Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Day Miley Couldn't Stop

As always, significant cultural events reveal significant things about our culture. MTV's recent Video Music Awards were no exception.  In the midst of MTV’s glittery ode to itself, Miley Cyrus hijacked twitter for a while, and for good reason: her performance was incredibly inappropriate. In an industry that prides itself on pushing the envelope, she managed to shock almost everyone. 

When I saw the footage the next day, I felt embarrassed for Miley. The desperation and emptiness in her performance was heart-breaking.  On the one hand, I am encouraged that so many people were bothered by what she did. On the other hand, I am puzzled by the duplicity of the uproar, specifically from those in the entertainment industry. After all, she just did what her song said she wanted to do. 

Here is what the VMA’s celebrated and Miley brought to life in "We Can't Stop":
It’s our party we can do what we want
, it’s our party we can say what we want

It’s our party we can love who we want
, we can kiss who we want
, we can see screw who we want

Red cups and sweaty bodies everywhere
, hands in the air like we don’t care,

Cause we came to have so much fun now
, bet somebody here might get some now
If you’re not ready to go home
 can I get a “Hell no!”
Cause we gonna go all night

Till we see the sunlight alright

Dancing with Molly, doing whatever we want.
This is our house
. This is our rules
. And we can’t stop
, and we won’t stop
Can’t you see it’s we who own the night
? Can’t you see it we who bout’ that life
We run things, Things don’t run we
. We don't take nothing from nobody.

It’s our party we can do what we want
To my home girls here with the big butt
, shaking it like we at a strip club
Remember only God can judge ya
. Forget the haters cause somebody loves ya
And everyone in line in the bathroom
 trying to get a line in the bathroom
We all so turned up here
, getting turned up, yeah, yeah

So what did Miley do that got everybody so upset? She did what she wanted to, just like the song said. It was her house, her rules. She ran things, so she could dance like a stripper, do drugs (that's the "Molly"), or say and do anything because she owns the night. It's hers to do with what she wants.  It’s almost like she took the philosophy of her own song seriously. When Robin Thicke joined her to perform “Blurred Lines,” the show once again continued just as the lyrics predicted (WARNING: the lyrics are pretty crude): 
But you're an animal, baby, it's in your nature. Just let me liberate you…
I know you want it (3x). You're a good girl…
The way you grab me, must wanna get nasty. Go ahead, get at me.
What do we need steam for? You the hottest b**** in this place.
I feel so lucky, you wanna hug me. What rhymes with hug me?
One thing I ask of you: Lemme be the one you back that a** up to
From Malibu to Paris boo. Had a b****, but she ain't bad as you.
So, hit me up when you pass through, I'll give you something big enough to tear your a** in two…
Nothin' like your last guy, he too square for you. He don't smack that a** and pull your hair like that. So I'm just watching and waitin' for you to salute the true big pimpin.'
Not many women can refuse this pimping. I'm a nice guy, but don't get confused…
Shake your rump, Get down, get up-a,
Do it like it hurt, like it hurt.
That's poetic gold, no?  Anyway, Miley once again simply embodied the song. She acted like she wanted it, got nasty, backed her, uh, self up to Robin, shook her rump…you get the picture.

So why the shock? Isn’t that what the song said girls should do? The people in the audience bought her music, so clearly the worldview in the song was not an issue. The VMA’s were even giving a nod of approval to the song by having it performed live. For better or worse, Miley took the song seriously. She lived out on the stage what was apparently “the good life.” She was being liberated!  

And then all the people who helped to put her on the stage judged her when the very song they love specifically said only God could do that. 

I think I know why: it was painfully obvious to everyone that what she embodied in those two songs was not a good life at all. She may have been liberated from modesty, morality, good taste, and innocence, but hardly anybody cheered. Some kinds of freedom look a lot better in theory.

Maybe that was why the proudly open-minded, non-judgmental crowd berated her: Miley stripped away the veil between the false promise of the songs and the reality of life. Other artists have done highly sexualized shows on national TV; why was Miley suddenly villified?  Because people recognized that Miley's transformation from Hannah Montana to twerking stripper was not something to be applauded. This was clearly not progress in any sense of the word.

When a woman offers herself as a thing to be objectified instead of a person to be respected, she doesn't run things. When a woman grinds on a stage with a man who calls her a bitch, wants to pull her hair and slap her, and desires brutal sex with her, she is not in control anymore. She has given in to those who do not have her best interest in mind. The night Miley thinks she owns has begun to engulf her.

Aye, there's the rub. The lyrics of the song (and so many others) that MTV promotes claim that the good life is to be found by following the philosophy in "We Can't Stop." If that's not necessarily true, then that shaky foundation begins to crumble. It's easier to find a distracting scapegoat than to think about the implications. They're not haters, Miley. They're just hypocrites.

I feel sorry for Miley. I don’t know what’s going on in her private life or who is giving her career advice, but she’s tragically lost somewhere in a culture that tells her that her value comes from her ability to excite men, act as if she has no standards or propriety, and degrade herself publicly so she can be…strong? Feminine? Successful? Loved? Admired? Respected?  I don’t think any of those words apply to what happened.

Miley Cyrus, my heart breaks for you. You were meant to be all those things, but your road is leading you far, far away. It's never too late to turn around.


  1. One of the best (and most thoughtful) posts on the subject Anthony. Solid as always.

  2. Agreed Anthony, thank you for sharing. I have long felt sorry for her (and many other young pop stars). I've often wondered; when I see young talent rise to the top so quickly...how fast until they fall? It's almost inevitable that the stage that they so desperately desire will all too soon come crumbling down. When they are exposed so young without a firm sense of who they are, and are not rooted in God; all they have left to teach them is the world. And frankly, the world has nothing good to offer them. Thank you for your candid, thoughtful opinion on the subject Anthony.

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