Miley Cyrus, the 20-year old American pop star sensation, recently hosted Saturday Night Live, making jokes about her 2013 VMA performance and new album “Bangerz”, while even parodying her hit song “We Can’t Stop”. Cyrus' recent songs, skin-baring outfits and provocative performances have sparked criticism from a variety of media sources, critics and organizations for what some label as sexually explicit and racist material.
Nonetheless, I find the criticism of Cyrus unfair and unjustified. Cyrus has a unique voice as solo artist, and she’s free to express herself in whatever manner she desires. It’s time for her critics to accept that she’s no longer the young, innocent teen star of “Hannah Montana,” but an independent music artist looking to carve a new identity post-Disney.
Two weeks ago, Macmillan House hosted a campus-wide “Wrecking Ball” party, with a theme modeled on her hit song; one promotional poster featured House residents fooling around a Photoshopped wrecking ball. This says volumes about public perceptions of Cyrus and the influence she wields over our millennial generation. Does everyone like her music so much, or are we just obsessed with the cultural fad she’s become?
With all the criticism of Cyrus that’s circulating, it’s important to recognize that she’s only 20-years old. That’s younger than nearly half of the Bowdoin student body. Her career is young and with limited years in the public eye compared to most superstar musical artists, she is still experimenting with the musical taste that best represents the identity she wants. To hold her to the expectations of a conservative, veteran musician is unfair considering that she makes it a priority to stand out as unconventional.
Because Cyrus has never expressed a desire to be a role model, it is unfair to force that label upon her. Many young girls who watched Cyrus as the sweetheart, crowd-pleasing Hannah Montana follow her career now and naturally expect Miley to act the same as the fictional character she once portrayed. This is completely unrealistic, given that Cyrus has aged out of that role. She’s at the top of the Billboard charts, assumed worldwide fame, her music is appealing to a variety of audiences, and at the end of the day, she’s comfortable with her public image—she’s expressed this in her SNL monologue and in multiple statements she’s given to the media. I give Miley Cyrus a lot of credit for being consistent about her musical identity, while simultaneously having the sense of humor to acknowledge those who take issue with her. Criticize her all you want, but that’s a skill that most 20-year olds don’t have.
Why should Cyrus be forced to change her image when so much is working for her? She’s following a successful path: many female musicians before her—Madonna, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Beyoncé, Britney Spears—have also used their sexy, very feminine “assets” to complement their appealing voices. Overprotective American mothers are concerned about exposing their children to this provocative music and these risqué performances. VMA officials even warn that some of the acts may not be suitable for young children, but in this day and age, it’s virtually impossible to prevent kids from seeing these things on the Internet.
Critics need to lighten up! The music that Miley is writing and performing doesn’t actually represent her character and values as a normal civilian—as a musical entertainer, she assumes a separate identity to best advance her career. Actors and actresses do the same all the time: they’ll perform roles of characters who do and say controversial, explicit things, but that doesn’t mean that these things actually represent their personal views. So what if she wore cartoonish-bear leotard that she later stripped off or that stimulated fake masturbation with a foam finger during her VMA performance? The material is a commercial art, and it’s meant to be taken lightly. Miley Cyrus deserves praise for not caving into what self-appointed ethicists deem inappropriate!
In truth, the problem lies with the public’s long-standing unease about sexuality. When Robin Thicke does his sex thing, America just writes it off as typical bad boy behavior. But when sexual gestures come from a young woman, the American public goes apoplectic. We have yet to come to terms with women of any age expressing their sexuality. Madonna freaked people out back in the ‘80s and mainstream America is still dealing with it.
Where it gets confusing (and interesting!) is that self-appointed advocates for women criticize her part in the “Blurred Lines” VMA performance, because they felt that she should have taken a stand against the “offensive” lyrics. By participating in the performance, Cyrus did not endorse the concepts of “domesticating” or “blasting” women—she was having fun with a song that’s hit the very top of the pop charts. If critics have a problem with her involvement, then they should look to Paula Patton, Robin Thicke’s wife, defending Cyrus’s role in the performance. Additionally, calling Cyrus’ “ass slap” of the African American backup dancer racist seems far-fetched and overanalyzed. The dancer in question willingly agreed to take part in the performance, which was rehearsed many times before it went live. If she felt racially violated (not an unreasonable thought), she could have pulled out early instead of crying wolf after the fact. The VMA officials gave Cyrus’s performance their approval without expressing any hesitation, because in the end, it was all part of a grand musical act, put on for show.
Halloween is less than two weeks away, and it’s expected that a variety of Miley Cyrus outfits will be the most popular costume—many retail stores have already sold out of Miley-inspired attire. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see many—both male and female—students following this trend come October 31. The whole package of Miley Cyrus is trending to epic levels on college campuses across the country, which are embracing the fad Cyrus has created. That’s quite the achievement for any figure in the public eye, regardless of age or public perception.
Yes, I’ll admit it: I, an 18 year old male in college, consider Cyrus to be really talented and I like some of her music. Regardless of whether or not you find her music appealing, relentless criticism of her for being sexually explicit and culturally adventurous is not the problem. Shakespeare says it best: “the problem, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars, but in ourselves.”