You may be familiar with the classic Eminem hit “Cleanin’ Out My Closet,” in which Em essentially raps about killing his own mother and burying her. This might trigger a lot of you, but based on the childhood turmoil Eminem went through, we may try to understand his stance. However, Eminem did not let this feud go their graves. In his 2013 track “Headlights,” we hear Eminem extending a formal apology to his mother, Debbie Mathers, and also forgiving her for her past mistakes. Let us go through the lyrics of this emotional ballad and dissect its meaning.
“Headlights” is the fifteenth track on Eminem’s 2013 album ‘The Marshall Mathers LP 2.’ This infamous album produced massive hits such as “Rap God,” “Berzerk,” and “The Monster” featuring Rihanna.
Eminem spoke about the emotions behind the track in an interview with Zane Lowe; “It was one of those things that’s bothered me for a little bit. It was one of those things that I needed to get off my chest. So I don’t really have anything to elaborate or expand on that record other than everything that I needed to say, I put on that record.”
Watch “Headlights” Music Video by Eminem
Lyrics Review and Song Meaning of “Headlights”
Nate Ruess takes the intro to the song by jumping into Em’s shoes.
He reminisces back to the trailer park days when he was little. His mother was pretty much always drunk and possibly could not keep a straight job due to this. Her pill abuse and drunkness drove Eminem’s father away too. With no fixed income source, Eminem recalls countless times when they lived in the darkness and without heating.
Worst of all, Eminem recalls times of feeling sick when he actually was not. He says he was fed medicine by his mother when he was not actually sick. He also addresses this in “Cleanin’ Out My Closet,” saying Debbie Mathers is suffering from a mental condition known as Munchausen Syndrome. A person suffering from this mental condition believes that their child is sick and gives them medicine to heal them. However, this works badly for the child since they are not actually sick.
Nate Ruess performs the chorus of the song. Marshall Mathers wonders if he took his ‘revenge’ with his mother too long and too far. He is as if driving in the pitch dark only with the headlights on. There is only darkness behind him.
Eminem’s confession and apology begin.
Looking back at his musical career, Eminem realizes that he has been a hot head when it came to the topic of his mother. Songs such as “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” and “My Mom” brutally targetted Debbie Mathers for Eminem’s poor upbringing. Back then, Eminem was so fueled with rage that he did not think about what he was writing down and how it would affect anyone. As a singular person, Em’s mother possibly received the most aggression in his songs.
Suddenly Eminem’s mind jolts back to the days at the trailer park with his mother. He recalls intense fights he had with his mother– “Equivalent to chemical warfare,” a possible reference to drug abuse in the household as well. Em recalls a time when he was kicked out of the house on Christmas eve when it was 15 degrees outside. She did not even wait until Eminem picked up his coat.
Eminem also reflects to the time when his half-brother, Nate, was taken by child services when he was just eight years old. This usually happens when a household is not suitable for a child’s upbringing. This made Eminem realize that his mother was sick and there was nothing he could do to fix her. They kept on driving themselves apart for the rest of the years.
In the second verse of “Headlights,” we hear Eminem directly apologizing to his mother about the “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” song. Now he realizes how toxic it might have sounded playing on the radio, in concerts and all around the world. He promises that it will no longer be performed at his concerts. As per setlist.fm, the last time the song was performed live was back in 2013, before this album came out. Looks like he is keeping to his words.
Eminem lays out the reason for such hate-filled songs as “I just wanted you to taste your own (medication).” Verbal abuses must have been a routine activity in the Mathers household back in the day. However, after a decade since the release of “Cleanin’ Out My Closet,” Em realizes that his type of medication is not the answer. He stands at a more mature viewpoint now, having seen and nourished children of his own as well. Em realizes that his mother is getting older and weaker and he will not have many more years to make amends with her. In a painful agony he says “But, Ma, I forgive you, so does Nathan, yo.”
Eminem now realizes that his mother did the best she could with what she had. He realizes that the cross she bore was one of the heaviest and she did her best. At least she did not abandon them. So Em says “But I love you, Debbie Mathers.”
In the next part of the verse, Eminem spits about his father who abandoned him when he was young. Em says that he just can’t understand how a parent could do that. He also says that if somebody were to take his kids away from him, he would walk to the edge of the world to find them.
Next, Eminem describes a sudden encounter with his mother. This is also shown in the music video. Em says that they came across their mother trying to meet him at his driveway. Eminem was with his half-brother Nathan and his daughter Hailie Mathers, and Em introduced Debbie to everybody. Hailie had to be introduced to her grandmother and that is saying something about the estranged relationship they had. After this brief encounter they set off in their separate paths and Em looks back in his rearview mirror and sees his mother’s vehicle’s headlights. This tells us that Debbie was watching Em leave in her car.
Then Eminem pens this song as a tribute to Debbie Mathers for “being my mom and my dad” both. And Eminem is glad that he got this off his chest before something unfortunate befell him and took his life.
Finally, Em says that he will always love her from afar. Maybe he is not ready to have her in his life closely just yet. Still, “Headlights” is a massive reconciliation from “Cleanin’ Out My Closet.”
Nate Ruess’ soothing vocals lets us know that Eminem is doing alright thanks to her daughters. He strives to be the best version of a father figure he could be and not put his kids in the same place his parents did to him. This song is Eminem’s attempt at a new phase of his life.
What do you think about “Headlights” by Eminem and the message he spreads through it? Let us hear your opinions in the comments below.
Check out the complete lyrics and further song meaning breakdown on Genius.