Miley Cyrus is the girl of the moment, with her controversial videos and live performances fueling Twitter conversations and thinkpieces everywhere. Her haircut, fashion choices, and apparent disregard for her teenybopper past are all the ridiculous reasons why people deride her. For this and other reasons, I would love to defend Miley Cyrus. She is a young woman in the public eye who seems to be exploring her sexuality, ‘acting out’, and the tone that people often take when discussing her is unpleasant; typically about what a ‘bad influence’ she is; essentially, that she’s a slut. Lately, the ‘Adore You’ video – with Miley seemingly masturbating in bed – has sparked outrage all over the internet, which I suspect is precisely what it was designed to do. The requisite slut-shaming crowd, with all their knee-jerk responses, took to the internet in full force – undoubtedly aiding and abetting the media circus around Miley. I’m confident with the idea that Cyrus is totally willing to ‘forget the haters’, as she laughs all the way to the bank. But herein lies the problem; outside of the name calling and caterwauling, there are many valid intellectual and aesthetic reasons as to why Miley’s aggressively shallow brand of pop music is more worrying than empowering.
She may be a young woman experimenting with her sexuality, expressing herself, and being ‘silly’ as young people are prone to do, but she is unarguably doing it all in the (very) public eye, in the age of the viral video, and with an inbuilt PR team who can hunt for the whiff of public scandal like sharks after blood. In light of this, we can build our case: there is, of course, the Robin Thicke/twerking ordeal, the inoffensive but frankly nonsensical marriage of music to content in her Wrecking Ball video, and most importantly, the obvious and deplorable cultural appropriation in We Can’t Stop. Cyrus took to the road with her crew of dancers – all black women, made to bend over with their rear ends facing the audience as Cyrus smacked them like they were show ponies. A brilliant article which delves further into the pop star’s treatment of black female sexuality can be found here.
The creatives that Miley surrounds herself with do not display a desire to empower women in any of their other work, but in fact to objectify and lessen them. Her two major music videos (Wrecking Ball and We Can’t Stop) have been directed by Terry Richardson, king of post-feminist hipster photographers and Diane Martel, the director of the year’s most grossly obnoxious video: Blurred Lines. When Madonna sparked controversy for similar sexually explicit videos, she made things like Justify my Love, a story of gender performance and sexual subversion. She celebrated the idea of gender as a fluid construct, a minor detail if you’re in love, or even just in lust, with someone else. Miley lacks even the punchiness of Lady Gaga, who in spite of her liking for pretentious platitudes, has a strong and defiant pro-LGBT voice. It’s not that female pop stars shouldn’t be frivolous, or need to check their feminist credentials at the door; but in this worrying climate for young women, do we really need another one that represents the utter vacuousness at the heart of modern pop culture?
The cynical co-opting of the slick Terry Richardson aesthetic, the materialist why-should-I-care-what-the-feminists-say attitude, is no more than a (successful) attempt at selling records. I have to say – personally – considering the physical and sexual prerequisites for being a female pop star in this day and age – I am not impressed by the sexual antics of Miley Cyrus. I am crushingly bored by them, and wishing that this one-trick pony could find another trick.
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