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Miley Cyrus Brings Her Race Problem To The VMAs

Miley Cyrus put on her best "look at me, I'm wild" act at Sunday's Video Music Awards, performing "We Can't Stop" (her take on the syrupy strip club anthems re-popularized as of late by Rihanna, a resurgent Juicy J and a host of other black acts) and fumbling her way through an instantly polarizing smorgasbord of lip-licking, wannabe twerking and (black) ass slapping.

All the elements of nu-Cyrus that critics have called foul on in recent weeks were on display: black people used as props (see above), black cultural signifiers like twerking used as a means of connoting that Miley's now wild and dangerous, and little in the way of new or evocative imagery.

I've written about Miley's race problems (or, racism, depending on how you take it), but here's a quick summary: She's gone around telling people she wants to make music that "sounds black," that she likes "hood music" but isn't "a white Nicki Minaj," and most recently proclaimed that she's "not a white ratchet girl." Extending her master class on racial identity to social media, she told her followers that she is, indeed, aware of her skin color.

The 20-year-old's VMAs performance marks another chapter not only in Miley's reckless use of black culture as proof that she's subversive and no longer a Disney star, but of the entertainment industry's casual co-signing of her team's idiocy. How did no one, for example, think that having voluptuous, black backup dancers figure as meat for Cyrus' slapping was offensive?

Well, some people noticed. Audience reaction shots during Cyrus performance revealed less-than-amused takes from One Direction, Drake and Rihanna (the latter, who knows something about being provocative, seemed hilariously bored), and a number of the biggest American cultural critics have bashed the performance.

Writing on Vulture, Jody Rosen calls it "a minstrel show routine" and says "her act tipped over into what we may as well just call racism":

Cyrus is annexing working-class black "ratchet" culture, the potent sexual symbolism of black female bodies, to the cause of her reinvention: her transformation from squeaky-clean Disney-pop poster girl to grown-up hipster-provocateur. (Want to wipe away the sickly-sweet scent of the Magic Kingdom? Go slumming in a black strip club.) Cyrus may indeed feel a cosmic connection to Lil' Kim and the music of "the hood." But the reason that these affinities are coming out now, at the VMAs and elsewhere, is because it's good for business. Over at the New York Times, Jon Caramanica noted that "this was a banner year for clumsy white appropriation of black culture," and ripped "the shambolic, trickster-esque performance by Ms. Cyrus, to whom no one has apparently said 'no' for the last six months or so."

In the pre-show telecast, red carpet host Sway asked Miley how she would follow up wild moments from previous pop acts like Madonna and Britney Spears. Miley seemed to bristle at the comparison to the (white) stars who came before her -- she was, after all, walking the carpet with Mike Will, a hip hop producer -- and promised "something crazier than the kiss." Whether or not she delivered is up for the lamest debate of all time, but let's not forget that even Madonna, Britney and Christina Aguilera's 2003 lip-lock was actually just some straight women playing bi-curious for the gratification of a mostly straight audience.

Of course, it's hardly new to say nothing is new in pop -- Beyonce's cribbed a healthy chunk of her career from subcultures and the words "Lady Gaga" and "Madonna" are basically superglued to one another. But try replacing the word "straight" with "white" and "bi-curious" with "black" and you've arrived at 2013 version. The formula, it seems, for supposedly "wild" but ultimately just uninspired and tacky performances at the VMAs hasn't changed much in 10 years.

by Anonymousreply 1508/26/2013

this is nothing has been said in other threads, many non-black recording acts try to imitate stereotypical "black culture" in an attempt to seem grownup and "bad ass". Christina Aguilera did this 10 years ago with "Dirrty". Bieber has recently started doing this and hanging out with wannabe thugs. Timberfake did a milder version 10 years ago. Thicke's "Blurred Lines" video is quite disrespectful too. It's nothing new. Cyrus is just the latest idiot to do it.

by Anonymousreply 108/26/2013

Janis Joplin may have ben the only white person to pull off a black soul act although Bowie's Young Americans was pretty cool (albiet more Puerto Rican-y)

by Anonymousreply 208/26/2013

If that chick as any talent, she sure as shit didn't display any of it last night.

by Anonymousreply 308/26/2013

R2 Uh, no.

Teena Marie

Lisa Stansfield

George Michael

Hall and Oates

Paul Young

To name just a few....

I didn't see anything "black" in her performance, BTW. It was white trash personified, with that saggy ass cheek hanging out of her short shorts. All that was needed was a bag of Cheetos and a mound of dirt the pig could roll around in.

by Anonymousreply 408/26/2013

If she has no talent, why do we have to keep suffering? This goes for Lohan and all the other child stars who don't have what it takes to graduate to the big time.

by Anonymousreply 508/26/2013

So let me get this straight. Gyrating, grinding and looking stupid on stage is black culture? When Madonna did her "Like A Virgin" routine on MTV in 1984 was she influenced by blacks? Please don't blame this train wreck and piece of trash on black folks. Blame her hillbilly mother and father for her lameness and skank hoe ways.

by Anonymousreply 608/26/2013

"Blurred Lines" is sexist but it's not using racialized imagery, R1, so I'm not really sure what you're getting at. If you mean Thicke's music, that doesn't work, either, since no one's saying that "We Can't Stop" is in any way a "black" song.

by Anonymousreply 708/26/2013

Teena Marie was white??!!

by Anonymousreply 808/26/2013

More on this

by Anonymousreply 908/26/2013

Yes R8. Hence her nickname, The Ivory Queen of Soul.

Let me add Michael McDonald to my list too.

by Anonymousreply 1008/26/2013

Reading too much subtext when there is none? Over Miley fucking Cyrus, this hardly requires some cultural thesis.

She's just doing what they all do, taking from black culture like Disney peers Aguilera/Timberlake/Spears 10 years ago. But by now it's so commonplace that people don't even think about it. This is the predominant sound in music/culture for the past 15 years after all, so of course any star is gonna go there eventually to get the all important hip hop cred. Bieber is the most shameless example and they know him being white means it will sell more.

I can sort of see where they're coming from cause Cyrus is a corn fed gal from Nashville, but not really that different to Spears's background.

by Anonymousreply 1108/26/2013

Yes r8 Teena Marie was white. She was of Portugese/Irish heritage. And she was a real talent.

by Anonymousreply 1208/26/2013

It seems to me that Miley is just trying to distract her audience from noticing her complete lack of any discernible talent.

by Anonymousreply 1308/26/2013

Shhhhhh R13, why you wanna put my tea on blast like that?

by Anonymousreply 1408/26/2013

R13 has it. If this girl had one ounce of talent, this would be a very different conversation.

by Anonymousreply 1508/26/2013
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