Let’s get one thing out of the way right up front: 20-year-old Miley Cyrus is a very talented kid. No, really, she is. If all you know of her is what you’ve seen in the tabloids lately (shudder), or even what you saw of her as a very cute child star in Disney’s long running ‘tween TV hit, Hannah Montana, you might not know just how talented this girl is.
Miley Cyrus can sing. Her voice is the real deal. Just check out this video of Miley covering “Jolene,” the American classic written and made famous by Dolly Parton, who just happens to be Miley’s godmother
(As an aside, how incredibly cool would that be? To have DOLLY PARTON as your godparent? Yowza.)
See what I mean? Miley Cyrus has the chops. For more evidence of her talent — no tongue-exposing-twerk-porn required — check out this clip of her performing Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” It’s just Miley’s voice and a guitar here, and she nails it.
And then… and then… dear GAWD, there’s this performance from last night’s MTV Video Music Awards.
MY EYES. THEY BURN….
Here’s the thing: I am all about young women being sex-positive, and I think there’s long been a double standard in the pop music industry that allows male performers to draw heavily and explicitly on their sex appeal with no negative blowback, while women who do the same thing are taken less seriously and are subject to degrading commentary and criticism. Example: seventy-something year old Mick Jagger is still strutting and grinding and thrusting his way all over stages across the globe, wearing the same skin-tight pants — clearly designed to showcase his naughty bits — that he was wearing in 1976. Madonna, on the other hand, just turned 55 years old, and it seems like the woman can’t get on stage these days (or even go out in public) without the nattering nabobs spouting off about how she should “act her age.” That’s sexist.
And I also understand that performers evolve over time. No one should expect Miley Cyrus the artist to continue to project the same, saccharine, asexual stage persona that she adopted as a 15 year old Disney pop princess. However, I don’t think anyone who watched Miley’s performance at the Video Music Awards last night, and who found themselves — as I did — pretty much aghast at the awfulness of it, had that negative reaction due to sexism or because TV viewers long for the good ol’ days of “The Best of Both Worlds.” No, the reaction that Miley’s VMA’s performance evoked was far more straightforward and visceral than that; we all thought that what this kid did up there on stage in front of the whole world last night was horrifying, degrading, and embarrassing because it simply was horrifying, degrading, and embarrassing.
Frankly, it was a repulsive performance. I just can’t find any nicer way to say it. The awfulness of the whole thing was just cringeworthy, from beginning to end. And that’s really saying something when you consider the state of American pop culture today. There are lots of unappealing, hyper-sexualized, trashy and dull things on TV all night long, every single night of the year, so the fact that Miley’s act last night managed to so universally offend is pretty noteworthy. It’s one thing if, say, Focus on the Family had issued a statement after last night’s broadcast criticizing Miley’s act. Whether you agreed or disagreed with that organization’s criticism of the performance, it’s certainly the reaction one would expect. But truly, Miley Cyrus last night managed to cross the pop culture rubicon in a most disturbing and unattractive way. EVERYONE was aghast.
Check out the reaction of the (Will and Jada) Smith family as they watched Miley get it on with that giant foam hand. They were seated in the audience, so got to see the whole thing up close and live.
So what was it about Miley’s act last night that was so uniquely grotesque and at the same time, so universally unappealing? I’ve been mulling it over this morning and haven’t yet quite figured that out. It’s not just that Miley Cyrus was overtly sexy as she sang and danced on national TV; we’re long past the point in our culture where that’s an issue. For example, when Beyonce performed at the Superbowl this year, there was some criticism of how erotic-ish her dance moves were, but lots of folks — including me – thought it was an incredible show, and loved it. I had no problem with my little girls dancing around in the living room as Queen Bey strutted her stuff on the TV screen. In fact, we all got up and danced.
But if my kids — even my 15 year old son — had been in the room with me when Miley came onto the screen last night and began doing whatever that was she was doing, well, I would have been so uncomfortable that I would have switched it off. Maybe it was the way she seemed incapable of keeping her tongue in her mouth – her tongue action truly looked involuntary. Or maybe it was the fact that she was straight-up masturbating with her friend the foam hand. Each of these individual actions and more were painful to watch, but something about that performance last night was more than the sum of its parts. When I watched Beyonce own the stage in an admittedly very sexy pop performance at the Superbowl, I felt like I was watching a grown woman in complete control of her work, her body, her life and her performance. But watching not-even-old-enough-to-legally-drink Miley Cyrus do what she did last night in front of the whole world was different. She came across as a desperate and naive/insecure teen girl whose only understanding of her own sexuality thus far has come from adults who have exploited and preyed on her, and who have somehow got her believing that making fake orgasm faces in undersized plastic underpants on national TV is what will make people love her. The mama in me wanted to jump through that screen, swoop in, wrap that child up in a blanket, and whisk her away from the stage. I imagine I would have much the same reaction if I ever had the bad luck to find myself watching a porn movie featuring teenage girls, made and stage-directed by greedy adults.
Somebody (or somebodies) who loves Miley Cyrus and whom she respects enough to listen to needs to talk some sense into that child — that young girl with the amazing voice. Clearly, the grown-ups making millions off her record sales, live appearances, concert tours and management fees aren’t going to be the ones to do it. But surely there’s somebody who will at least try. I’m hoping maybe after last night, that person might be Her Awesomeness Personified, Dolly Parton — Miley’s godmother. Dolly Parton knows sexy. And she knows the business. Maybe she can be the one to swoop in and save her goddaughter from the people who encouraged her to do what she did last night, and who profited from it.
Did you see the performance by Miley Cyrus at last night’s MTV Video Music Awards? Were you as disturbed as I was by the act? What specifically did you find offensive? Did your kids watch with you, and if so, what were their reactions? I’d love to hear from other moms (and dads!) on this one.
READ MORE FROM KATIE OVER AT BIG GOOD THING (HER PERSONAL BLOG)
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