Something interesting, and not really that unexpected has happened in the past two days since most of the world initially commented on Miley’s VMA performance – I’m starting to read more people coming out in support of her, well…act. I knew the outrage would come first, followed by arguments that she is an artist, and that people are taking it too seriously, not seriously enough…or that they just don’t get it. It’s the way of the entertainment industry. While some proclaim her youth (Justin Timberlake as he stopped by Rolling Stone on Tuesday), others say that she was merely doing the same thing that male performers in the music industry do every time they’re on stage, and it’s only because she’s female that we’re finding fault.
I tend to disagree with Justin’s comment that we need to cut her some slack because she’s young, although to be fair – yes, Miley is young and yes, there have been plenty of others before her. The VMA’s are a spectacle, plain and simple. In that respect, I suppose one could say that Miley was doing what was expected. There’s always one freakish performance, and this year – she drew that card. Truthfully this train wreck has been in motion for a long time. I believe that since she announced that she would no longer be Hannah Montana, Miley has been trying very hard to break the “good girl” image. I guess being well-behaved doesn’t sell records then? (Funny. I thought she was a multi-million dollar enterprise with Hannah Montana…) I personally believe she’s acting like a young “lady” (I cringe) who has never been told “no”, and from what I understand in the discussions I’ve had with my fellow stage parents out there – it’s a common problem.
I have a difficult time compartmentalizing the performance from reality, and as a parent – I would have wanted to throttle my oldest (or any of them) if they ever did such a thing. But then I consider that when my oldest is on stage playing a part – and one time she played a complete blonde “floozy” who had no trouble using her sexual appeal to get men to do what she wanted, I don’t get upset with her. It’s not my daughter doing those things, it’s the person she’s portraying. I have no trouble seeing the difference between the character and the real person. So is that the way it is with Miley? Is she just being the young pop star when she’s up there and she’s not really like that normally? Hard to say.
I think back to Duran Duran’s beginning days – here were five guys from England who wore makeup, wore women’s fashion better than most women, and dyed their hair virtually every color of the rainbow. In the 80s – especially here in America – that didn’t go over without some notice. My own father couldn’t get past their makeup, and couldn’t understand why his oldest daughter liked them so much. At that point, I couldn’t even explain it myself. It just never bothered me – and in some ways I really LIKED the eyeliner and their clothing, although I’m still envious that Nick Rhodes applies make up better than I do, and that John Taylor looks far better with burgundy hair than I could ever hope for myself. My point of course is that they too were judged for how they looked and what they wore, at least by some…and we didn’t even have to watch Simon grab his crotch or molest a teddy bear. At least not yet.
Still others have commented that Miley is being held up to unfair standards. That she is doing virtually the same things that male pop artists do and yet she’s being called out for it. Ok. Maybe so. I know of a few guys who put together this little video in the 1980s that had some female “wrestlers”, a pillow fight, a little nudity, an ice cube on the nipple…I think you might know the one. Is that really any different? It wasn’t live on stage, Simon didn’t go around trying to grind with the models (although there are many, many other pop stars that have done that – Robin Thicke among them), and to the best of my knowledge – I don’t recall seeing him ever grab his own crotch or foam finger herself on stage the way that Miley did repeatedly on Sunday night. (Please, if he’s done this – just don’t tell me. I’d just rather not know.) Interestingly enough though, some of the moments that grab the most applause, screaming and joy from many of the female fans in the audience are those “JoSi” moments. How do we explain those? Is that different from Miley? I think that at least for me, there’s a difference between innuendo and being smacked in the face with it. There’s also a little matter of sex appeal. In no way was Miley appealing (to me) on Sunday night. It’s really tough to take someone seriously when they’re wearing some sort of an odd furry teddy thing and then strips to skin colored vinyl that does nothing to make you look good (and everything to make your behind look as though it has made an ungraceful slide down the back of your legs). I think it’s fair to say that if a male pop star had gotten up on stage, maybe even Robin Thicke, and had done some of the things Miley did (aside from the furry teddy outfit, because I think people would have noticed that), it might not have gotten as much attention. But why? Is it really because men are allowed to be overtly sexual in a way that women just are not (which I believe really could be part of the case here – but not wholly), or is it something else?
I still believe that art comes into play here. I mentioned Prince on Monday morning – one year (and I don’t even know what awards show it was for), he wore backless pants. Sure, it was shocking and a little (a lot) in your face – but he still played extremely well, even if he was overtly sexual and shocking for 1990s USA. Michael Jackson made the last half of his career all about grabbing his crotch on stage, but he could still dance circles around his professional dancers – making them look like students from a dance studio, and boy could he ever sing. Michael (for me) was almost asexual, he was just Michael Jackson. I was neither into him or appalled by him (most of the time), but I appreciated his enormous amount of talent. Look at Lady Gaga’s performance from the same evening. I didn’t really understand the point she was trying to make – but she ended dressed with shells for a bikini and a thong that was flashed towards the audience ever so briefly. She made her statement I suppose, and yet the world didn’t seem to be nearly as disgusted with her. Was it because her performance was more art than “Look at me…fear me good people of the world! I know all about this sex stuff – I can even show you right here!”, as Miley’s might have been?
From the time that Elvis Presley was first aired on the Ed Sullivan show from the waist up because he rocked his pelvis suggestively, sex has very much had a part in rock and roll, especially on television. We’re used to it, and sure – there is a certain amount of expectation that goes along with watching award shows. We want to be shocked, and sometimes – it really works to have a video banned! The line “Sex, drugs and rock & roll” did not come along out of nowhere. I think the part that some forget, especially the young out there – is that at one point, talent mattered. Lately it’s become far more of a spectacle than anything else of real value.
I am sensitive to the idea women aren’t given the same sort of sexual freedom as men might, but in this case, it seems to me that it’s the sort of damage control argument formulated by her PR people than a realistic discussion, which is a shame. I’m of the belief that it is performances such as the one that Miley gave on Sunday night that continue to hold women back. I’d have far more respect for her if she put some clothes on and relied on the talent that so many are quick to say she has, and prove the naysayers wrong, than play right into their hands with the sort of outlandish and flat out stupid performance she gave that night. Granted, everyone is still talking about it – including me. I have to wonder if that’s what Miley really wants to be remembered for though. On one hand, the publicity is fantastic, and I’m sure she’s selling records. Bad publicity is good publicity in that respect. On the other hand though, I have to wonder if the legacy she leaves behind is at all important to her? Does she want to be remembered for her foam finger, or does she want to be remembered for her talent? Not every pop star has to succumb to the cheap, easy performances in order to get air or stage time… When someone like Miley Cyrus decides to go the easy route – and yes, I really believe that Sunday night was in fact the EASY way to go – all she’s doing is continuing to play into the belief that sex is all women have got to sell. Even if it’s really bad sex.
With that in mind, I continue to be thankful that Simon, John, Roger, Nick and Dom haven’t gone the route of female models, nudity and sex to sell themselves.
Oh wait. 😉