“I fucking hate it when people can’t adjust”
The music video for Miley Cyrus’ 2017 single ‘Younger Now’ is an exhilarating, and mature, reflection on the former child star’s career thus far. Written and conceived by Cyrus, the video was also directed alongside her long-time collaborator Diane Martel. Critics saw it as an “already full circle” moment for the then 24-year-old, acclimating in an “meditative justification of her multiple personalities”.
It portrays Cyrus “accepting her identity as a fluid state and her age as an arbitrary time stamp, and asking us to do the same”. Cyrus’ television show that made her famous, Hannah Montana, centred on celebrity in its paralleling the narrative of ‘becoming’ woman with that of ‘becoming’ famous, a process that she also lived out in real life. Some critics wrote off the video for being “sometimes hand-holdingly specific evidence that Miley’s left the world of clubs and molly behind”. “I fucking hate it when people can’t adjust,” said Cyrus.
‘Younger Now’ begins with a monotone shot of rain against the window, as the song’s introduction plays, consisting of frog and rain sounds. The title appears in a lasso type, the first taste of Cyrus embracing her country upbringing in Tennessee. The camera pans around Cyrus’ fictional bedroom, her shelves lined with storybook and horse statues, another ode to country life. The camera then stumbles upon Cyrus in bed as she “just woke up”, mirroring the lyrics. The single bed is similar to what a child would have, with frilly pink sheets and Manchester. The combination between nature sounds and shots with childlike imagery sets up the clip’s themes of returning to a more raw, pure and natural state of youth. We then change locations as Cyrus plays guitar and sings against a purple backdrop. Here, we get our first taste of Cyrus’ more extravagant costuming worn throughout the clip, playing homage to his iconic jumpsuits and outfits worn by Elvis Presley.
One shot frequently returned to throughout the video consists of Cyrus dancing with a doll, framed within Americana-type trimmings. The set-up mirrors one from Presley’s film ‘G.I. Blue’, in which he performs a puppet show for local children and families, who sing along joyously. Notably less comical, Cyrus’ homage can be seen as her reflecting not only on her own past, but a past before even her lifetime.
Drawing parallels between her own and Presley’s career makes a lot of sense, they were both mega-stars who became famous for their signature styles, creating a challenge when they wanted to break away and create art representing their ever-growing personal identities. After completing a two-year serve in the Army in 1960, Presley struggled to keep up the same persona as he did before; falling back upon making increasingly juvenile films, covering bubblegum pop songs, and a stint performing in Las Vegas. This is comparable to Cyrus’ lack of a defined direction after finishing her five-year stint on the Disney Channel, and growing up in the eyes of the public.
In Presley’s original performance within ‘G.I. Blue’, the puppet serves no metaphorical purpose rather than providing a charming visual and setting for a musical number. However Cyrus’ puppet is a metaphor for control, striking resemblance to her long brown hair in ‘Hannah Montana’, a time where she essentially acted as a puppet for Disney executives to pull their own strings and reflect their own values. She playfully sings and interacts with the puppet, suggesting that she is “comfortable with reflecting on her past self, even if it feels alien to who she is now”.
The theme of feeling a ‘lack of control’ is also prevalent in the scene where Miley spins around in a gravity-wheel type ride. During another, Cyrus sings while children dressed as mimes run around her in endless circles right before her eyes. These are representative of the machine-like industry much of Cyrus’ upbringing was entangled with during her time on ‘Hannah Montana’, wherein Disney was “selling a sixteen-year-old girl, a form of pop cultural prostitution”. During promotion for ‘Younger Now’, Cyrus said “I definitely look back on it as a good time. I think what was hard for me was balancing everything…I mark that up to doing some extreme damage in my psyche as an adult person”.
“Disney was selling a sixteen-year-old girl, a form of pop cultural prostitution”
What the fresh, youthful stylisation MTV offered to the evolving world of cable television, ‘Hannah Montana’ adapted (and parodied) for the children’s cable sitcom. Therefore it was an appealing next step for Cyrus, who sought to establish an adult music career independent of Hannah Montana. Unlike the forcefully different and shocking persona she adopted during the subsequent album cycles [2010’s ‘Can’t Be Tamed’, 2013’s ‘Bangerz’ and 2015’s free independently released ‘Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz’], this scene shows Cyrus embracing the direction that the universe is taking her, and feeling secure within her own capabilities of control and career.
