By Meg Zulch
The Miley Cyrus of yesteryear, fresh out of Disney Channel, wanted nothing more than to revoke her responsibility of keeping a squeaky clean pre-pubescent image that she couldn't identify with. Which is understandable since her experience on Hannah Montana, as well as the image she had to uphold during those years, seemed damaging in many ways. She told Marie Claire that the pressures of being on the show gave her body image issues and even an anxiety disorder.
So it's understandable that she wants to shy away from the image of the thin bleach blonde perfect role model for the legions of manufactured young women that only existed in the minds of Disney and Hollywood, and replace it with an incessant wagging tongue and middle finger. However, she carried this attitude well into her 20s, forfeiting any ounce of responsibility and rebelling against everyone and everything. But the reality is, as long as you're in the public eye, and creating art to be consumed by the public, you have a definitive responsibility of some kind to uphold certain morals, especially as an inherently political person.
Many people in my life and on the Internet have argued (to my despair) that art doesn't have to be political. And when one analyzes or critiques it, it's important to see the art for its aesthetic qualities and components, and not for any political undertone that is subjectively perceived, with or without the intention of the artist. Additionally, getting upset over offensive aspects of the art, like with the themes of rape in Eminem's work for example, is irrational and besides the point.
However, I tend to believe the opposite. All art is inherently tied up with politics and has been for ages. Because, as humans, we all have opinions and experiences, all of which are reflected one way or another by the art we make. So taking art at “face value” is impossible and counterproductive. As a person assigned female at birth, a genderqueer person, and a survivor of sexual assault, I simply do not have the privilege to "choose" not to be affected my offensive or triggering art. Politics in art is important to me, and Cyrus seems to feel similarly (to an extent).
She has aligned herself with multiple political causes for years now. She's decidedly pro-weed, her passion for the environment is made apparent by her veganism and volunteer choices, and her passion for the LGBTQIA+ community is reflected in multiple projects including her very own Happy Hippie Foundation (a charity she founded to benefit homeless queer youth). She consistently makes shocking statements through her appearance and music, preaching body positivity, sex positivity and self love.
And recently, she focused her support on trans youth specifically. She told New York Times Magazine, “I feel very gender-fluid. For a long time I didn’t understand my own sexuality. I would get really frustrated and think I’d never understand what I am, because I can’t even figure out if I’m feeling more like a girl or boy. It took me talking to enough trans people to realize that I didn’t ever have to decide on one.” And that was exciting for any gender non-conforming person to read.
She includes trans people in her performances, supports other trans artists, and demonstrates androgyny to an enormous mainstream pop-loving crowd. I lovingly watched her cover The Replacements’ “Androgyny” and Against Me’s “Trans Soul Rebel” alongside trans musician Laura Jane Grace over and over again on her YouTube channel, starry eyed by her colorful queer aesthetics. The New York Times even called her “a natural avatar for a post-gender generation.”
Cyrus is now embarking on her latest tour (to promote Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz), which is clearly making multiple political statements based on the shows’ shocking and provocative outfit lineup (like her provocative "porni-corn" outfit). But as soon as she's met with criticism, Cyrus abandons her political persona and replaces it with an “I'm just doing me” attitude, which acts as a perfect scapegoat for certain indiscretions, leaving fans and critics alike to wonder if these identities can exist simultaneously. Personally, I'm not sure that they can.
As a white artist myself, art and artists that include all marginalized people are still my top priority. Intersectionality within art is crucial, and though I take comfort in art tailored to my identity, I'm also not afraid to criticize it openly. And that's the problem with Cyrus--intersectionalism and being politically correct doesn't seem to be a concept she's interested in.
She's no stranger to cultural appropriation and certainly doesn't shy away from rocking dreadlocks or grills, despite being heavily criticized for it. Her “I’m just being me” attitude loses its value when it feeds into racist rhetoric. She defends her choices because controlling her narrative is more important to her than being aware of the very oppression that she feeds into everyday. So this summer, I could no longer overlook my gender hero’s racist microaggressions after the ridiculous comments she made about Nicki Minaj, de-elevating her from any hero status I may have misguidedly assigned her.
In an interview with The New York Times, things took a turn for the worst when she started tone policing Minaj’s Twitter reaction to the underrepresentation of women of color in the 2015 VMA nominations (basically suggesting Minaj should have embraced yogic love instead of getting mad about racism). The reporter interviewing her seemed to try to interject for the greater good, and offer more information about the Twitter feud between Minaj and Taylor Swift, which Cyrus admitted to not have actually been following. Interrupting the reporter, the defensive pop star stated, “I know you can make it seem like, Oh I just don’t understand because I’m a white pop star. I know the statistics. I know what’s going on in the world.”
But does she? If she actually knew to the extent which women of color are overlooked or misrepresented in the media, would she have downplayed Minaj’s completely rational anger? And if she actually did have an understanding of racism, microaggressions and our country’s history of silencing people of color (and other oppressed groups), would she be policing the tone in which Minaj used to express this frustration? No, she'd rather twirl her bleach blond locks adorned with a rainbow assortment of beads as she lays down another terrible rap-filled track for her new album. Clearly, this political persona she's embraced as of late is not always convenient when it's catering to someone besides herself.
Cyrus is obviously an inherently political person, and it bleeds forth through her art. But to make up for the areas she's sorely lacking in, like understanding the experiences of people besides white sex-positive queers, she tries to downplay her political persona as much as possible. She goes on and on about political beliefs, but then shuts down when faced with the topic of racism, and even renouncing her politics as a whole. She told NYT, ending a long article about her politically-motivated art with, “This music was not meant to be a rebellion. It was meant to be a gift.”
Her brand is characterized by a complete lack of shame and self consciousness. However, when you're a white person in the public eye running around with dreadlocks and claiming being heard is only determined by the love in your heart, her ignorance seems to suggest a greater issue: that white artists in the public eye who are of this generation and/or politically inspired often revoke their responsibility to do the right thing in what they say, do and represent.
White artists, like myself, have the unique and completely necessary responsibility to get it right, which is hardly a burden compared to the daily oppression that other marginalized groups go through. And we’re absolutely going to mess up at certain points, but if you believe in your art and the greater good, you're going to hold yourself accountable and learn from your mistakes.
Cyrus refuses accountability, and therefore will never be the artist she wants to be. Her art makes a political statement for sure, but it's disjointed from the rest of her, as well as the rest of the world. As I stated earlier, art is inherently political, and what you say in your art or through your persona is a permanent testament to your beliefs, frozen in time with a song or outfit. Picking and choosing what statements are political and what aren't destroys any transparency Cyrus once had, and therefore her credibility as an artist.
Her art (and “politics”) are completely self-absorbed, disgustingly excessive, and involves only reveling in her own edgy nude photos and her drugged out hippie persona she's spent years building. One of her band members and close friends, Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, said in an interview with The New York Times, “Her life, to her, is art,” he said. “If she wants to look this way and say these things, she does it.”
This comment certainly speaks volumes of Cyrus, who intentionally revels in her own world of privilege and art while ignoring anyone outside that bubble. She’s a bullshit artist that immaturely swings between political and apolitical depending on whether or not someone called her out on her racist tendencies that day. Cyrus is clearly more concerned with where to get her next tattoo and what creative way she can slip a nip next, rather than the millions of people who actually suffer from oppression and violence everyday. And perhaps, always will be.