The Role of Adults in Taming Miley Cyrus

Sorry for the slow updating – many things have been going on lately. I’ll update you on them in a few months. They’re good things, I just can’t write about them yet.

There’s been a lot of talking/blogging about Miley Cyrus’ new video and song Can’t Be Tamed. Both song and video are similar to the sorts of songs/videos we’ve seen from pop singers like Britney Spears and groups like the Black Eyed Peas. The video, in particular, features another outing of the more sexualized Cyrus that has been cropping up lately. Here she’s presented as an exotic bird on display for a bunch of rich people. Over the course of the video, she scares off the rich folk, breaks out of the cage with some feathered friends and dances about the building, only to return to the cage at the end.

She’s gotten a lot of flack for it. Even people who defend her recent attempts to mature her image are disappointed, as here:

So it’s not surprising that Cyrus would want a more adult image. And unlike many prefab pop tarts who’ve gone before her, Cyrus actually has talent galore. She’s got a hell of a set of pipes; she’s a naturally gifted musician; she’s a far better actress and comic presence than Madonna ever was — and it doesn’t hurt that she’s also stunning… What a letdown, then, is how predictable, derivative and dumb her chosen breakout vehicle turns out to be. At the top of her game, Cyrus is an artist who could do anything she wants right now. She got Nicholas Sparks to write a movie for her, for God’s sake. Why would she release a song that sounds so tinny and mechanical?

I don’t hold particularly specific taste in music, so I’m not going to get into the relative merits of different types of songs. I will say that Cyrus deserves some slack to try new things, period. She’s uberfamous, so she’s doing it all under a spotlight, but if you’re inclined to give her the slack to try out different ways of expressing her sexuality, you’ve also got to give her some slack to try out expressing herself in music through a pretty tried and true character type. And it is a character type: the reason that we can list off a handful of similar singers/songs/videos is because this is a clear, accepted way for teenage pop singers to act. Why wouldn’t she try it out?

I really want to talk about the video, though. I’ll just highlight an aspect I found interesting. It opens with a number of shots of the crowd of adults around the cage that we (eventually) find Cyrus in, and it ends with Cyrus back in the cage, but the room it was in is now empty and desolate. The “rebellion” that scares off the crowd consists of spreading her (CG) wings and singing – by the time she escapes the cage, the adults are long gone. Instead of a video about being tamed, this seems like a video where a young women is first put into a box by a bunch of older people who just want to look at her (or subject her to the gaze, if you prefer more theoretical terminology). Then, upon, quite literally, stretching her wings, she is abandoned by the audience. She wanders around with some wild friends, but they eventually disappear and leave her quietly sitting in her cage, alone. It seems to me like the message is a more angsty “Adults will pressure you without being clear what they want, but if you try to figure things out on your own and get it wrong they’ll take it out on you.” That seems awfully teenager-y to me. Maybe some of the worriers should chill a bit.

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