The Story of Pop: 2002 (Chapter 21)

With more UK chart hits of two decades and the tales behind them, every Thursday at 9am, this is The Story of Pop: 2002. This week: guess who’s back…?

  • Artist: Eminem
  • Song: Without Me
  • Released: 20/05/2002
  • Writers / Producers: Marshall Mathers / Jeffrey Bass / Kevin Bell / Anne Dudley / Malcolm McLaren / Trevor Horn / DJ Head
  • Highest UK Chart Position: #1
  • Weeks on Chart: 20

For all his ubiquity at the start of the 00s, Eminem was largely unseen in the charts for much of 2001. Just three singles – two of which, “The Real Slim Shady” and “Stan“, had been UK chart toppers – had been lifted from his multiplatinum third album from 2000, The Marshall Mathers LP.

He instead spent the large majority of the next year touring the album, with his only other musical movements coming with D12, the rap collective that he was a member of, releasing their debut album Devil’s Night, which had spawned off a couple of hits – the biggest of which, “Purple Hills”, had made #2 here in July.

But a year on, and at the start of the summer of 2002, he was finally ready to make his return in his typically controversial way with his fourth album, The Eminem Show. Leading it off was a song which, lyrically and musically, could only ever have been its first single: “Without Me”.

Sampling “Buffalo Gals”, the old Malcolm McLaren and the World’s Famous Supreme Team hit, and opening with the infamous intro of ‘Guess who’s back? Back again? / Shady’s back! Tell a friend’, his stall is set out further on the chorus: ‘Now this looks like a job for me / So everybody just follow me / Cause we need a little controversy / Cause it feels so empty without me’.

And just as “The Real Slim Shady” had taken its share of media figure potshots, so too on this single, did he do the same with a number of people who critiqued him; Moby, Limp Bizkit, *NSYNC’s Chris Kirkpatrick and The FCC, as well as an equal censor baiting promo video that saw him and mentor Dr Dre dressed as Batman and Robin and – more controversially – Osama Bin Laden.

It could be argued on one hand that returning with the same shock factor that had made his breakthrough material a success was offering up more of the same. But doing that never harmed many artists long term, and it proved one thing – that Eminem was back with a vengance.

“Without Me” became his third UK number one single, entering straight in at the top with first week sales of over 160,000 copies upon its release at the end of May. By year’s end, after spending 20 weeks on the chart, it was one of the ten biggest selling singles of 2002.

The Eminem Show album then followed it to to the top of the UK album chart, with 1.8m of its worldwide sales of 28m coming from this country alone. And – spoiler alert, for this is not the last time we’ll be meeting him this series – his success in 2002 was to only grow even further, as he eyed up his next conquest: Hollywood…

Don’t forget to follow our brand new playlist on Spotify – updated weekly so you never miss a song from the story of pop in 2002. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments, Tweet us or message us on Instagram, using the hashtag #StoryofPop2002.

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