I really didn’t want to write a Miley Cyrus post, to add to all the post-VMA posts, but….
But….then I read writer Julianna Baggott’s post, “Why Miley Cyrus is a Tragedy We All Must Bear,” on her excellent blog.
Baggott’s post went beyond the slut-shaming and open-mouthed “can you believe the train wreck” talk and cut to the essential sadness behind Cyrus’ performance, her video, and her song:
…There may well be partying, drugs, overdoses, orange jumpsuits, a hotel room where things go very wrong…
Is there any way to stop it? This is what I thought of the first time I saw her “We Can’t Stop” video, which now has over 157 million views. Despite the fact that it’s supposed to be a party song, it’s played in a melancholy minor key. The beat is slow. Stripped from its video, it’s a sad song that seems, if anything, to be about addiction… to what? Hers or, culturally, ours?
The first time I heard the Miley Cyrus song and saw the video, I was struck, like Baggott, by how depressing it was, like a bad trip or a tranquilized vision of fun seen through a veil. In the song, Cyrus makes references to ecstasy (molly) and doing lines of cocaine in the bathroom, but the song seems to be more about the comedown and the lows, than the high.
I’m a huge fan of the eff-the-responsible-adults party anthems, which can be contagious in their rebellious spirit, but this is something different than a freeing, countercultural rebellion.
In “We Can’t Stop,” Miley Cyrus sounds like a toddler, still tied to her parents, throwing a tantrum. (“And we can’t stop. And we won’t stop” “It’s our party we can do what we want.” “It’s my mouth I can say what I want to!”). The video enacts the wrung-out exhaustion of a toddler after the tantrum, succumbing to numbness, giving in.
Onstage at the VMA awards, Miley Cyrus bent over while Robin Thicke sang “Blurred Lines” and humped her. It was sad to see the angry toddler—with her piss and vinegar—enact total submissiveness. It’s as if outside forces have totally taken over: the pills, the drugs, the marketing machine, the culture, the “man.”
This all takes me back to a point we’ve made over and over on Drinking Diaries: drinking, like anything else, can be a great thing when it’s a choice, freely made, rather than a default mechanism, a crutch, or a numbing agent, or a tool to say “eff you” when you feel powerless and can’t say it directly.