We Can't Stop: Our Year With Miley
We wrote about Miley perhaps not so much because she fascinated but galled us with her every move. And to be sure, it was the moves — the videos, performances, masturbatory fingers, nudity, twerking, tongues, the way she used other women's bodies and her own as props; her actual album, Bangerz, was a tertiary concern at best.
It was a long year for pop aggrievement; excepting Bruno Mars's five-week run at the top of the year, the No. 1 spot on Billboard in 2013 was occupied by white artists. While Baauer, Macklemore, Robin Thicke, and Lorde hits got their share of controversy and think-piece lather, nothing disquieted us as thoroughly as Miley. She did a mere three weeks with "Wrecking Ball," but spent the last half of the year as lightning rod for our censure and outrage; we cut off her head and she just kept writhing, unchastened.
View this year's full Village Voice Pazz & Jop music critics' poll.
Writing about Miley was and is simple. We treat young women as billboards — because they are impossible to define and easy to vilify, they can dependably carry water for any idea we care to assign them. (We don't care, we're writing call-outs in our dreams.)
Miley is enrapturing, repulsive, hysterical, ignorant, white, young, female, ultra-rich, sexy, scary, skeezy, feminist, an artist, not feminist, privileged, talented, sad, visceral, plastic, real, too real, and friends with Terry Richardson. What can't we say about her? Apparently nothing. Bad girls are infinite. Miley possesses us in a way that fully clothed Lorde may never.
Yet the sins of Miley were real, and she made egregious missteps as she attempted to telegraph her artistic primacy by appropriating her understanding of hip-hop culture and tangling herself in black cultural idioms.
She claimed she didn't see or consider race, and of course she doesn't have to consider race — she's a very rich and very successful white woman. To ask her to see the scope of her privilege, to understand what it means to mean-mug and then push in her grill, to really get how a swipe of her tongue across Amazon Ashley's ass could play to anyone but herself — is an act of futility.
Her irreverence, her defensive assertion that we were all prudes with a problem, illustrated how wide the chasm between her actions and her awareness was. It made her naïveté seem willful, emblematic, and made her continual triumph enraging.