There’s a Lot More to RCA’s Pop Phenom
Than Meets the Eye (or Tongue)
Photo Courtesy: Celebuzz
Story By: Simon Glickman
October 2, 2013
“You’re not a train wreck,” Pharrell reportedly texted to Miley Cyrus. “You’re the train that pulls everyone else along.”
The RCA star—the first signing by label chief Peter Edge to hit the stratosphere—has two giant hit singles and will soon release her first album for the label. She’s also powering another track into the upper reaches of the charts as a guest artist. But other artists out there could make similar claims right now. What makes Miley different? Why are we compelled to talk about her all the time?
The simple answer is “controversy.” Miley’s cavorting, twerking and aggressive tongue-play in varying states of undress in her videos (which have shattered VEVO viewing records) and her provocative MTV VMAs performance with Robin Thicke, provoked a lot of other tongues to wag.
“Shock. Disgust. Outrage,” posted DigSin’s Jay Frank on Facebook after the show. “The world is aghast. Unless you’re a teen. Who will clearly not be corrupted like their parents think. And a defining moment on TV made a star bigger and parents officially older.”
Much of the response stems from the first stage of Miley’s career, when she was wholesome heroine Hannah Montana, Disney’s adventure princess and merchandising machine. Some of the kids who loved Hannah were nonplused; some of their parents were appalled.
Add to the mix the usual moral censors, cultural critics, morning jocks (at non-Miley formats), sex-mad bloggers and “concerned” types, who may not have agreed on much but all seemed to think that Miley’s public behavior somehow indicated she was “out of control.” She was said to be hypersexual, maybe wasted, maybe having some kind of “episode.” There was talk of intervention, as though pop culture itself had been a delinquent parent and needed to guide the former Ms. Montana safely back to Disneyland.
Here’s the thing, though: Miley isn’t out of control. As she’s indicated repeatedly, she’s so in control that we’re just following her lead.
The twerking in the “We Can’t Stop” video and during her foam-fingered display at the VMAs—and the avalanche of commentary they incited–got the word “twerking” into the freakin’ Oxford English Dictionary. You got that? Miley spearheaded a revision of the English language, and that was just single #1.
Then came the puzzling, provocative “Wrecking Ball” clip, with our girl unforgettably swinging around nude on the title object, running her tongue over a sledgehammer and weeping real tears in close-up. The video suggested a wildly unstable, heartbroken stalker—and it was instantly all anybody wanted to talk about.
How out of control was Miley the artist? She tweeted that she’d wait until the video hit 150 million views before releasing the director’s cut. When she did, throngs of curious consumers rushed to check it out—would there be even more nudity? Would she lick other items from the construction site? Surprise: It’s a complete take of the close-up, with Miley’s emotionally devastated performance recalling Sinead O’Connor’s video for “Nothing Compares 2 U.” It also suggests that she could be a movie star, if she so desires.
Everything Miley does is fodder. She inspires tabloid chatter about her onstage behavior, but also parody, pastiche, mash-ups and more. Entertainment Tonight asked Emmy hopefuls on the red carpet to pose with Miley masks (featuring that protruding tongue, of course); I trust the Miley costume will be the preeminent music-themed disguise this Halloween.
Miley gets a lot of the credit for determining her own path, but we should also give a shout-out to manager Larry Rudolph and mom Tish Cyrus (father Billy Ray Cyrus, often cited in popcult chatter as presumably mortified by, or at least “Achy Breaky” about, his daughter’s comportment, seems to have influenced her facility with roots music more than her career direction).
Reality check: All of the above would be fun but academic if these weren’t really good pop songs, and really well sung. And unlike quite a few of her contemporaries, Miley is fully credible on a hip-hop track, as her contribution to the Mike Will Made-It single “23” demonstrates; on the strength of her rapping and singing (not to mention her appearance in the video), it’s in the iTunes Top 10. Mike Will Made-It, by the way, is responsible for no fewer than eight tracks on Miley’s full-length bow, Bangerz, due out 10/8. Kanye West, of course, brought her into the studio right after the VMAs to collaborate on a remix of his “Black Skinhead,” declaring (according to Rolling Stone), “There are not a lot of artists I believe in more than you right now.”
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I believe Miley when she says she’s high on purp in the club with her Js on. I also believe her when she sings a Dylan song, or “Jolene.” She’s perfectly comfortable in multiple lanes of the pop-music superhighway, and not without a sense of irony—rather than warble some anguished new ditty about the pressures of fame, she served up Melanie’s “Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma” at the iHeartRadio Festival, as kids in mushroom costumes and a little person in cutoffs capered by her side. Tell me she takes herself too seriously, and I will laugh at you.
But I would also suggest a little empathy for someone who grew up as Hannah Montana, and is now a 20-year-old who adores hip-hop, likes to party and has a raunchy sense of humor. In order for Miley to emerge, Hannah had to be blown to bits. One suspects that much of the tongue-clucking and “concern” is more about people mourning that cherished, squeaky-clean fiction than about Miley herself.
I think this trade-off is a welcome one, particularly because I expect this kid to make captivating Pop music for some time to come.
But no matter what she does next, one thing’s for certain: We’ll be talking about it.
What else can we say, the conclusions simple, SEX Sells! If you have any other theories please share.