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Rhythm & soul: Miley's year

By Kathleen McWilliams
On January 22, 2014

When we look back at the music of 2013, one person stands out as the biggest comeback, the biggest drama queen and the biggest...loser? Miley Cyrus swept pop culture with her raunchy performances, galactic fashion choices and impressively mobile tongue. However, when you look at the charts and the Grammy nominations, Cyrus' fame would appear to be less based on her music and performances and completely connected to her wild public persona.
According to VH1's 13-top selling albums of 2013, Cyrus' 'Bangerz' is only 12th and that's a company that caters to Cyrus' main demographic. On Billboards' top-15 albums of the year 'Bangerz' is notably absent. But that's hardly surprising given how the only two songs of hers that took off this year were 'We Can't Stop' (trite) and 'Wrecking Ball' (paltry and eclipsed by a schizophrenic music video). Cyrus' fame, therefore we can conclude, is solely based on her image as a fallen Disney star.
In Cyrus' defense, how many 20-somethings are the moral carbon copy of their 11 year old selves? It's natural to grow and develop on a physical level, but the public seems shocked at Cyrus' growth as an emotional individual. Yes, her current look isn't exactly attractive to me, in fact I'm not even sure if it's a fashion aesthetic or a lack of, but at least the woman is being herself.
In the early 2000s pop stars like Shakira, Raven Symone, Christina Aguilera and Mariah Carey dressed like superstars in plunging necklines and bedazzled pants and no one questioned their flamboyant styles. Cyrus' body suits and oversized Cruella DeVille coats are her forms of sartorial expression. The VMAs nude bodysuit and her subsequent performance sparked controversy over her promiscuity, but very few people have acknowledged the fact that the man who complemented her act, Robin Thicke, is a father singing a song that propagates sexual violence. If there is anything Cyrus is good at, it's finding a double standard. Anyone remember Cyrus' first mini-scandal when she pole danced in 2009 at the People's Choice Awards? It's hardly shocking in 2014 that she would grind up on a man and if she had been any other woman at any club in any city her behavior would have been completely acceptable.
Where I find issue with Cyrus is in her attitude towards what she has called 'urban.' By Cyrus' own definition, 'I want urban, I want something that feels black.' Now most probably won't think about it this way, but what kind of society do we live in that equates 'black' with 'urban' and a specific sound. Is she saying her promiscuity is a 'black' trademark? Or perhaps that her music needs to encapsulate the life of Black Americans in urban settings, something she has never experienced and has no right to share?
As Ernest Owens of the Huffington Post wrote in response to the comment, 'in case you were not aware, artists like you continue to contribute to an ever growing problem in the entertainment industry that I like to call 'manufacturing race.' Often low-key and subtle, but never appropriate, individuals such as you consider using racial stereotypes as a way of accessorizing a new look or change in self-image.'
America's representation of minority groups in the media, whether it's weak women in film or racist stereotypes of ethnic groups, is horrendous and Cyrus need not contribute to such images. African-American women are more than 'twerking' and urban life is more than wearing 'ratchet' clothes. According to a study done by the Center for American Progress, there are 12 times more blacks lawyers, 20 times more dentists and 15 times more doctors than black athletes. Yet, with the help of individuals like Cyrus who seem to think inside the narrow confines of what 'black' means in society, the most common portrayal of the group is through athletics and 'urban life'.
In an earlier column about 'Blurred Lines', I alluded to the fact that we should all become conscientious music listeners. Just as 'Blurred Lines' is a little too light with sexual violence, the values apparent from Cyrus' songs are harmful in the way that they encourage stereotypes.

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