B Sides 12: Miley’s “back” and I feel weird

And a playlist featuring TLC, Charli XCX, and Aminé | View this email in your browser

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ISSUE 12 | AUGUST 14, 2017

Song of the day: Uh Huh by Julia Michaels

The B-Sides Letter

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See past issues of The B-Sides on the blog and find the playlists by following this composite playlist:Composite B-Sides Playlist

Miley’s having a moment, or so my new issue of Cosmo mag tells me.

Miley Cyrus has always been one of the most important celebrities to me. I wish I could say it was for an interesting or important reason, but it’s not. It’s because when she first got famous, we looked alike. AND before we all knew her as Miley Cyrus we knew her as Hannah, which is MY name! So we were both 15 and everyone thought I was her and I just loved it and I’ve felt close to her ever since and I listen to all her music and don’t @ me for it.

(photo credit MJ Robinson)
Over the years, Miley and I have…grown apart. I don’t need to give you a history lesson and dive into how she’s changed over the years, because I think you know(but you all really SHOULD watch the “Can’t Be Tamed” music video if you haven’t. It explains a lot about how she’s been awkwardly fighting ~to be seen~ for a long time). This piece lays out the chronology with a lot of detail and nuance, if you want to learn more.

Four years ago at this time, the song of the summer was “We Can’t Stop,” and we saw Miley’s first video showcasing her newly-minted persona. We were just a few weeks away from witnessing her bizarre (imho) VMA performance with Robin Thicke. She twerked on Black women, smoked joints at awards shows, came out with an album that was pop-heavy with hip hop influences, inserted herself into rap culture, and had the time of her life. (I generally am a fan of that album, Bangerz, and “FU” is the second song from it that I’ve put on a B-Sides playlist.) She lived the perfect life of that hippie kid you went to bonnaroo with, but, like, with even more cultural appropriation.

This year, she’s back to country-girl Miley. She has grown out her hair and dyed it even blonder, is re-engaged to her fiance Liam Hemsworth, and is back with singer-songwriter music. She has publicly shunned the hip hop world she so aggressively inserted herself into, scoffing at its “misogyny” while accepting no responsibility for how she profited off of it, off of Black people’s music, hair, culture, and bodies. It was a recent interview in Billboard where she distanced herself from hip hop culture by putting it down, and talked about trying to get back to her “roots,” that showed just how little Miley had learned over the last few years.

Here’s why this matters, as written by Jaeger Blaec at The Establishment:

I know I shouldn’t be as mad as I am. But seeing Miley categorize all of her “hoodrat” shenanigans of the past few years as a “phase” is exactly why people of color constantly fight to protect their culture. Cyrus has been waiting for the perfect moment to retreat back to her country facade and the white privilege that comes with it. And it is black women who will suffer from this, who will be ridiculed for the aspects of their identity Cyrus borrowed for a profit, long after she’s shed the faux-extensions and taken out the gold grills to get back into the good graces of her white fan base….Some — including Cyrus — may argue that this is all a part of artistic growth, but I wish these pop stars would skip the part of their career when they decide to exploit the genres that are already hard for aspiring black artists to break into.

This is white privilege. It’s what I have as someone who looks just like Miley. She can put on the dreds, twerk without talent, maybe get shit for “acting out,” but then move on and shed that persona, chalking it up to rebelliousness. Even framing it as rebelliousness shows how problematic it always was: she needed to take on someone else’s culture in order to prove on the outside how drastically different she felt on the inside. Miley held onto this persona tightly when it was convenient for her, and distanced herself from it when it wasn’t convenient any longer — when it had served her.

She might not have felt like it was convenient for her at the time. Embracing hip hop culture (which — to be clear — she never even did well) went hand in hand with the other parts of her rebel image that became super central to her, like weed and sex. She got a lot of shit for this from the mainstream — shit about her being crude or immature. And to be clear, that shit was racialized. Many people lamented the loss of folky, songwriter Miley, and balked at the “new” Miley which they found depraved, and their criticisms of her and her friends were explicitly racist, or thinly-veiled. I bet for her, at the time, she thought of herself as someone in a subculture, in a minority. I bet she didn’t think she was “benefitting” from Black culture.

But no matter the shit she got, it never came with consequences. Mostly she got people talking about her. She got youtube views. She got money. And most importantly, for her, she got to be Miley Cyrus and not Hannah Montana, which she had been actively trying to be for 5 years (since she released her album Meet Miley Cyrus, uch that was a gr8 album). And now (I type, as I continue to psychoanalyze a woman I’ve never met) what’s important for her is to once again recreate her image completely.

The only piece she is holding onto is the one that still serves her — the activist Miley. The awakening of the past four years also meant a political awakening too, and that’s a piece of her persona that, especially through her foundation, she maintains. I mean, go for it. But given how little she seems to understand the dynamics of our society, it’s no surprise that many are skeptical about any work she will do.

The trajectory of Miley’s career has a lot to teach us about how and why celebrities craft the personas that they do (and I didn’t even talk about her entire Disney phase or acting career — there’s so much there, too!). I am curious to listen to this new album. “Malibu,” the lead single, is catchy, but it’s incredibly thin and uninteresting, and reminds me too much of freshman year open mics. And do you think it’s time for me to give up hope that Miley will come out with a personal essay (a real one — not on the Notes app) about cultural appropriation, privilege, and the beauty of hip hop? Also, how hard do you think I should try to make a “best of both worlds” joke somewhere in here? Yeah, I thought so. Nvm.

The B-Sides Playlist of the Week

This week’s playlist encompasses a few of Miley’s sonic influences throughout her career, including what she’s tried (successfully or not) to accomplish.

“Blame it on You,” Charli XCX — For real, there’s gotta be a Charli XCX B-Side soon. Her new album is fcking amazing and showcases her talent as a songwriter, artist, and collaborator. The future of pop music sounds like Charli.

“Karen Don’t Be Sad,” Miley Cyrus — This song is from Miley’s project “Miley Cyrus & her Dead Petz,” an album that came to be as her hippie/ druggie persona was waxing and her hip hop persona waning. It’s a fascinating in-between moment for her. This song is incredibly sweet and earnest.

“It’s Sunny,” TLC — Why aren’t we talking more about TLC’s new album?? A few years ago, the “T” and the “C” raised money on kickstarter to make this album, and it’s wonderful. This song samples “September” to make for an incredibly sunny experience.

“Get Up,” Mary Mary — I actually re/found this song when I was looking into the girl group G.R.L. and listening to their song “Lighthouse.” They wrote the song for one of their members, Simone, who died by suicide a few years ago. Years before that, Simone was in the music video for this song, “Get Up,” which is a supah fun inspirational jam.

“Spice Girl,” Aminé — Speaking of hip hop and of Charli XCX, this guy was one of the many featured in her now-iconic video “Boys.” Another reason to love him? On his Jimmy Fallon performance, he rewrote one of his last verses to be a criticism of 45, saying “9/11, a day that we never forgetting / 11/9, a day that we always regretting” and “You can never make America great again / All you ever did was make this country hate again.” It’s pretty awesome to watch.

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