From Appropriation to Condemnation: Miley Cyrus Just Needs to Stop Talking

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Recently, Miley Cyrus has been under fire for her hypocritical statements on Rap/Hip-Hop music. Many have called her out on cultural appropriation and exploiting Black culture.

In preparation for the release of her new single, Malibu, Miley Cyrus discussed everything from quitting weed to moving beyond “all the nipple pastie shit…”[1] In her interview, Miley attempts to distance herself from the raunchiness of her last few albums and broadcasted performances. (Sorry Miley, we will probably never forget about your 2013 VMA performance with Robin Thicke.)

While expressing her love for Kendrick Lamar’s new song, Humble, she simultaneously vilified Rap/Hip-Hop music.

“I love… [Humble]… because it’s not “Come sit on my dick, suck on my cock.” I can’t listen to that anymore,” Cyrus states. “That’s what pushed me out of the hip-hop scene a little. It was too much “Lamborghini, got my Rolex, got a girl on my cock” — I am so not that.”[2]

Pause! Wait a minute. Who is this wholesome white girl with a sudden aversion to Rap/Hip-Hop culture? What happened to the “twerking,” care-free, hood music loving Miley that we’ve come to know and tolerate? What happened to the Miley that used Black women as the background for her concerts and videos and featured multiple rappers in her albums?

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Not much has changed since bell hook wrote “Eating the Other” on the appropriation and commodification of Black culture. White celebrities continue to use Black culture for their own gain. Hooks argues that “encounters with Otherness are clearly marked as more exciting, more intense, and more threatening…”[3]

When Miley released Bangerz back in 2013, she used black culture to express her sexually liberated self. Her appropriative performance presented a desperate need to replace her previous Disney Channel image for a grown-up persona. Still, why do white women’s sexual liberation always involve “blackening” up their image? Even more irritating, Miley previously declared herself “one of the biggest feminist in the world”. [4] Wilbert L. Cooper also criticized Miley by citing bell hooks, maintaining that she uses “ethnicity like spice seasoning…to liven up the dull dish that is mainstream/white culture.”[5]

 

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 3.43.38 PM          Miley Cyrus performing “We Can’t Stop” at VMA 2013.

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 3.43.13 PM             Miley Cyrus wearing blond dreadlocked pony tail at the 2015 VMAs.

Yet, “…the commodification of difference promotes paradigms of consumption wherein whatever difference the Other inhabits is eradicated, via exchange, by a consumer cannibalism that not only displaces the Other but denies the significance of that Other’s history through a process of decontextualization.”[6]

Simply put, Miley’s comments not only generalize all rap music as misogynistic and materialistic, but strips rap and hip-hop culture of its socio-political meaning. Regardless of her misguided opinions on rap music, her transformation from Hannah Montana to her “Lil Kim lives inside me” phase and finally back to the good girl persona presented in her new single is just another example of white celebrities using Black culture to give themselves an edge, then discarding it after lining their pockets.

Miley isn’t the first white celebrity to exploit black culture and she definitely won’t be the last.[7] Although she is attempting to shift her image, I’m sure she didn’t learn her lesson. At least she stopped irritating us by trying to mimic blackness through her music and performances.

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“I’m evolving, and I surround myself with smart people that are evolved,” Miley states later in her interview.[8]

If rebranding herself because mass media is no longer mesmerized by the “twerking” white girl is what “evolving” means, then I’m certain she is on the right track.

 

 

 

[1] John Norris, “Miley Cyrus Breaks Silence on Rootsy New Music, Fiance Liam Hemsworth & America: ‘Unity Is What We Need'” Billboard. http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/magazine-feature/7783997/miley-cyrus-cover-story-new-music-malibu.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Bell Hooks, “Eating the Other” in Black Looks : Race and Representation, (Boston, Mass.: South End Press, 1992), 26.

[4] Cavan Sieczkowski, “Miley Cyrus Thinks She’s ‘One Of The Biggest Feminists In The World'” The Huffington Post, (November 14, 2013), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/14/miley-cyrus-feminist_n_4274194.html.

[5]Elizabeth Plank, “The 9 Most Racist Miley Cyrus Moments.” Mic, (October 25, 2015), https://mic.com/articles/61121/the-9-most-racist-miley-cyrus-moments#.HHMYjwu4z.

[6] Hooks, 31.

[7] See Justin Timberlake, Christiana Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry, Kylie Jenner, Iggy Azalea, Justin Bieber, and pretty much most of your favorites.

[8] Norris.

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4 thoughts on “From Appropriation to Condemnation: Miley Cyrus Just Needs to Stop Talking

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  1. I had not listened to Miley’s new song Malibu yet, until reading this post. The striking contrast to her past music is very evident and is very well put by Jesse. I remember her coming out on Jimmy Kimmel with her nipple tassels and trying to explain why she was not wearing a shirt. Attached: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePCxz76qzr8. However, if you look closer at her hair – it is in dreadlocks similar to the picture above. What is weird about the clip too is that she discusses how she’d rather not wear a shirt than be a bad person and the comments rave about how thoughtful and great she is. She speaks the “truth.” However, as Jesse points out, these antics have a cost and are ripping off other peoples styles and cultures. It is strange to see this video was from two years ago and then you have this one from five years ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOwblaKmyVw. Her rebranding seems to be a theme from the last five years and now she is returning to her country roots and some may argue, she should not have left them.

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    1. I’m have been following Cyrus’s “rebranding” and am particularly interested in her recent release of her song and video for “Malibu.” To add on to everything Jessie said in her post about Miley’s blatantly problematic appropriation of black culture over the last several years, I think it’s interesting that part of this rebranding, at least in the Malibu video, seems to be Cyrus waving her hands in the air, aggressively reminding her audience that she has gone back to being white. She’s let the roots of her hair grow out on top of the bleached blonde to show that she is “natural” again, and wears exclusively whites, light oatmeal colors, and blush pinks in both the video and all promotional materials and performances I have seen promoting it. In addition to the fact that this is a perfect example of one of the problems with cultural appropriation – Cyrus has been donning blackness for the last several years, but can now remove it at will – this branding is a transparent equating of whiteness with purity.

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  2. When I googled Miley Cyrus after reading your post, The first things that came up were news articles about Ariana Grande’s Manchester benefit concert. Miley Cyrus will be performing there as a guest. This is relevant in a discourse about otherness and appropriation because the celebrities participating in the benefit concert are mostly white, and it to a European, mostly white country that the proceeds are going. This seems to be a common theme in the U.S.; people are more eager to see stories on terrorist attacks in European and other “first world” countries than developing countries. When this type of thing does occur in developing countries, it is often left out of mainstream media. This adds to the narrative that terrorists (typically read as Muslims) are threats to white normalcy. By participating in this benefit concert and not hosting/participating in others Miley Cyrus is continuing her record of exploiting and othering people of color. How much of this is for personal gain?

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  3. Miley is no different from any other star looking to rebrand themselves. As a genre Rap/ Hip-Hop is seen as sexy, with the explicit content warning marketing it to a mature audience. With this image, it’s no surprise celebrities such as Miley, Katy Perry, and Justin Beiber, have featured Hip-Hop artists in their music to gain a wider appeal. When singing about Jesus, horses, and Daddy’s farm got old, Miley saw a chance to expand her brand, not unusual for a Disney star wanting to “make it in Hollywood”. I just need celebrities to stop thinking that just because Migos is in your song I’ll listen.

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