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A closer look at Miley Cyrus

Published: September 27, 2013
Section: Opinions


Almost a decade after the peak of southern raunch-rap (a la The Hot Boyz, Ying Yang Twins, Lil John, etc.), Miley has shamelessly employed this legacy to uphold the shock-and-awe of her new image.

Summer 2013 has seen Miley Cyrus convulse in a manner that attempts to resemble the southern art of “twerking”. Her honky-tonk-ba-donk-a-don’t has been on more computer screens this year than stages East Atlanta’s Original Twerk Team can ever hope to touch. She has been quoted as telling writers she wants her new project to “feel black” and after a clip of her in the studio with rapper French Montana surfaced and received much backlash, she tweeted that she “knew what color her skin was” and that the “unfriendly reminders” weren’t necessary.

But dearest Miley, perhaps nothing was more unnecessary than being culturally and visually assaulted by your half naked ass-grabbing at this year’s VMAs. Black women, particularly those from the South, have long inherited a legacy of hypersexualized gender performance. A legacy long contested and continuously redefined by black women from artists to academics. A legacy dragged into commercialism on the back of ‘Hip-Hop’ that has landed black bodies much fame and notoriety in the mainstream.

Apparently, “just being Miley” means joining the long line of Disney starlets who have sought to cast down their picture-perfect reputations in pursuit of a more ‘authentic’ and grown-up image. This is nothing new for those who reach the pinnacle of Disney tween girl royalty. Miley seems to be following in the footsteps of fellow Disney tween superstar, Christina Aguilera. As illustrated by Aguilera’s 2002 hit-single, the key to cultural “authenticity” is found in getting “Dirty”. Rolling in the cultural dirt, where all things mature, sexy and (most importantly) black can be packaged into profit-rearing musical mudpies smushed onto the faces of the white American mainstream.

For the most part, America benefits. During these phases, our nation appears inclusive. White voices singing black songs seems to prove that at the end of the day we’re all human, right? But superficial blackness smeared across a white surface is just another way of saying minstrelsy. As cultures change, so does appropriation; it becomes trendy and haute-couture. In a nation so desperately clinging to post-racial fantasies, this new-aged minstrelsy is hauntingly praised by the industry, the consumers and the artist both black and white.

Just 24 hours after Miley flaunted herself in a nude latex bra-and-panties set, sticking her tongue out awkwardly and swinging her bleach blonde bantu knots, I scrolled through Instagram to find her tucked under the arm of Wiz Khalifa in a photo captioned “Young, Wild, & Free.” Wiz is not the only rapper to have stretched his personal brand to include Cyrus; she’s become besties with producer Mike WiLL and seemed right at home twerking on stage with Juicy J earlier this summer. And the recent release of Mike WiLL’s “23” marked Miley’s first official foray into rap music. So who am I to ask Miley to take a culture seriously when her antics are being so shamelessly condoned by hip-hop’s current front runners?
In short, Miley is money. She stands for controversy, attention and a sizzling plate of cross-over. What’s dangerous isn’t a 20-year-old white girl vying for attention and using black bodies to validate her sexuality. The real danger lies within the acceptance of black culture as White America’s favorite accessory, and white girls as the perfect compliment to a pair of J’s.

Imhotep contributes to the social media blog thegreatmvmnt.com, founded and run by Brandeis students Naya Stevens ’15 and Aliya Nealy ’15.