Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but sometimes it’s also the sincerest form of ignorance and annoyance.
Black women with large behinds are not accessories. Grills, trap music and stripper anthems are not all there is to black culture. These are little life lessons that Miley Cyrus seems to be unaware of as she desperately seeks to shed her Disney-approved Hannah Montana image.
The 20-year-old’s latest cringe-worthy spectacle was a performance at the MTV Video Music Awards over the weekend that was a total embarrassment for Miley and anyone within a 10-foot radius.
Miley “I know what color my skin is” Cyrus, came out to her Molly-and-cocaine-loving pop hit “We Can’t Stop” like some strange, lingerie-clad lizard incapable of keeping her tongue in her mouth. She then proceeded to show off her less-than-stellar twerking “skills” surrounded by black women with more pronounced butt and rhythm.
At one point she stuck her face in between the butt cheeks of a grown black woman and pantomimed licking and then she smacked said behind before she set out to awkwardly fondle Robin Thicke’s crotch.
On its face, there’s nothing wrong with Miley’s fascination with the twerking craze. Twerking is a fun, fast paced, provocative dance and it’s not shocking that any 20-something in the United States in 2013 is interested in that dance. The issue with Miley is that she is in the midst of providing a textbook example of cultural appropriation.
In her own words, she is looking to make music that sounds “black” and apparently to her taking on this “black” sound includes rapping on tracks with popular hip-hop artists, wanting a “big booty hoe” for her birthday, having a grill and of course a team of twerkers to adorn her performances and videos. Oh, and did you see that very NSFW cake she got her fiancé last year that was shaped like a gigantic black penis? Miley has been pretty clear about how she defines “black” and it all falls along well-worn stereotypes of hyper-sexualization and celebration of gluttony.
Of course Miley is not the only white entertainer in recent memory to subsume certain aspects of black culture and black culture is not the only one to be pilfered.
Gwen Stefani was taken to task years ago when in a move very similar to what Miley is doing now, she used Japanese women essentially as props when she was going through her Harajuku phase.
Robin Thicke is in the middle of a legal battle with Marvin Gaye’s estate over the alleged unauthorized sample of Gaye’s song “Got to Give It Up” for Thicke’s monster summer hit “Blurred Lines.” However that issue is less about appropriately acknowledging racial/cultural legacy and more about cold hard cash.
Justin Timberlake, who today can seemingly do no wrong, was criticized years ago when he decided cornrows were a good look for his blonde tresses.
The late Amy Winehouse and a slew of other white Brits have all been under fire at one time or another for singing “black” and using their white skin as a super pass to shoot straight to the top of the charts and bank vaults.
Black people have made tremendous contributions to American culture, including in music, so it’s not surprising that white artists are inspired by black people and black culture in general. In fact, it’s expected. There’s not a pop star alive today who hasn’t patterned some element of their career or performance after Michael Jackson and the current r & b singers (blue-eyed or not) owe a tremendous debt to the soul and blues singers of yesteryear.
Yes, imitation is flattery, but only if no mocking is involved and if the originators are handsomely rewarded in praise and when necessary, monetary compensation. Oh, and the imitation should be high quality.
Sorry Miley, time to have a seat.