As far as the pop industry goes, the consumers of the U.S. love it when a mainstream artist has a total meltdown and ends up crumbling in a mass of shame and poor decisions. In 2006, when Britney Spears lost her aunt, Sandra Bridges Covington, to ovarian cancer, admitted herself to rehab for less than a day and subsequently shaved her head, the media boom of attention focused a strong lens on how her life was falling apart around her.
To top that, if possible, Lady Gaga was subjected to her less-than fans attempting to suggest she had a penis between 2009 and ’10 as a way for us to make sense of a female pop artist who didn’t actively use her sexuality as a selling point for her music. Gaga’s challenging of dominant ideology was far from tame what with elaborate stage shows and outlandish costuming that drew attention away from the fact that she was a woman and more to the experimental nature of her approach to music. All the same, we tore her down a peg just to be sure.
While the “Bangerz” tour could be described as carnivalesque and the culmination of too many drugs and too little attention span, and the advent of this new image was a way to separate the artist from the hometown “Hannah Montana” persona the Disney star needed desperately to shed, there’s something about the wild visuals this tour has produced that brings into question whether there’s a latent meaning buried beneath all that makeup and costume.
To be fair, the word “genius” gets tossed around a lot, but let’s call click-bait for what it is and suffice to say that Cyrus has some really intuitive ideas about how to make a statement. Buried beneath what we generally take at face value may be a message we can all benefit from hearing.
Cyrus herself described Bangerz as intending to produce a “very adult and sexy and believable” final product adding that it was the first time in her career she had fun making music. It was fully intentioned, on the surface, to break free of the previous body of work that had accounted for her public perception; Cyrus needed to grow up in a big way, but what we got instead was a sex-fueled nightmare, right?
Let’s think back to 2007 when Britney Spears was fresh off the death of a family member, a day in rehab, losing custody of her child and shaving her head. The build of the media sensationalism, which culminated in Simon Cowell suggesting her career was over after a lousy performance she was nowhere near prepared to take on at the MTV Music Video Awards, prompted now internet celebrity Chris Crocker to compel his audience to “Leave Britney Alone”– words that will forever live in infamy on YouTube and memes everywhere.
You don’t need to know a thing about the shadiness of the music industry to understand it’s pretty sketchy. Since the dawn of recorded artists, there’s been some untalented business type outside the sound booth flicking a proverbial cigarette while sipping on a single-malt Scotch.
It’s not difficult to understand, or have an opinion on, sexism in the music industry. To put it slightly more eloquently than a frustrated and blossoming Gaga, female artists are valued highly for their good looks and bodies, with talent and performance abilities playing a secondary role. You don’t have to walk far to realize that as they get older, female performers in both music and in a recently famous case, film, are judged critically on how well they look.
So, what if Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz tour is less about shedding an image (which frankly would’ve been much more tastefully done by…well, literally anyone) and more about making a statement about that sexism and public perception? The internet was ablaze with fiery comments about how Miley’s lost her mind, and this is a new low for her, dry-humping Robin Thicke and twerking in front of children. Right? We were so quick to judge her based solely on what she was wearing and the actions she took, we often forget that Bangerz actually has some depth to it.
A song like “Wrecking Ball” serves to underscore that Cyrus hasn’t completely gone bonkers, even if the accompanying video of her swinging naked on an actual wrecking ball is a little bit cracker jacks. Sure, it’s a “Southern Hip-Hop” mix that definitely doesn’t strike everyone’s tastebuds the right way, but it’s not like her lyrics directly reflect the kind of grotesque, over-the-top gestures she performs on stage.
Cyrus knows what she’s doing up there, and it isn’t destroying her image. By her fifth studio album, she may shed this persona altogether, thoroughly satisfied that she’s made a point to her old fans: “I’m an adult now, deal with it, or find another idol, but I’m not here to live up to your childhood expectations.” The Bangerz tour, however, covers an overlooked challenge to the industry: Cyrus is literally taking back her sexuality and flaunting it in the form of a neon colored dildo strapped to her waist.
Effectively what we can take away from all this is that Miley Cyrus saw a problem with the music industry she wanted to become more seriously, intimately, involved with and decided the only way she could make a powerful statement was to become a parody of it; to catch us with egg on our faces when we realized how terrible we all might secretly be.
Strutting around that stage with all the confidence a woman could possess and taking the backlash all the while just proves a point about how women are viewed in the media and how horribly cool we are with that:
Sexism in this industry happens, but as long as it’s not being shoved down our throats like a cheap stripper in a sketchy bar, we’re totally okay pretending it doesn’t.