Back! Because, you know: MILEY.
There are so many directions I could take This. Actually, the entire internet is discovering there are so many directions to take This (“This,” being Miley’s 2013 VMA performance), but after half of a work day, the reigning internet sentiment seems to be a sense of sniffling nostalgia for the “good old days” of 2001, when we pearl-clutched over half-dressed pop stars dancing with snakes (instead of half-dressed pop stars dancing with Beetlejuice…..for instance).
NPR actually managed to work Miley and Syria into the same paragraph in a self-apologetic nod to the fact that “sexy” pop culture stories do get a lot of attention, newsworthy or not. They also included a “How offensive did you find it?” poll. The majority, by the way, found her pigtailed, crotch-grabbing extravaganza “in bad taste,” but not quite “very offensive.” Good on ya, NPR listeners. Also, thanks for that definition of “twerk.” For the grown-ups.
Jezebel recapped some of the best tweets about the evening. Alexa Chung wins the night:
And then there was All of That Tongue:
So, anyway — what direction am I going to take it?
Er — I’m going to ignore the foam finger/penis, the Really Awkward Dancing, the spooky teddy bear theme, and the eerily asexual reception of the overtly sexual performance, and park it on the fact that she co-opted “Blurred Lines” (in duet form), which actually brought a little bit of balance to everyone’s favorite Misogynist Summer Pop Hit.
Here’s the thing: I’m of at least two minds when it comes to “Blurred Lines.”
One half of my brain says “yikes.” The reasonable half that hates the objectification of ANYONE says “yikes.” The half that hates videos with naked ladies prancing around for the pleasure of the fully-clothed men says “yikes.” The half of my brain that hates rapey songs that treat women as prizes (lucky enough to have their nether bits torn asunder by a magnanimous LIBERATOR, while we’re at it) says “yikes.” Ugh, ugh, ugh. Here’s someone else’s analysis along the same lines. It’s the old James Bond “No-Means-Yes” scenario all over again (now! with more nipples!).
There’s another part of my brain (let’s say 25% of it) that says, “Wish I was the hottest bitch in this place….” I’ll just admit vanity.
Then the other quarter of my brain gets all spun around when the tables turn and a 20-something girl (with, uh, twin donuts on top of her head….?) gets to play the “aggressor” in the presentation of the song,. Because — frankly — Robin Thicke was window dressing for Miley’s VMA bizarre-o show. Sure — she still emulated the naked video girls of the original, but was there a *touch* of irony there when the video girl took control of the mic, instead? I wanted to think so.
I heard a few months ago that Miley’s “We Can’t Stop” tune was originally written for Rihanna. I don’t know if that’s truly the case, but watching the former Disney queen get freaky with a giant foam finger last night did make me wonder if the entire performance would have felt less shocking if we’d substituted Rihanna for Miley. And that got me thinking about what I shall call the Young Lady Star Sexy Continuum.
At one end we have the Rihannas (and the aspirational Miley). Standard issue “whips, chains,” foam fingers, and skin on display. At the other end we have the Taylor Swifts. Embroidered sweaters, lace, oxfords, ice cream cones.
Parked squarely in the middle: Jennifer Lawrence.
Everyone wants to be Jennifer Lawrence.
Or Jennifer Lawrence’s best friend.
Or they want their lady stars to be more like Jennifer Lawrence. Vogue covers (complete with Girl-Crush-ee essays from Anna Wintour), adoring fans (like Jack Nicholson), Oscars and ovations and Dior and Devil-May-Care swagger AND: modesty. Not the blushing, faux-virginal “he loves me, he loves me not” brand of put-on modesty that the Swift end of the spectrum offers, but a reasonable, girl-next-door brand of normalcy (rooted-in-self-respect), that doesn’t need to scream “Look at my crotch — aren’t I an adult – ?!”
It’s odd to notice that when the shock-value envelope is pushed too far in either direction, the result feels more like a caricature of sexy (or a caricature of virtue). Lady Gaga herself once mentioned in an interview with Caitlin Moran that she understood that she wasn’t fanning the flame of any hetero-normative fantasies, and that’s what Miley brought to mind when she bent over and did this:
My thought wasn’t “my goodness, all of the MEN will surely want a piece of her, now!”
It was more like “Dude wasn’t really sure what to do with his left hand…..?”
But, to come back around to the 90 seconds of “Blurred Lines” that they performed “together,” I’d say Miley managed something a little more subtle than simulating sexy times with every object on stage: she took the Sexy out of sexy. Whether wittingly or not, she managed to wiggle her way into an anthem that really champions the Male Gaze, and make ALL of us squirm and cover our eyes. Which is what we SHOULD be feeling when we hear a song like that one. She managed to make it ridiculous and uncomfortable in a matter of a few seconds — and now — when we hear that “hey hey hey” cowbell refrain come on the Pandora feed, I challenge any of us NOT to see her tongue-wagging shtick instead.
I’m not going to give her credit for doing this purposefully (though the tongue bit, in its deliberately excessive ookiness makes me suspect she’s trying less to be Sexy, and more to force a conversation — so, there may be more going on in her Image Plan than meets the eye). BUT — however we felt about her internet-proclaimed “x-rated” performance (hyperbole, thy name is Internet), she wrested the focus of a sexist song away from the “36 year-old, married father” as Thicke continues to be referred, and kept the power in the hands (er — foam finger?) of her rabble-rousing pop personae — while maintaining her demand that we see her as something other than Hannah Montana, for better or worse.
Er — mission accomplished there.
Now put your tongue away, young lady.
And lets all go wash our eyeballs.