You know Skylar Grey by now, right? She provided the hook for two of the bigger hip-hop hits of 2011, Diddy-Dirty Money’s “Coming Home” and Dr. Dre’s “I Need a Doctor,” and also a potential third in Lupe Fiasco’s “Words I Never Said.” But the biggest smash she’s ever assisted on was one she helped write for someone else—Eminem and Rihanna’s “Love the Way You Lie,” whose chorus was scribed by Grey (then credited by her given name, Holly Hafermann). Like fellow songwriter-cum-pop-star Jessie J recently giving “Party in the USA” a live workout, Grey decided to answer the “What If?” question herself by recording a clip of her playing “Love the Way You Lie” herself.
The video shows Skylar at a piano in a hotel room with just a glass of white wine for accompaniment (and some guy whose disembodied hand randomly futzes with her hair at the 1:06 mark), playing the lesser-heard Part 2 to the song, which replaced Eminem’s verses with Rihanna-sung lyrics to match the original chorus (Sample lyrics: “On the first page of our story, the future seemed so bright / then this thing turned out so evil, I don’t know why I’m still surprised.”) From her drowsy expression at the video’s beginning and end, it looks like Skylar might have been somewhat tipsy during the recording—which really is never the worst thing when playing a solo rendition of your signature torch ballad.
Actually, the song sounds better in Skylar’s vulnerable-to-the-point-of-trembling voice than it does when Rihanna sang it with her appropriately pop-star-level confidence, and the super-stripped-down arrangement does much more for the song than the half-committed beat that always hobbled the original. The “Original Demo” version that was put up on YouTube earlier this year hinted at this, but the intimacy of Grey’s hotel performance—the dim lighting probably helps—really takes it to another level. It’s enough to make us wish the seven weeks the Eminem version spent at #1 with this song last year could be retroactively replaced with this one, forever expunging the “Now you get to watch her leave out the window / I guess that’s why they call it window pane” couplet from our memory.
Skylar is currently at work on her debut single and album as a lead artist, both expected later in 2011. Whether or not she will be able to parlay her surprising success as a hip-hop supporting actress into a legitimate solo career will be one of the most intriguing subplots in pop music this year.