One shot presents an elderly women spinning in circles on a pole. Set against a black backdrop, the brief image is striking for the resemblance to a controversial performance of Cyrus’ single ‘Party in the U.S.A’ at the Teen Choice Awards in 2009, wherein she gripped a pole attached to an innocent ice cream cart. It was called a “risqué number” featuring “a prominent pole and some questionable dance moves”.
As the texts that make up tween popular culture are discussed in terms of their potential harm towards vulnerable children (particularly girls), who are seemingly celebrity culture’s most eager consumers, public outcry was so intense that her employer at the time, the Disney Channel, attempted to dissociate with the performance, issuing a press release stating they “won’t be commenting on that performance”. In this shot from ‘Younger Now’, the woman is twisted all over the pole, her body contorting as the lyric “no one stays the same” flashes overlaid in a red typeface.
The pole dancing performance was critiqued so heavily because it signified an impending reality, that Cyrus would not be playing tween characters forever. Through this recontextualisation in the video, Cyrus comments on her feelings towards being unfairly judged for something so natural: growing up.
During the song’s bridge, the lyric ‘what goes up, must come down’ is repeated numerously, and also flashed on screen. Slow motion shots of Cyrus falling against a sky backdrop are complied in a non-naturalistic manner, from different angles and her featured in different positions. Wearing plain black tights and a leotard matching the sky, this segment portrays another inevitable career moment for Cyrus… when she will finally blend in with regular surroundings and no longer experience intense levels of fame. Despite still being a megastar, Cyrus has expressed a change in career goals and ambitions, saying “I am so much more complete than these headlines, these records, these №1s, whatever. I love my life and the fact that I’m just alive”. The imagery of calm, nuanced falling indicate an openness to whatever the future holds.
The final chorus is portrayed through an ensemble dance sequence, where Cyrus dances alongside men and women of all ages. Notably, this is the first time Cyrus has danced in a choreographed ensemble piece since the ‘Hoedown Throwdown’ sequence in ‘Hannah Montana: The Movie’. The pastel 60s costuming, as well as sharp dance performances from all, blend the group together to create cohesion across varying demographics.
“Identity is often constituted by perceiving oneself in relation to others, and by this, seeing oneself as different from others”, and Cyrus’ incorporation and embracing of the elderly and the youth inherently strengthens her own image, drawing from the previous scenes in the clip. Importantly at this point in the video, Cyrus’ ideas about the social construction of age are at the forefront. The ensemble fall to the ground in hysterics as the credits roll overlaid, their presence a striking contrast to Cyrus’ somber wake up at the beginning of the video.
While at face value ‘Younger Now’ sees Cyrus “put the bong back on the shelf, slipped her cowboy boots back on and returned to her Tennessee roots”, it is left for the audience to question how “un-rootsy these roots might be”. Analysing as video as autobiographical as ‘Younger Now’ also includes analysing the artist, and understanding an artist, both from their perspective and from an outsiders perspective will always ultimately be a question of subjectivity. Deeper analysis of Cyrus’ creative interpretation of age is ultimately tied back to her privileged, and unique upbringing as a famous superstar already tied to her father, famous country rock artist Billy Ray Cyrus.
“Deeper analysis of Cyrus’ creative interpretation of age is ultimately tied back to her privileged, and unique upbringing”
The imagery in ‘Younger Now’ is taped for repeated consumption, similar to early videos showed in circulation on MTV, where each shot and rewatch revealing more details about Cyrus’ journey. The pop persona is projected in an exaggerated guise of self-deprecation, ‘sincerity’, self-send-up, intense emotional outpourings, and in ‘Younger Now’, Cyrus manipulates each to create a new image which encapsulates her past, present and future. This has been a constant struggle in Cyrus’ career, as after spending years in one role, it was easy for Miley to jump from one persona to the next, which creates a question of authenticity: how ‘real’ the artist is.