Inside Elton John's Relationship With Eminem

Elton John's 2021 album, "The Lockdown Sessions" featured several collaborations with some of the biggest musicians in the world (via U Discover Music). While this included musicians who were contemporaries with John, such as Stevie Wonder, Stevie Nicks, and even the late Glen Campbell, the majority of the songs featured popular young musicians from different genres. Rap stars Young Thug, Nicki Minaj, 6Black, and Lil Nas X are just a few of the modern names that collaborate with the legendary Rock & Roll Hall of Famer on the album. Despite the success of the songs and album in general, the English musician is most remembered for another rap collaboration.

For the 2001 Grammys, rap superstar Eminem asked Elton John to perform with him at the show on the rapper's song "Stan" (via Ultimate Classic Rock). This was one of the most controversial decisions of Elton John's career, which spans more than half a century. John remains one of the biggest celebrities in the LGBT community and, as told by Radio X, has been an advocate and philanthropist for their causes. Eminem on the other hand has spent his career having to dodge controversies that he is homophobic (as well as a variety of other things). Still, the duo's performance at the 2001 Grammys was not just a quick show stopper to generate headlines, but two future friends coming together to perform.

Eminem Defends Himself and his Controversial Lyrics

Outside the 2001 Grammys, aside from fans and media members were the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation or GLAAD (via Yahoo). Organization members protested outside the Staples Center (now called the Arena) in Los Angeles at Eminem's presence and against the four Grammy nominations he received that evening, saying his lyrics were "hate-filled." It is difficult to argue that point when one looks at the lyrics on songs from his album of the previous year, "The Marshall Mathers LP." Songs such as "Criminal" used LGBT slurs and another one of his songs, "Kim," goes into explicit details of killing the rapper's on-and-off-again wife, Kim (via Songfacts).

Eminem, whose real name is Marshall Mathers, defended himself saying the lyrics should not be taken seriously. He also details that much of his violent lyrics are based on a character he created, Slim Shady, as he detailed to Rolling Stone. The character of Slim Shady becomes an outlet for the Detroit rapper to be as cartoonish and violent as possible, like a more sadistic version of David Bowie's own characters he would embody during his career.

Today, Eminem still faces controversy for his lyrics, primarily the fact he still uses gay slurs in more recent songs like "Rap God" (per Variety). While other rappers such as Tyler the Creator and other musicians like Dan Reynolds and Justin Vernon have called out the rapper over this, Eminem maintains that his lyrics do not represent his personal feelings.

Elton John Faced Backlash for Performing with Eminem

According to Yahoo, less than two weeks before the 2001 Grammys performance, it was announced that Elton John would be sharing the stage with Eminem. Almost immediately, the elder rocker faced a backlash from LGBT activists. GLAAD's news media director Cathy Renna told Entertainment Weekly, "we were flabbergasted that [John] would do this" and the organization themselves said in a statement they were "appalled that John would share the stage with Eminem, whose words and actions promote hate and violence."

In his defense, John said he could separate the Slim Shady character and Marshall Mathers and that if he believed Eminem was hateful, he would not share the stage with him. This was not also the first time John had performed with a controversial figure. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, John performed at a 1992 Queen Benefit Show with Guns 'N' Roses frontman, Axl Rose, following the singer's antigay comments on the song, "One in a Million."

Taking the chorus which was originally performed by the singer Dido, the duo's performance closed the award show. The show's producer, Ken Ehrlich said that the two musicians feared their performance would be too "exploitative." Despite their fears, the closing performance of the song, "Stan," became one of the most iconic moments in Grammy history. After the performance, the two artists embraced on stage and raised their hands together in celebration.

2 Decades Later, they remain Friends

Little did Eminem or Elton John know that the Grammy performance was the beginning of a two-decade-long friendship that is still going strong today. On his show, "Rocket Hour" (via NME), John referred to the rapper as a "dear friend" and agreed with the assertation that Eminem was the greatest rapper of all time in 2016. Speaking to Rolling Stone in 2010, John went as far as to say, "I love him" when discussing the rapper.

The relationship has been far from one-sided. Eminem has expressed both his admiration and love for the Rocket Man. The rapper said that when he first asked John to perform with him, he did not know he was gay. However, when he learned he was gay and still willing to perform, he felt John truly understood the rapper (via Refinery 29). 

Years later, Eminem would ask for John's help one more time. Eminem told The Guardian in 2009 that when he desired to get sober after years of substance abuse, he called Elton John for advice, who had gone through rehabilitation of his own in 1990. John said in his memoir, "Me" (via Radio X), that he was Eminem's AA sponsor and the two would speak every day while he went through rehab.