Opinion: Miley Cyrus, the Iggy Pop Of Your 13-Year Old Daughter
Miley Cyrus exists in an uncomfortable middle ground these days… Now 3 years removed from the Disney Channel show that propelled her into fame to begin with, she provokes two separate images – neither of which appear particularly favorable. For those young enough to have tracked with Disney’s perpetually underwhelming kidcom Hannah Montana, they see Miley as a machine-esque hit-maker, but also a brand of craziness that only smart P.R. and a 24-hour news cycle can create. A sadly lacking role model for young teens attempting to track with a TMZ-fueled status of celebrity, Cyrus is steadfast in being the party girl. Not dissimilarly, through the eyes of an older generation Miley is simply a controversial talking point, following in the same path as Madonna or Britney even if, annoying as it is, that system seems somewhat broken. Miley Cyrus, as a musician, exists in a generational gap. But as a figure in popular culture, her antics feel punk in a way that only the female pop star can be punk – strangely honest and bizarrely captivating. Miley Cyrus might be the most punk thing we have, and that remains a problematic situation.
Now of course Miley could never be “punk” – not in the way you probably initially read it. Many of her antics feel like a game of chess, developed behind the scenes by publicists and scheming record labels to push her to the top of the charts. But this is far from a Hot Topic offshoot of what we associate punk with. Think of some of the “dare to be different – fuck fame, society and you” moves of the past decade and a half. Some of the most interesting talking points in the pop culture zeitgeist have come from the mainstream; Brittney Spears shaving her head or Lady Gaga wearing the meat dress were both acts that came – probably – out of some manufactured craziness but from the perspective of a casual onlooker seemed like a middle finger to society at large.
But Miley feels more punk than anything we’ve ever seen at the forefront of music in a long time. Sure, we could find truer and more accurate versions of the word – which itself seems to lack clarity in definition, but those examples exist on the fringes of musical society. In an article written by Dan Ozzi of Noisey entitled “Miley Cyrus is Punk as Fuck”, Ozzi hits the nail on the head:
Miley just does not give a fuck, plain and simple. She does not give a fuck if you think her adoption of rap culture is racist. She does not give a fuck if you think she’s bad for her gender. And she certainly does not give a fuck about what influence she’s having on young girls… Not only does Miley not care about your overly high-minded theories, she won’t even accept the premise. Fuck you!
Ozzi’s article tends to over-simplify Cyrus’s potential punk-ness though, as his thesis ultimately boils down to how much more punk she is than everyone else that’s potentially punk. But I think we can all agree that Bad Religion aren’t as punk as they used to be, My Chemical Romance were never punk, and even though Iggy Pop still doesn’t care about your overly high-minded theories, he unfortunately isn’t a name your little sister, or your aunt, or your grandfather, could necessarily recognize. Society’s lack of a conscious voice to perpetuate anti-establishment counter culture rally’s is disheartening, of course, but Miley at least partially fulfills this with her youthful angst – even if the lack of focus loses some of the appeal.
But let’s break down Miley’s past few years… The blonde, pixie haircut … Grinding on flavor-of-the-month Robin Thicke at the VMA’s… The “Wrecking Ball” music video… Any of the alleged drug use… The Bangerz tour as a whole. Each of these events, individually, have had dozens and dozens of Buzzfeed nonsensicals and Huffington Post articles wasted on them, but Miley’s recent interview with W Magazine probably sums up her thoughts the best: “I don’t give a shit. I’m not Disney, where they have, like, an Asian girl, a black girl, and a white girl, to be politically correct, and, like, everyone has bright-colored T-shirts. You know, it’s like, I’m not making any kind of statement. Anyone that hates on you is always below you, because they’re just jealous of what you have.”
And do parents have the right to be upset about their kids seeing the “We Can’t Stop” music video and going to the Bangerz tour? Maybe. But parents were mad at Madonna for “Like a Virgin”, and parents were mad at Brittney Spears for sexualizing youth to an inappropriate level. The difference is that Miley revels in saying fuck you while Spears and Madonna were simply walking a fine, corporate sponsored line. And could parents be mad at her for “simulating a sex act on a Bill Clinton look-alike, riding a 15-foot hot dog while clad in a mustard-colored outfit, wearing a marijuana-inspired stage outfit and selling $40 gold rolling papers at her concerts”? Yeah, they could be mad. And if I had a kid, I’d probably be mad, too.
But the most fascinating element of the Miley Cyrus conversation is the potential implications it has on younger people. Because for as many offensively and, arguably, distasteful punk moments as she has, she’s also constructed some intelligently (albeit pointless) ones as well. Keep in mind that the target demo for Miley is still teenage girls and girls 20-24. For each tongue out twerk sesh, she also Instagrams pictures of Kathleen Hanna from Bikini Kill. For each slut shaming article comes another one about her performing with the Flaming Lips. For every moment of her giving fellatio to former scandalized presidents in concert, there are moments of her covering Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, Nirvana or The Smiths. It’s all part of the same package.
Miley Cyrus might not be good for your son or daughter, but I’d dare say that her enigmatic presence and the wild abandon with which she runs her life isn’t BAD, either. Cyrus very openly admits to this kind of self-aware character workings, saying that “People have made me seem like a character. So now I’m just enjoying playing a character of myself.” But that character feels detrimental and helpful simultaneously, giving way to fascinating conversations about feminism and sexuality. The “fuck you” spirit which comes with her antics is unfortunate – but none the less important. And let’s just accept, for a moment, the kind of cultural pull a Miley Cyrus has. To be covering the Beatles with Wayne in front of twenty five thousand screaming little girls isn’t the worst thing to come out of her punk-ness.
The debate, though, is unfortunately moot. The conversation has been had, and that’s more than can be said for most artists. Miley has taken the concept of “publicity stunts” and pushed it into a punk rock territory better and more effectively than any other pop star of the past 30 years, and that’s good, because at least there’s an honesty to her DGAF-mentality. Lady Gaga’s meat dress? Britney shaving her head? Both means to an end – personal or political. And love her or hate her, Miley is an enigmatic force of controversy. The way kids looked up to Iggy Pop back in the day, as being a shirtless badass with a middle finger and a bottle of whiskey, ready to do what he wanted when he wanted? That’s Miley Cyrus, for better or worse. And hey, at least she’s not ignorant to the effect she’s having, she’s just indifferent to it: “It’s almost punk rock to like me because it’s not the right thing to do. Like, society wants to shut me down.” Somewhere out there this very minute, Patti Smith’s tears are being wiped up by Ian MacKaye as they comfort each other in the silence and darkness of this seemingly cruel, cold world.