“I never meant to start a war. I just wanted you to let me in.”
Miley Cyrus, “Wrecking Ball”
I keep telling myself that the conversation with Miley is over (didn’t she reach media saturation weeks ago?), but I can’t stop. I just watched her performance on Saturday Night Live, and it changed everything. It’s transparently obvious to me now that her performance at the VMAs was a stunt to gain attention (even stiff Lady Gaga and deer-in-the-headlights Katy Perry couldn’t come close to grabbing a fraction of the attention Miley got), but I knew it was a stunt back then, too. A tacky, disappointing train wreck of a stunt.
Except that it got her a lot of press. Which, as we’ve established because we’re media savvy like that, was most likely the goal all along. And considering how hard it is to sell albums today, how hard it is to transition from teen sensation to authentic pop force (Hello, Justin Bieber), this stunt may—as much as I cringe to give it—deserve a little respect.
Before her VMA performance, her manager was quoted as saying that we had no idea what we were in for. And that the surprises would keep coming.
After it, a reporter called her performance “a hot mess,” to which she replied, “yes, a strategically hot mess.”
As much as I hated everything about that performance, I have to give her credit for pushing buttons, for getting (my) attention.
I don’t know if Miley is being exploited by a team of menacing men (as Sinead thinks she is) or if this is The Miley Show, but her performance on Saturday Night Live makes it clear that Miley’s got talent oozing out of her pores…and that talent will still be there long after we’ve forgotten about the twerking.
If America is all about the capitalistic wet dream, can we fault Miley for wanting to make some money?
If America has the attention span of a gnat, can we fault Miley for doing whatever it takes to grab our attention and hold onto it?
Maybe, just maybe, Miley is a smart and calculating machine, doing what she needs to do to sell records.
Maybe, just maybe, we’ve got to admit she’s doing it right.
There’s no debate that she’s got personality and charm and charisma, unlike Britney, who, at this point, seems to have been a robot for so long I’m not sure if she ever wasn’t one.
I’ve been a performer. I write about erotica. I know that sex sells. And as much as I hate some of her stylistic choices, I don’t want to tell Miley that she has to dress a certain way or that she has to dance a certain way. Because that’s a slippery slope.
Who am I to say where lines should be drawn? Madonna humped a bed during her Blonde Ambition tour. Miley humps Robin Thicke. She’s only twenty years old, but she clearly wants us to see her as an adult, as an artist, as a professional. She clearly wants us to see her.
She’s refusing to be contained, and she’s demanding full personhood–and weren’t we all doing that at twenty? (I think that’s around when I shaved my head.) The specifics–Hannah Montana, a fight with Sinead O’Connor–will be forgotten within a generation. All that will be remembered is an arc just like Madonna’s leap from “Like A Virgin” to “Papa Don’t Preach” to “Ray Of Light”–sped up to warp drive in response to a culture that demands it.
And maybe Miley’s very weirdness is opening up the door to any other woman who wants to get on stage and do whatever the fuck she wants (hopefully not with teddy bears).
If we tell Miley that she has to change her act, that she has to change her clothes (or just put some on), even if we pretend it’s “for her own good,” is that any different than not-so-thinly veiled chauvinism?
Sure, it would be nice if she didn’t use black women as props. Sure, it would be nice if she didn’t accessorize in quite such an offensive way. But who are we to tell her what to do? Because I don’t want to live in a world where one woman tells another how to dress or how to behave.
And I definitely don’t want to live in a world where anyone tells me how to dress or how to behave.
And at the end of the day, she’s got some pretty good songs.