Why Miley’s Black Mirror Episode Is Positively Awesome
Right Where It Belongs: Critics Have It Wrong
Truth time: You don’t ‘get’ Miley Cyrus’ Black Mirror episode because you don’t actually want to get it.
Despite the goofy ending, the actual reason critics and fans hated the episode has nothing to do with its content.
And it has everything to do with hating Miley Cyrus.
Let me walk you through the contexts in detail, because if you didn’t get it the first time around, you need a crash-course.
Here’s why haters are wrong about Miley’s Black Mirror Episode:
The Nine Inch Nails soundtrack offers layers that people unaware won’t grasp.
Ashley O Is NIN’s alternative pop-born sister from another mister.
In the final episode of season 5 of Black Mirror, Miley takes point as Ashley O, a songwriter who wants to escape her pop star life.
True to Black Mirror’s themes, Ashley O ends up being drugged and put into a coma to keep churning out hits via brain-data-fuckery.
She gets saved by the plucky fangirl Rachel, her punk rock sister Jack, and an AI doll that houses her personality named Ashley Too.
Sounds like a tropey romp into yet another anti-music industry spiel, right?
You’d be half right: it’s so much more than that.
Because Nine Inch Nails.
Ashley O’s titular song “I’m On A Roll” is a tweaked pop cover of “Head Like A Hole”, which means this Pop Performer Turned Punk Princess trope has Met Its Master.
The cover maintains a bubblegum pop appearance until the final act, while also referencing the cultural undertones seething in all NIN songs:
Fuck ‘The Man’.
It’s also a nod to NIN as a pop vehicle for anti-authoritarian ideology.
Yes, NIN has made music that’s structurally ‘pop’ to Bite The Hand That Feeds.
Nine Inch Nails Makes Industrial Pop Music
Get over it.
Before Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor was in a bad 80s pop band.
As much as he (and the revolving members of NIN) likes to distance the band from its pop past, NIN makes industrial pop that’s perfect for remixes.
It can’t be escaped, even with the stunning, ambient Ghosts I-IV album.
Trent Reznor has said he doesn’t make catchy music, because he doesn’t start with a hook. Too bad Trent, your songs are full of hooks.
And follow a pop structure.
Wikipedia defines pop music song structure as follows:
Such include generally short-to-medium length songs, written in a basic format (often the verse-chorus structure), as well as the common employment of repeated choruses, melodic tunes, and catchy hooks.
Every single lauded song NIN has put out since its snarling nihilistic beginnings has had insane hooks.
I’d argue many lesser lauded songs follow the same pop structure as well.
Check out this fantastic mashup of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and NIN’s “The Perfect Drug” for proof of pop structure:
There’s a reason why this works so well.
Hint: it’s not because the music videos were directed by the same person.
pomDeter’s mashup of NIN’s “Head Like A Hole” and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” is another example of how NIN’s song structure crafts pop as rebellion.
It works, because it shares the same qualities of composition.
Despite what Trent and his bandmates have been trying to escape, they make industrial music a synth-fueled, gritty multi-layered pop cacophony.
They aim a musical firing squad at the establishment, with its own tools, whenever they pen a hit.
By NIN creating some extremely accessible songs, it has positioned itself to convert followers to the cause.
How is this thematically different in reverse, in Ashley O’s case?
Ashley O’s own journey of fleeing from her terrible handlers also mirrors NIN’s own distaste for the music industry, and record labels, which it fought against to produce masterpieces.
Miley’s ‘Ashley O’ is not a pop princess.
She’s a fallible human musician trapped in an impossible situation.
No matter how ham-fisted you think this episode was, you’re only getting half the value if you missed these contexts.
This episode features Ashley O being incredibly medicated, treated like a tool to the point of being fabricated as a hologram after her manager drugs her to put her in a coma… and more.
And what does Ashley O do when the scrappy Jack, plucky Rachel, and her AI clone Ashley Too yeet her ass out of her coma?
She becomes The Great Destroyer of her pop machination by showing up to thwart her manager from having a hologram replace her.
Ashley O’s journey isn’t thematically different from what NIN has parroted for years, it’s actually the same damn exodus, just painted in ‘teen roadtrip vibes’.
Without knowing what NIN is, what they stand for, and what type of music NIN has actually made, and the reason behind it, of course viewers missed the memo.
If you refuse to see this comparison, you don’t know enough about the source material to make a judgement call.
Furthermore, ‘Pop Purity’ reaches past NIN’s ideology, flawlessly.
There’s another piece of cinematic glory I need you to understand, or else you’ve just been navel gazing:
The concept of ‘Pop Purity’ reaches back to Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue
Who knew Miley’s Black Mirror Episode Was So Deep?
In this animated thriller by the late / great Satoshi Kon, Mima Kirigoe is a pop star trying to break out of the industry.
She does everything she can, even taking risque photos, and starring in a questionable adult film, to destroy her squeaky clean image.
