First things first. Like I said before, other than a few stills, I didn’t see the performance, either live or on YouTube. It wasn’t until a couple of hours ago, when my wife saw the YouTube Star Trek parody linked to the left that I saw any pieces of the performance.
And I saw something that was totally unexpected. What I saw was an angry young woman who was fully aware that she looked ridiculous, and didn’t care. I saw a young woman who has been molded into a certain image for years and who is trying to break free from that image and remain free. In short, I believe that Miley Cyrus was not trying to be sexy; instead, she was doing her level best to make sure that she didn’t get pigeonholed into a new persona before she finished growing out of her last one.
Her moves were too exaggerated, and the props and staging too over the top to be taken seriously. Her performance wasn’t an awkward attempt at seduction. It was a parody of the expectations of the audience, a challenge instead of an invitation. It’s as if she were saying, “This is what you want, what you really, really want! Are you not entertained?”
That’s the line Maximus used in Gladiator. After efficiently killing several gladiators in the arena, he turns to the crowd, and challenges them with his contempt, “Are you not entertained?” The crowd is there for blood and he gave it to them, raw and without pageant, forcing them to accept that the blood, not the pomp, is what they were after. Miley Cyrus did the same thing at the VMA awards.
She showed us what we want. And it was ugly.
Quick question: Would Janis Joplin get a recording contract today? What about Ella Fitzgerald, Carly Simon, Carol King, Aretha Franklin, or Cass Elliot? My guess is that they wouldn’t even get into the studio, much less get a contract. Some of the most talented singers and songwriters of our time, and they probably wouldn’t get the time of day in today’s music business because they don’t have the right look. When did the look of a singer become more important than their voice?
Because that’s the world that Miley Cyrus lives in. Disney carefully managed her image during her days as Hannah Montana, and I’m certain that there are people working just as hard to repackage her into a new image, following in the tradition of Britney Spears. It doesn’t matter what you sound like; Auto Tune is there to take care of that. It’s all about how you look on stage and what you do offstage. It’s not about what you sing; it’s about how you live. Your life becomes a role you play, instead of something you live.
And I think Cyrus has had enough. Instead of giving what was expected, she gave a parody of it. Instead of providing a soft core performance a la 50 shades, she hit us with 8mm. She showed that there’s nothing sexy about being made into a sex object when all you want to be is a singer.
Look, I don’t think Cyrus is sophisticated enough to think this all out beforehand and I don’t think she deliberately meant to send this kind of a message. She’s still a young woman, without a lot of experience, operating on impulse and instinct. On the other hand, actions driven by instinct are about the truest measure of a person there is. And if you watch the video again; and watch her closely, I don’t think you can miss the anger.
If I were managing her, if I had any sway over her at all, I would tell her that for her next performance, whether live or a video, that she should be on a darkened stage, sitting on a tall stool, dressed casually but comfortably. A single spotlight to highlight her face, and then let her sing whatever she wants to sing; whatever song means the most to her. Keep the instrumentation and the production to a minimum and let her voice sell the song.
After all, she is a singer, right? Let her sing.
It’s cheaper than rehab. And more effective.