Miley Cyrus’ Image Makeover Shows Why Black People Fight For Their Culture

I have one question: Miley, what’s good?

I n a bizarre, straight-from-Hannah-Montana twist, Miley Cyrus has resurfaced with a new, squeaky clean image. Gracing the cover of Billboard to promote her forthcoming record Malibu, she appeared almost barefaced. The picture reveals a more subdued Cyrus dressed in a delicate vintage pink Gunne Sax dress, posing in the middle of a country meadow. Gone are those raggedy dreadlocks she insisted on wearing for the past few years, along with her signature crusted glittery-party-monster-makeup aesthetic.

With this new cover story and accompanying photo spread, Miley has softened her gaze for the camera and morphed back into the basic white innocence that made her a household name in the first place. But the interview she gave to Billboard left a lot of people asking what happened to the girl who twerked her way into appropriating black culture not too long ago. Before turning over this new leaf, Cyrus was more than happy to wear her hair in cornrows, pop a gold grill into her mouth as she promoted the beat-heavy album Bangerz, and objectify black women as props in her first video, “We Can’t Stop.”

So it’s curious that Cyrus has seemingly completely changed her tune, distancing herself entirely from the culture she once appropriated. When asked about her musical influences, Cyrus told the Billboard interviewer:

“I also love that Kendrick [Lamar] song [‘Humble’]: ‘Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretch marks,’ . . . I love that because it’s not, ‘Come sit on my dick, suck on my cock.’ I can’t listen to that anymore. That’s what pushed me out of the hip-hop scene a little. It was too much ‘Lamborghini, got my Rolex, got a girl on my cock’ — I am so not that.”

This kind of thinking is exactly why Nicki Minaj almost snatched Cyrus’ ass off the MTV stage in 2015. Back then, she asked the infamous question, “Miley, what’s good?” Now I want to know the same thing.

In 2013, also in Billboard, Cyrus appeared to have reinvented herself with a hip-hop persona almost overnight. Earlier that year, she uploaded a video of herself twerking to a dirty south rapper J.Dash’s song, “Wop.” This was our first official introduction to the new “ratchet” Miley, and with this transformation, she was convinced that she had abandoned her pop-star image, enough so that she started being referred to in mainstream media as as “The White Nicki Minaj.”

Cyrus’ Billboard interview has people asking what happened to the girl who twerked her way into appropriating black culture not too long ago.

But any slight chance of that comparison being valid disintegrated when Miley explained to the New York Times, “If you know Nicki Minaj is not too kind.” Cyrus even admitted to understanding why people, including Minaj, were possibly upset with her, because she’s a “white pop star,” but still she doubled down on the misunderstanding. When Minaj called out MTV for rewarding Cyrus for appropriating black culture and mocking the bodies of black women everywhere, rather than nominating Minaj, a black woman, Cyrus took an #allbodiesmatter stance. “There’s girls everywhere with this body type,” Cyrus told the New York Times, right before calling Nicki’s grievance just another “catfight.” It was Cyrus’s frightened response to the “angry black girl” trope, which included Minaj’s now-infamous question that some believe put an end to Miley’s “thug life.”

In the most recent Billboard interview, Cyrus is really trying to put that image to bed — but she comes off as the typical colorblind white woman who still doesn’t seem to get how she’s been appropriating black culture over the last several years. She calls the fact that she was called out for using black women’s bodies as props “mind-boggling” and denies any wrongdoing in “taking advantage of black culture.”

But her comments about Kendrick Lamar highlight the real issue with Cyrus wearing blackness like a costume. She has reduced rap culture to nothing more than Lambos, dicks, and Lamar. Her comments reek of respectability politics and seem heavily coded in racism, with her cherry-picking negative stereotypes from the genre she poached the first time she felt it was time to re-create herself.

Throughout the entire article, she goes to great lengths to disassociate herself from behaviors that can be coded as “urban,” and her repeated usage of the word “roots” seems synonymous with “white.” She even boasts about how she was inspired to reach beyond what she calls “outspoken liberals” to “cultivate country fans and red staters” (a phrase that could also be read to mean Trump supporters).

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.

On Saturday, after being dragged up and down on social media and Black Twitter, Cyrus released an additional statement on Instagram: “I have always and will continue to love and celebrate hip hop as I’ve collaborated with some of the very best!” She continued:

“At this point in my life I am expanding personally/musically and gravitating more towards uplifting, conscious rap! As I get older I understand the effect music has on the world & Seeing where we are today I feel the younger generation needs to hear positive powerful lyrics! I am proud to be an artist with out [sic] borders and thankful for the opportunity to explore so many different styles/sounds! I hope my words (sung or spoken) always encourage others to LOVE…. Laugh…. Live fully…. to be there for one another… to unify, and to fight for what’s right (human, animal, or environmental) Sending peace to all! Look forward to sharing my new tunes with you soon!”

Though this statement may seem innocuous, asserting herself as more “evolved” for listening to “conscious” rap still alludes to parts of hip-hop culture being inferior if they do not follow respectability politics. It also doesn’t address her complete overhaul from cultural appropriation to country girl.

Miley’s temporary gentrification of hip-hop music is nothing new.

Miley’s temporary gentrification of hip-hop music is, of course, nothing new. She is not the first talent to toss their “urban” persona as soon as they reached new heights of popularity. I still remember when P!nk actually had fuchsia pink hair and spoke with a “blaccent” before she successfully transitioned into a more mainstream aesthetic. And not long after P!nk came Justin Timberlake, who transformed from a B-Boy grabbing on Janet Jackson’s titty to singing jingles for the Troll movie. Today we have Justin Bieber going through his rap renaissance, before likely abandoning that as well.

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. We know the only remedy is to keep on creating.

To quote Miley Cyrus, in a time where authenticity matters, black artists know this: “We Can’t Stop.”

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