The root of puerile is puer, the Latin for boy, and the word still has that resonance: childish but in the snickering, smutty, swaggering way of the tweenage boy, that pre-adolescent phase when bodies are a source of mystery and fascination at the same time as they’re living, belching, squirting clown cars, the source of all public comedy and secret terror.

Boys of this age were Eminem’s original mass audience and his most faithful tribe, and he knew it. Slim Shady was their king, the kid who’d always go furthest, stepping across any line he was dared to cross. And “Just Lose It”, a lead single where the biggest rapper in the world spends an entire verse setting up one fourth-wall-breaking fart joke, is one for them.

Eminem was also the critic’s darling who’d made “Stan” and “Lose Yourself”, a phenomenal talent whose artistry (and yes, race) had helped push hip-hop to even wider audiences. “Just Lose It” has nothing to offer the listeners – like me, at this point – who wanted more political boundary pushing, more narrative inventiveness. In fact, this song was a finger up to that respectable audience – at one point Eminem joyfully takes the piss out of 8 Mile and its crossover hit, switching into “Lose Yourself” mode only to explicitly point out how that stuff is just as much a formula as anything else he might do.

“Just Lose It” is boundary-pushing and inventive, too – but the boundaries it’s pushing are “how crass can I get?”, and its inventiveness lies in happily trashing any expectation you might have built up about what an Eminem song ought to do, while cramming in as many stupid jokes as possible. It’s Eminem being his own Weird Al (though Al’s humour stays on the kindly side of wackiness). If the track has a throughline, it’s as an extended riff on the child abuse accusations against Michael Jackson – vintage claims by this point, but so is the Beavis And Butthead “TP for my bunghole” line Eminem swipes. But it feels like an overclaim to say Jackson’s who “Just Lose It” is ‘about’ – he’s in there, like the Teletubbies and Cornholio and Rabbit, but he’s more of a gateway to Eminem mocking the entire edifice of pop and R&B romance.

Em’s persona in “Just Lose It” is a fake loverman who keeps going disastrously wrong – going crazy, getting beaten up in clubs, constantly saying “boy” when he means “girl”. All these antics could be digs at Michael Jackson for sure, but they’re also the kind of things Eminem’s got up to in most of his other hits, and he’s got up to them because they’re what small boys find extremely funny.

This generous reading of “Just Lose It” owes a lot to Eminem scholar and critic Holly Boson of the Pop Could Never Save Us podcast, who’s certainly listened to this song a lot more often than I could bear to, and is full of insights into Eminem’s craft and evolution. I don’t know whether she thinks “Just Lose It” is a good record, though, and that’s where I come up against the harsh reality that I am not in fact a young boy. When I was one, there were records tailored for my horrid sensibilities: in fact we met one, “The Chicken Song”. Like “Just Lose It”, that smuggled in a fair amount of craft underneath a commitment to be as annoying as humanly possible to any listener outside the target group.

And the basic problem with “Just Lose It” is that while I can understand, even appreciate, what it’s doing – Eminem delighting the kids and scorching some earth after getting too respectable – the actual experience of listening to him do it is often stupefying. It’s a more focused record than the lazy “Without Me”, with more of its own identity. But a big chunk of that identity comes from the demented cawing of the “A-HA-HA-HA” hook, a berserk laugh track which turns “Just Lose It” into an assault course whose only rewards are more bad jokes. At the time, “Just Lose It” was absolutely baffling. Now I can explain it – just don’t make me listen to it.

Score: 3

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