So how about those VMAs, eh? That was rubbish, wasn’t it? What a lifeless orgy of cultural appropriation attended by famous people who have been waiting for an excuse to dress as a triangle, presented by less famous people who are allowed to tell their own jokes providing no one else will find them funny.
Between Robin Thicke winning the award for ‘Best Peddler of Rape Culture’ by a landslide, Professor “rights for gays (no homo)” Macklemore being a typical dry lunch and Miley’s possessed tongue, we barely got a chance to soak in the stuff that was actually worth talking about, limited as it may have been to Justin Timberlake’s existence. Such is showbiz.
Anyway, it is now September, which means three things: we don’t have to deal with the VMAs again for another twelve months, the leaves have started to turn so it’s okay to wear a scarf even if it’s still 17 degrees and you will feel strangely compelled to buy a disproportionate amount of stationary regardless of whether you’re still in the education system. On that note, I’m about to drop a truth bomb on you I wish somebody had shared with me when I was a teenager.
During my first two years of high school, when I was young enough to justify spending money on a Zippy pencil case to desecrate with tip-ex tattoos of The Offspring logo, music in general was going through a life crisis and pretty much everything was dreadful. Daniel Beddingfield happened, Pop Idol was invented and every Spice Girl was trying (and failing) to launch a legitimate solo career. This was not a great cultural environment in which to come of age. Then again, a certain song about the “Blurred Lines” of consent recently spent twelve weeks at number one and that is the worst thing to happen to chart music since Aaliyah died, so in retrospect perhaps it wasn’t so bad.
As the class of 2013-14 begins, thousands of teenagers are going to be asking each other if they saw Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance, if they’ve watched her new video, if they know how to twerk or if any high street retailers are selling grills yet. And for every person asking those questions, there are ten times as many who are completely outraged at Miley for provoking them in the first place.
It’s easy to tear her down for acting “inappropriately” just as it’s easy to defend her right to do and wear whatever she wants, but what’s dumb about it all is how she’s being lampooned by the mainstream music industry for basically embodying everything that it tells you she should be.
Generally, people don’t like change. I assume the only reason anybody is at all outraged about her personality makeover is because she’s doing something marginally unexpected. What people wanted was a Disney princess, a talented country singer, a Southern belle. What they got was the girl at the house party who drank so much she thought she was legit ratchet.
Still, nobody batted an eyelid when Lady Gaga came on stage in a shell bra and a thong. Nobody had an issue with the women dancing around Robin Thicke in the video for one of the longest running number one singles of all time, despite the fact they were wearing far less than Miley when it was her turn to rub her butt on him. Nobody hurled abuse at Kate Upton after Terry Richardson (who, coincidentally, has directed Miley’s new video) filmed her doing the cat daddy in the world’s tiniest bikini – they applauded, slack jawed, whilst trying not to touch themselves on the bus. Nobody cared because it was a normal thing for her to do. Vogue certainly didn’t care when they (very rightly) ran Upton as a cover girl. They didn’t care because she was a Sports Illustrated model and as such had built a career out of being in front of a camera wearing nothing but body paint. For that reason, she’s considered “sexy”, not “slutty”.
Take any of those attributes and apply them to Hannah Montana and you get a different story, because it’s not normal for her, therefore it’s shocking, tasteless, slutty… Naturally, in response, Vogue drops her scheduled cover appearance. Meanwhile, Treats! is proudly paraded on shelves everywhere, featuring Robin Thicke with five nude models on the front.
Maybe instead of worrying about the allegedly “questionable” message Miley Cyrus may or may not be sending her fans through her actions, people should be worrying about the discourse, or sometimes lack thereof, around them. People should be worrying why the immediate reaction is to condemn the woman for dancing while scantily clad rather than the man for deciding how much she “wants it”. People should be worrying why the first article to surface when two female artists release videos at the same time is an argument over which is “sexier”, and people should be worrying why a question that marginalises sexuality in such black and white terms crops up so frequently in mainstream media.
There is no definitive way to be sexy. Sexy is subjective and impossible to hold up to comparison. Some people are into burlesque, some people find themselves exclusively attracted to musicians and some people vibe with a harmless bit of naked grinding on a wrecking ball. Whatever. The concept of a universally accepted standard of sexiness is a myth constructed by those who profit off it and perpetuated by the fact that Prince is real and oh my god. But when you consider that for a lot of people the most exciting part about Miley’s VMA performance was the giant teddy bears, that concept begins to crumble. Furry fandom is very much alive, my friends.
Basically, what I’m saying is there are a lot of questionable things about Miley’s performance and her career as a whole, but her sexuality is not one of them and it certainly shouldn’t be used against her when it’s exactly what the industry propagates in the first place.
Wear a PVC flesh-tone bralette if you want, wear a see-through top if you want, hell, wear nothing at all, if you want. Or you could rock up to an internationally televised event wearing a vest and a pair of jeans and embarrass everybody else for being over dressed because you’re Rihanna and you’re the shit. Sexy is whatever you consider it to be. Don’t judge or allow yourself to be judged by some imaginary standards… unless you are Robin Thicke, in which case the grey area of consent is never sexy, go home.
Originally published on The 405 here.