Is Miley Cyrus challenging our ideas of pop culture?By Matt Miller | February 28th, 2014 | 4 comments
A few weeks after the MTV Video Music Awards — where Miley Cyrus offended and twerked her way into the next six months of pop-culture conversation — the superstar singer took the writer of her Rolling Stone cover story skydiving.
It’s a daring move, and impulsive, but it’s what she tells him after they both fell 12,500 feet that shows her true character.
“One thing about skydiving,” she tells the reporter while dialing her mother, “you really know who you love, based on who you call.”
Let’s set aside her music for a moment — which is hit-or-miss at best — and look at Miley Cyrus as an entertainer, an image and a figurehead of pop culture, because, as someone who is challenging our notions of what these ideas mean, she should not be dismissed.
The notorious Miley Cyrus image change began in the summer of 2013 as she released the video for “We Can’t Stop,” her first single from her latest release, “Bangerz.” This mid-tempo, ironically self-aware video mixes absurdist and abstract images of Miley and her friends partying. In this video is a statement that: Cyrus isn’t a Disney girl anymore, and this transformation into adulthood — like Madonna, Janet Jackson or Britney Spears before her — will be like a slap in the face with a foam finger.
Then on to the Video Music Awards in August, where, with stuffed animals and wearing a skin-colored bra and panties, Cyrus pushed the line of what we expect from prime-time media.
She shoved the term “twerking” into our collective vocabulary to the point where New York Magazine, the Guardian, the Today Show and ABC News were all publishing how-to guides (“a deep squat and pelvic tilt,” as one professor explained).
It may seem raunchy, offensive and an attention grab — and to a degree it is. But it shouldn’t be stifled or discredited, because it has something to say in a form closer to the artist Marcel Duchamp than to soft porn.
By doing whatever she wants, Cyrus is mocking the system that created her — the Disney machine, media and a culture that rewards normalcy.
And she didn’t stop there. Now, her “Bangerz” tour, which kicked off on Valentine’s Day, includes segments of her straddling hot dogs and simulating oral sex on someone wearing a Bill Clinton mask.
Parents who have seen Cyrus in her “Bangerz” tour are flooding her management with complaints. But Cyrus will perform in Denver on March 4, and parents here need to realize that, just as their own children will, Cyrus has grown up. She is a 21-year-old woman, not the harmless Disney character that became famous nearly a decade ago.
The show is clearly not for children, and parents should have hesitated to buy tickets after the VMA performance or after listening to an album with such lyrics as “shaking it like we at a strip club.”
It’s in this absurdist, fantastical and sometimes ironic performance where Miley Cyrus draws a few parallels to one of the more respected bands in rock music, the Flaming Lips.
While we chatted with the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne at the end of 2013, Cyrus popped into our conversation, as she did with nearly every conversation at that time.
“I get the idea that there’s something of her that’s in all these things that she does,” said Coyne, whose Colorado show in December featured him holding a baby doll atop a mountain. “I think those things are awesome. It’s funny. I think it’s really part of who she is.”
In fact, last weekend Coyne publicly showed his support of Cyrus by appearing on stage with her in L.A. to perform a Lips song.
We should give her our applause, not our sneers, for doing something different, for challenging the very popular tastes that created her. All art should be evocative, and when it comes to Miley, even falling out of a plane can be insightful.