With her recent VMAs performance, Miley Cyrus left America without a doubt that she’s finally entered the drug phase of her life. Her summer hit, “We Can’t Stop,” and her faux-punk hairstyle were the first tremors; now we are in the full midst of a classic child star rebellion (meltdown?).
In “We Can’t Stop,” Cyrus recites lines like “and everyone in line in the bathroom / trying to get a line in the bathroom / we all so turnt up here / getting turnt up yea yea.” She sings about how she’s “not ready to go home,” how “only God can judge [her],” and how she “won’t stop.” She’s describing—and endorsing—a life of endless partying, drugs, and hanging out with her friends.
It’s clear that Hannah Montana no longer gives a fuck. But a bunch of people got really upset at that: “cultural appropriation,” “disgusting,” and “classless” were just some of the words lobbed around in the wake of her performance. I think people might just be taking her a little bit too seriously.
Understand: Miley Cyrus is speaking from a culture of extreme privilege when she says and does these things. She has a ton of money, good looks, and talent, and so did her dad. Everything’s set for her at this point. So she can loudly enjoy a drug-filled, careless lifestyle that seems offensive and out-of-touch to the people who can’t relate—which is 99.99% of America. In a way, her performance was the face of young American privilege: of smashing things and appropriating things and not really giving a fuck, because it’s all a joke anyways when there’s money in abundance and the drugs come cheap.
Miley Cyrus is probably attracted to twerking and rebellion and the under-culture because she was born so far away from those things. That’s normal. People who are born into the under-culture often want money, glamour, and glitz, because they themselves were born so far away from those things.
It’s just that if any young person is listening to “We Can’t Stop” who doesn’t have a trust fund and is thinking “hell yeah, this is me and my friends, let’s get turnt up,” then I hope they know that Miley Cyrus is fucking them. Fucking them in the classic American capitalist way: they’re supporting her song, and yet actually following through on what she’s saying would be to hurt their futures. I understand the desire to turn up, for art or experience or whatever. But not stopping? That’s insane, and only something that someone like Miley Cyrus can afford to do. Getting turnt up isn’t as important as figuring out what you love to do and working hard at it. Miley Cyrus has already done the latter; with that done, she has nothing else to do but party and stick her tongue out on national TV.
Still, give Cyrus props for not just being a grown-up Hannah Montana. She’s come into her own as a Miley Cyrus, brash and young and reckless. But the VMAs took it a step further. Her whole performance stunk of a proud, privileged delight in all the different cultural taboos she could embrace in five minutes. It was an act meant to offend. But it’s not offensive in the way, say, someone like Kanye West is offensive—Kanye West goes on SNL to perform a song called “Black Skinhead.” Cyrus is just obnoxious.
Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs got her exactly what she wanted: attention. It’s easy to get attention using drugs and partying as a gimmick. But it’s ultimately short-term—just look at the “cool” kids in your high school, and how they ended up. If Miley Cyrus wants to be taken seriously—not just now but in the years to come—she might have already burned that bridge. I mean, if that’s the gimmick an artist has to rely on to get attention, what does that tell you about their art?
So we, as Americans, can do a couple things. We can assume the amusement of Jay-Z, who laughed at Miley twerking in his song “Somewhere in America,” himself a man who barely does drugs and would rather wear Tom Ford then pop molly. We can be fans of her performance and gush about her delivering on her brand, or we can turn off the TV.
But let’s not take her too seriously. On the inside, she’s just another rich girl who thinks doing drugs and acting out is cool.
But after achieving so much at such a young age, what else does she really have to do?