This parallels to Miley’s own career pretty accurately, in terms of acting out to leave ‘pop purity’ behind.
Now at peace with her past according to “Younger Now”, we still can’t ignore how Miley’s own journey is a thematic echo of Ashley O’s, and therefore Mima’s.
During her Hannah Montana days, Miley couldn’t do anything to threaten her squeaky-clean Disney image.
Neither can Ashley O in this Black Mirror episode, as her pop idol persona.
It’s clear that’s not who she really is, when her AI brain-duplicate has a sweartastic meltdown upon figuring out that Ashley is in a coma.
Mima was barred from breaking away from pop idoldom, to the point of her manager trying to stab her with a goddamn umbrella to take her place.
Ashley O’s manager crushes up her pills and puts her into a coma so she can make a holographic replacement.
They’re the same thing.
I’m not saying Miley’s career was mishandled, but I am saying its a stark reality that pop stars are pushed to perform personas even past the breaking point, despite who they really.
Just like Mima was not the perfect pop idol, Ashley O isn’t either.
Just like how Miley was never the ‘pure’ Hannah Montana, and created a whole (awesome) psychosexual album with The Flaming Lips, to escape it:
Because that’s not who she really is.
And forcing people to act this way is literally the bleached-out mind-control tech-dystopian stuff that Black Mirror loves to showcase.
Satoshi Kon’s brilliant Perfect Blue has left its mark on popular culture, and has inspired countless examinations of the human condition, for years now.
Maybe the Black Mirror team wasn’t trying to make this explicit comparison, but it’s hard to deny that the forebearer of this theme (Perfect Blue) isn’t some source of inspiration.
Hollywood borrows from Perfect Blue constantly, even without knowing it, or admitting to it.
The AI panic of people losing their jobs to machines was something you should’ve gleaned.
But you didn’t, because something, something ‘Miley Sucks’.
Ashley O, when her manager drugs her and locks her in the hell of her own mind, uses technological wizardry to rip songs directly from her brain.
Her manager also has all of her sound-bites already housed with the AI doll known as Ashley Too.
For as helpful as Ashley Too is in freeing Ashley O from her coma, the implications of an AI doll featuring her entire brain, are devastating.
This is a perfect storm recipe for keeping the Ashley O image alive, without the pesky element of Ashley’s humanity gumming up the works.
Her manager even gets a hologram made, hooked up to a wildly gyrating dancer, and attempts to present it to an audience as a replacement.
Does this type of insane, tacky stunt remind you of anything?
Tupac’s Hologram was absolutely a gross cash-grab banking on the late / great rapper’s legacy.
As someone with a longer memory than apparently critics and Black Mirror fans have, it hit the same dubious note.
But it didn’t for haters, because purists don’t like Miley, and won’t get over the campy ‘teens save the day’ aspect.
The hologram stunt never gets pulled off, because Ashley O shows up with her task force to glare death-daggers from her eyeballs at the Manager From Hell.
I’d stare daggers too if someone wanted to make me into a vegetable and replace me and my work with a computer program.
This is a unique fear for humans right now: that we’ll be automated out of employment.
It isn’t unwarranted:
Robots are already starting to take jobs from hourly human workers, and it’s going to continue. Research from McKinsey found that 45% of current jobs can be automated.
Erik Sherman, a prominent financial writer whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times Magazine, to name a few, goes on to say this:
Years ago, I spoke with an executive from a company that was automated some types of work.
I asked, as even then this was the standard answer you’d hear, whether personnel would be shifted for higher-value work.
A moment of candor I’ve found remarkable in business followed.
The executive said, “You know, that’s what we say, but really it’s about eliminating the jobs.”
As this article outlines, never has it been more clear that this fear about trashing humans in favor of profit via AI is a very real thing.
Furthermore, the implication that even creative work can be passed to machine, with humans left to struggle, is a prominent underpinning of this episode of Black Mirror we can’t overlook.
But critics and Black Mirror fans who threw tantrums obviously couldn’t care less about topical tech issues enough to pay attention.
Or, they just hate Miley so much they were blind to it.
I’m going with that one.
Miley Cyrus’ stint as Ashley O is “Right Where It Belongs” in the Black Mirror Multiverse.
But you didn’t get it, because you didn’t want to get it.
It’s possible that I’m seeing what I want to see, because I’m a NIN fangirl, and actually think Miley Cyrus is amazing.
But I’d also like to think the Black Mirror team is smart enough to know where their references come from, and are deliberate with what they make.
Isn’t Black Mirror supposed to be a smart hot-take on tech horror, social issues, and humanity’s current existential crisis?
I want to give the team more credit, Trent Reznor more credit, and Miley Cyrus more credit, than I think the haters are willing to.
Because I see the context here, beyond the bubblegum ‘teen trope’ veneer, that plenty of other people missed.
And maybe that was the whole point all along:
The Terrible Lie that pop stars are disposable, unimportant, unfeeling, bubblegum machinations not worthy of empathy…