Miley Cyrus shows hypocrisy in ‘hood music’ slam
As she continues her transformation from former Disney starlet to rebellious pop princess, Miley Cyrus is getting awfully cozy with ratchet rap culture.
The former Disney kid who later became a teen pop sensation now counts “twerking” and hanging out with rapper Juicy J among some of her favorite activities.
In other words, Hannah Montana has “gone hood.”
We got our first taste of Miley’s love for ratchet in March, when a video of Cyrus twerking in a unicorn costume went viral. She later collaborated with Snoop Lion on the song “Ashtrays and Heartbreaks,” in which she sings about blazing up in memory of those lost (“I lost some, let’s toast to one/ so raise a glass to the memories/Set ’em free and fill up all those ashtrays”).
And just a little more than a week ago, Miley appeared alongside Juicy J at the House of Blues in Los Angeles to twerk as the rapper performed his hit “Bandz A Make Her Dance.”
All this, according to a recent Billboard cover story, is part of “Miley 2.0” — that is, a Miley Cyrus who has left Hannah Montana long behind and who seeking reassert herself as a grown, party-hopping, twerk-team-reppin’ rock star. The new Miley is not shy about the new image she’s trying to portray — her latest single includes yet more references to twerking and lines about doing lines in a bathroom. She’s brought on hip-hop producers like Pharrell and Mike WiLL to steer her new material, and she shouts out Wiz Khalifa and French Montana as influences on her music.
Something that ‘feels black’
In fact, the writers of Miley’s latest single say the singer specifically asked for a tune that was “urban” and “feels black.”
But… there’s always a “but.”
When discussing the hip-hop bent her new music is taking, Miley stops short of aligning herself squarely with urban music. “A lot of people wanted to try to make me the white Nicki Minaj,” she told Billboard magazine (though she did don a Minaj Halloween costume in 2012). “That’s not what I’m trying to do,” she continued. “I love ‘hood’ music, but my talent is as a singer.” So even with the viral twerk videos, the shout-outs to rappers, and a gold grill, Miley still makes it a point to — at least verbally — keep herself at arms’ length from the very culture she claims to admire.
Herein lies the problem of artists co-opting cultures that aren’t theirs.
Hip-hop, rap and “hood” music are a convenient route of rebellion for an entertainer who was once known for her middle-America, Disney kid image. What quicker way to shed any memories of an innocent country twang than to dress like Rihanna and record videos of herself dropping it like it’s hot?
To this end, Miley’s search for a “black sound” sounds less like an effort to pay homage to venerable black musicians and more like an attempt to gain cool points for taking on a mantle of “ratchet.”
What is a ‘black’ sound?
While we’re here — what is Miley Cyrus’ definition a “black sound” anyway? Is it Prince? Hendrix? Michael Jackson or Darius Rucker? Miley should also be careful of treading into stereotypes and conflating “black” with “ratchet rap music.”
And even if Miley’s admiration of rap music is genuine and is not just a passing phase, she’s old enough to understand that she can’t just claim it when it’s convenient — that is, when booty-shaking to applause at a Juicy J show or snagging urban radio airplay by collaborating with Snoop.
There has to be some understanding of the privilege she possesses as a country-raised white girl who just happens to know how to twerk, and who can somehow make twerking and gold-grilling trendy and socially acceptable (while black artists and entertainers who have done it all for years are only looked upon as uncouth and inappropriate).
Otherwise, Miley’s “admiration” might more accurately be described as “mockery,” and her music stops sounding “edgy” and “new,” and starts sounding more like standard cultural appropriation.
And if Miley truly loves “hood” music, she’ll choose her words more carefully to let her fans know exactly where she stands.
Veronica Miller can be found on Twitter: @veronicamarche.