Dear Miley Cyrus,
This could have been avoided if you hadn't cut your hair.
It's the morning after the MTV VMAs, and your performance of "We Can't Stop" and "Blurred Lines" (alongside Robin Thicke) is the social media buzz du jour. None of us saw this coming, but you managed to swipe the title of Conversation Piece away from reigning champ Lady Gaga, whose ballyhooed opening performance of "Applause" wound up just like that song: fun, energetic and serviceable but lacking the sort of Talking Point we've been trained to expect from her. (And something that, I thought, she needed to deliver.)
Unfortunately, your role in last night's show is not receiving glowing reviews. Your bumping and grinding and (most ignominiously) twerking is being described as quite the "trashy" display by a lot of people. Which, I guess, means you succeeded: since you recently described your new style as a mix of "white trash and Chanel." I like that description. Can I try a few? If you were a foodstuff, you would be a bedazzled block of Velveeta cheese. If you were a plant, you'd be a Christmas wreath made of purple tinsel, with a Budweiser can where the red bow should be, left hanging on the trailer door in June.
When I last checked, Miley, about 58 percent of Boston.com readers said they couldn't even watch your performance: so raunchy was it, and so greatly did it shake to the core their refined sensibilities. I guess you're wondering what the big deal was. I am too, kind of.
I mean, to what extent did your on-stage antics really depart from any number of other (albeit, I'm sorry sweetie, better) pop starlets who have preceded you on the MTV stage? You wore very little, but that's par for course. (Square inch for square inch, Gaga probably had on less.) You gyrated to inane lyrics about partying: ditto. In fact, you and I both know that as much as all these old people want to pretend that "twerking" (that's a funny name!) is some newfangled dirty-dance that you've singlehandedly swiped from urban culture in order to spread around the sock hop, that secret rump-shaking has long been known to many of us as, "The Way People Have Been Dancing on MTV in Just About Every Music Video Since 1994." (Which is also why I'm inclined to cautiously defend you against charges of cultural appropriation. Can you really re-appropriate something that has been part of your entire generation's visual lexicon since the day you were born?)
So why the outrage? I think I figured it out. Your hair was too short.
It's not just that, I suppose. But I think it's a start. You see, when those models roughly your age danced around in flesh-colored panties and no tops in Thicke's original video for "Blurred Lines" (NSFW, here), they had nice long, luscious hair. This could be flipped, seductively, and made to hang just over one eye in a very come-hither kind of way. It could be tugged at, and twirled. Girly-like, you know? Was this too raunchy? Only if by raunchy you mean, RAUNCHY LIKE A NUMBER ONE HIT! (Thumbs up; Crest-whitened smile.)
But this was not the approach you took. There were no Pantene Pro-V hair flips. You just pogo hopped around the stage like Animal from Muppet Babies, with what little remained of your nearly-shaved head knotted atop your scalp. And that's just the start of it, really. Your faces, Miley. Those models know the drill: coquettish glances, vacant eyes, little-girl-lost-in-the-woods head swivels. But you? You gave us a stuck-out tongue. All that "let's party dudes!" hand signal-flinging. Lots of profile photo-ready Duckface, and bow-legged stances. It's all a bit butch, isn't it? At the very least, it's awfully active. It's one thing to be a passive female bystander to a man crooning about sexing up the laydeez. It's quite another to be actively participating with him. That's how you get branded a "disgusting cow" who sticks her fanny into men's crotches. (Funny, I haven't seen many people writing that Thicke is a lascivious, married man shoving his junk into the rear of a girl who was born when he was in high school. Doesn't it take two to twerk?)
It's okay, Miley. It's easy for female pop stars to get confused about what makes an overtly sexual performance "classy" versus "trashy." The lines are, no pun intended, blurry. But they're real, and they're why Britney Spears was once allowed to belly-dance while stroking a phallic reptile to golf claps, whereas Christina Aguilera (excuse me, XTina) was branded a "skank" for booty-shaking in leather chaps in a wrestling ring. The differing responses don't have much to do with who's sexy and who's not. It has to do with who looks vaguely confused (good!) and who looks present and assured (bad!); it has to do with who looks like they took the time to get gussied up for the male viewers at home (good!) and who looks like she's kinda just there to have fun on her own (bad!).
And there you have it. You look like you were having fun, Miley. When everyone just wanted you to flip your hair.
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