Carrying On: Pop culture can’t be tamed

October 3, 2013

I grew up watching her live a double life on Hannah Montana, and now Miley Cyrus is living a double standard in Hollywood. Some of my friends think she’s a disaster, an “Amanda Bynes waiting to happen,” while others insist “Oh, she’s just being Miley.” But, the way I see it, Miley’s career is a platform for social commentary on both the lens we use to critique celebrities and how social media has completely changed the entertainment industry.

From her infamous VMA performance to her controversial music videos, Miley has taken over every music news source and social media platform. Her recent work has certainly sparked dialogue, notably within the realms of gender and race. In her MTV documentary Miley: The Movement, released this week, Miley says, “You’re always going to make people talk. You might as well make them talk for two weeks rather than two seconds.” Two months after the release of her “We Can’t Stop” video, it looks like Miley has accomplished her goal. Which begs the question: Is she a joke or a genius?

In terms of entertainment marketing, publicity, and how to make money quickly, Miley’s producers know what they’re doing—in terms of creating an artist worth remembering, they are falling short. Many of today’s artists are artificially constructed—Lana del Rey, for instance. I absolutely love her, but everything about her, from her carefully crafted appearance to the stories in her songs, is part of a grand scheme to create a certain character. Her producers have successfully transformed her identity in the name of artistry. Miley has undergone a transformation as well, most of the decisions being her own, but in the name of what?

To most people, Miley’s VMA performance was inappropriate. To her, it was innovative. Miley wasn’t trying to be “sexy,” and in her Rolling Stone interview, she even admits her twerking was ridiculous. Just imagine a Miley with her formerly long, luscious locks in a sexy outfit instead of her creature pigtails and teddy bear ensemble dancing seriously rather than jokingly. The performance would have been deemed “hot” rather than an offensive “hot mess.” Robin Thicke wasn’t a focus of criticism either, which brings up a serious double standard in the entertainment industry. Women who are comfortable with their bodies and sexuality and want to have fun with it, rather than act conventionally sexy, are criticized and not taken seriously—yet when men exploit their own sexuality in good humor, they are applauded. Just look at Magic Mike.

The VMA performance was also chastised as a “minstrel show.” This characterization pissed Miley off because, to her, her black background dancers are not props, but rather, her “homies.” Yet no one seems to have a problem with the fact that people think the only reason Miley would associate with people from another race is to appear “ratchet.” If you’re going to accuse Miley of committing crimes of cultural appropriation, accuse every other white girl in Urban Outfitters apparel attempting to dance to hip-hop music at Rhino.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “Miley grew up too fast.” Well, so has every other childhood star since the beginning of time. The difference is that this time, we watched her every single move. Thanks, social media!

But, it’s not just Miley. Producers and publicists can exert control over celebrity social media accounts. One wrong tweet or Instagram photo can cause major damage, but there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Before we condemn Miley, I think it’s important to realize that both Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera were once on Disney Channel, too. But it was okay for Britney to be a “Slave 4 U” and Christina Aguilera to get “Dirrty” because that was part of their characters, right? I mean, it’s not like Britney Instagram-ed selfies of her shaved head. No, the difference is that our social media generation specializes in shock and awe. Pop culture, particularly the music industry, is not about the music anymore. It’s about who can become the next trending topic. And as cultural consumers, apparently #WeCantStop buying into it.

In her Rolling Stone interview, Miley said, “We gotta keep doing stuff that’s really crazy. I need my own Rolling Stone column where every issue it’s just something crazy I do.” This mentality is why the quality of artistry within the music industry has declined since the heydays of, ironically, artists like the Rolling Stones, Madonna, the Beatles, and Beyoncé.

Instead of iconic songs, moments, and albums in the history of American music, we get a bunch of kids desperately attempting to steal, and stay in, the spotlight. And nowadays, we’d rather see train wrecks than talent.

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