract a few award nominations, but only time will tell – it releases in September.  Hopefully this step forward is not negated by a potential step back in the fifth movie in the Pirates franchise, Dead Men Tell No Tales, which is currently filming.
As for Eminem, most recently, he is executive producing the soundtrack for the new boxing movie Southpaw, starring Jake Gyllenhaal.  Eminem was originally eyed for the role before passing on it to focus on his music.  A few weeks ago he dropped 'Phenomenal', the lead single off the soundtrack. The song is more of the same – an inspiration song, using a stop-and-go flow over a hollow production.  I doubt I'll re-listen to this anytime soon, outside of any commercials for the movie.

Can the same stereotypical traits of a Johnny Depp movie (heavy mascara and makeup, in colorful attire surrounded by elaborate characters in a world of eccentricity) still hold up and sell the same way an Eminem record (chock full of boring production of empty horns and synths, laced with a unnecessarily loud shouting of complex intricate lyrics about homophobia and misogyny) does to their fan base?  Their fans should be asking for more instead of more of the same.  Early in their careers they were seen as bright, young talent who’d shown genius levels of artistry.  Now, that facial hair looks a little too odd and the drunken mannerisms look like a parody of their own work.  The music has become a chore to sit through and you wonder if he remembers how to make songs.  Nostalgia has this way of reminding us on how great things used to be; instead it’s a reflection of how things have gotten and how long they’ve dragged on for, be that for better or for worse.  The movies are tiring and stale and the music that once shocked and awed audiences now has them shaking their head in disapproval.    

Their own selectivity has become their crutch.  If Depp makes a few bad films here and there, he can call Tim and ask what’s his next movie or brush off the purple top hat and make a sequel to a past achievement.  Eminem just calls one of the same producers he’s used for the past few years, one of his signees on his label or Rihanna and makes another song where he’s yelling.  I’m not asking for the two artists to star in the next Avengers or make an album in a whole new direction, but maybe just try something new. 

Depp in a comic book adaptation isn’t that too far fetch’d of an idea.  Comic books movies are booming at the seams considering Marvel’s long list of scheduled films and there’s also smaller adaptations coming to television.  Depp in a Transmetropolitan adaptation is fan casting at its best.  The title character of Spider Jerusalem is heavily influenced by Hunter S. Thompson, who Depp was close friends with.  Reading for a Wes Anderson or David O’Russell film may be a better choice than the next Tim Burton project.  The Alchemist has been Eminem’s tour DJ for the past few years and with the exception of a freestyle over Slaughterhouse’s ‘Microphone’, Eminem and Al have never collaborated with each other.  That’s a missed opportunity.  Alchemist has worked with a number of artists and the fact that Eminem has him in the background is preposterous.  Alchemist is known for releasing free mp3s with whoever is in the studio with him.  In May, he released an instrumental album entitled, Israeli Salad.  Using one of Al’s instrumentals from Israeli Salad on his new album isn’t asking much but Eminem appearing with fresh talent should be demanded – if not be the fans then at least those around him.  There are a lot of young producers out right now that might be a better option than sticking to your in-house producers.

Audiences flock to the announcement of a new Eminem record or a Johnny Depp movie waiting to be thrilled by titans of their craft.  Are these audiences walking through the curtains of nostalgia hoping to see a glimpse of the artist’s genius or are they watching it more for the reality TV aspect of things – seeing the artist for who they are, lost men trying to find their footing in a changed world?  In this changed world, being weird is considered the norm and there’s a constant outcry for feminism.  It won’t take weeks or months to gather people to rally for the same cause.  In the day of social media, you can gather a protest in a single day.  But even in this very different world we live in today, their fan base should say no to mediocrity in the name of nostalgia.  Opening themselves up to change would stop them from getting tangled in the curtains as they greet their old audience, when there’s a new stage awaiting to be amazed by a once great talent before the curtain closes on them for good.  But it’s their choice.