First came “We Can’t Stop,” the party anthem of the summer that made us all aware that twerking exists. Then came the shocking, outrageous VMA performance that frankly rocked America to its very core, or so the Internet would have you believe. In its immediate wake came the daring-but-vulnerable “Wrecking Ball” video, in which she’s completely naked — get this — both physically and emotionally. Finally, to complete her game of Maximum Media Exposure Bingo, Miley Cyrus hosted Saturday Night Live this past weekend, and now none of us will ever be the same.
All hyperbole aside, I’ve been watching this whole “Summer of Miley” closely, and I find it pretty interesting. How many decades are going to go by before we’re not utterly scandalized by a rich chick who likes to take her clothes off? Are we scandalized at all? Is it all media hype? You can watch the full SNL episode now if you didn’t see it.
So what did I think?
Remember the final rap battle scene in 8 Mile when Eminem shuts down that dude by talking shit on himself? Remember — “I am white, I am a fuckin’ bum / I do live in a trailer with my mom / My boy Future is an Uncle Tom / I do got a dumb friend named Cheddar Bob / Who shoots himself in the leg with his own gun / I did get jumped by all six of you chumps…fuck this battle, I don’t wanna win, I’m outtie / Here, tell these people something they don’t know about me.”
Miley Cyrus’s SNL performance would serve as a fitting tribute to that scene. From the cold open’s exact replica of the jacked-up VMA outfit to her self-deprecating monologue, Miley called herself out on all of her goofy antics and then did it all again for us — twerked, paraded around half-dressed, addressed the haters — all with a lovable wink. She performed “Wrecking Ball” in what appeared to be a nightgown she borrowed from Justin Bieber and also did a cute acoustic version of “We Can’t Stop,” both entertaining and well-done. This was her perfect opportunity to prove that she doesn’t take herself too seriously, and she seized it.
I mean, she’s just being a star, isn’t she? The ones we pay attention to are the ones who proudly do it their way without concern for convention, and it works. I don’t think Miley’s approaching a Britneyesque loss of sanity or even a Bieber-like bubble of cluelessness. She’s in touch with her audience. And her audience is all of us right now. The machine is working.
If, as the nerdiest of us lament, this is where music is headed — to a brand rather than a product — then really, is it the worst that could happen? She’s giving us all something to talk about, at least. Whether you’re following her every move on Twitter or rolling your eyes at the mention of her name, you at least have an opinion, even if that opinion is an airy “I couldn’t care less what Miley Cyrus does” followed by a sarcastic reference to Billy Ray or Hannah Montana because you’ve been much too busy, you know, reading Kierkegaard and working on your novel to even know what she’s been up to since then.
Madonna just wrote a piece for Harper’s Bazaar about how she’s always shunned acceptance, pushed the envelope, and done whatever she felt like doing. Even when it’s something generally considered good, like adopting a child from an undeveloped country, she faces criticism. Why? Because nobody likes someone who screams “Look at me!” until we’re forced to? Because we resent people who have so much money that they can afford to indulge what we as commoners view as their eccentric whims? Maybe we’re just tired of every slightly noteworthy happening being beaten into the ground by constant greasy news coverage and attention-grabbing headlines. I’m aware that this makes me part of the problem on this score, too.
I think I’d have a bigger problem with the calculated reeling in of our attention — you know, the ubiquity of the impetuous summer single, the in-your-face VMAs, the sudden innocence of “Wrecking Ball,” and the just-as-abrupt accessibility she shows on SNL — if I didn’t think she were genuinely talented. I know it’s real cool to act like all pop music is garbage and has no artistic value, but that’s like, your opinion, man. She’s a great singer and performer with all the money in the world behind her, and she’s singing pop songs catchy enough to induce twerking in a dead Quaker.
Remember the old chestnut, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old”? If it’s too outrageous, too ridiculous, too pointless, too weird, or too dumb for you, then guess what? You’re too old, and you don’t get it. Don’t think I don’t include myself on that score, either. Trust me, there’s a point, and we find it when we drop our pretension. What’s ridiculous is doomsday prophecies about the future of music, popular culture, the youth generation, and the United States itself based on the behavior of a girl who’s not even old enough to drink.
I’m reminded of another old chestnut: The Who’s “My Generation.”
“I hope I die before I get old.” Roger Daltrey compounds that lovely sentiment by telling all old people to fuck off — he actually teases using the word “fuck” itself. In 1965! Almost 50 years ago! He’s saying it clearly: “Don’t bother,” because old people as a collective whole don’t get it, never have, and never will. You know, while I’m on the subject, I should probably see if Roger Daltrey wants to weigh in on this twerking thing, since he’s probably the last person on earth who hasn’t been asked to share his opinion.
What do you think about Miley’s Saturday Night Live performance? What do you think about what I think about Miley’s performance? Let us know in the comments, and remember — every time someone types “Miley Cyrus twerking” into Google’s search bar, a scantily-dressed angel gets her wings, as well as an androgynous haircut.