MileyCyrusBodakYellow

The Trouble With Miley Cyrus

Monday night was a sad night for all rap fans. Miley Cyrus performed a rendition of Cardi B’s beloved “Bodak Yellow” on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon. As part of the show’s Random Genre Generator prompt, Miley sang a bluegrass version of R. Kelly’s “Ignition” and then went on to give us a Pop version of Cardi B’s hit. While Miley wasn’t in control of which song she was assigned, hearing her butcher Cardi B’s track about struggle and respectability politics in an overdone vibrato reminded me exactly why Miley has and always will be problematic.

Remember the 2013 VMA’s? Most of us will probably never forget the sight of Miley clad in a skin-tight nude two-piece, compulsively sticking her tongue out, twerking on Robin Thicke, surrounded by three black backup dancers who half-heartedly joined her while working their way past the crowd.

Miley Cyrus would become an increasingly controversial name in 2013, mainly because of her overt and disrespectful appropriation of black culture. Almost overnight,  Miley became the self-proclaimed “twerk queen” and dropped not one but TWO rap records produced by Atlanta’s own Mike WiLL Made-It. She got major props from major rappers and outlets for her newfound “individuality”—a thinly veiled attempt to validate her cultural appropriation. Her video “We Can’t Stop” featured more excessive “twerking,” again surrounded only by black back-up dancers. The track was the same one she asked songwriting duo Rock City to make sound “black”.

“When you listen to the Miley Cyrus record that we did, it’s not ratchet but it definitely has a lot of urban feel to it,” Timothy Thomas told VIBE. “She was like, ‘I want urban, I just want something that just feels Black.’”

Seeing Miley singing “Bodak Yellow” on Monday was a reminder that for many, culture is a costume, something fun to try on when it’s suitable & lucrative. Cultural critic Bakari Kitwana broke it down perfectly in his book, Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop“White youth adoption of black cultural forms in the 21st century is also a performance… the act is still a manifestation of white supremacy that is in crisis and disarray, rifle with confusion and contradiction.” 

There’s no better epitome of this than Miley, after trying hard to distance herself from hip hop during the past year, going on a talk show and performing the hottest Rap record out right now for giggles.

Miley returned to her “wholesome” “Americana” image with her new album Younger Now . Her music videos for some of the tracks are suddenly devoid of any markers of the black culture Miley once loved so much, highlighting her return to her “All American” roots, just in time for the new Trump administration.  No twerking or Fronto leaf. No Hennesey or bantu knots. No grills or slapping black backup dancers on the butt. This “refreshing” change to Miley’s image has been praised by multiple news outlets as a “new direction” for her career and a celebration of how she’s moved on from her “twerking” past.

In a controversial Billboard interview, the singer spoke about how she was “finding” herself and no longer “smokes weed.” She’s trying to put her 2012–2015 musical era behind her. “I also love that new Kendrick [Lamar] song [“Humble”]…I love that because it’s not “Come sit on my dick, suck on my cock.” I can’t listen to that anymore. That’s what pushed me out of the hip hop scene a little.”

Misogyny, which exists in all musical genres, wasn’t what pushed Miley out of hip hop. Her new album and visuals are purposeful tactics to untangle her image from black culture. All that new content is designed to increase her mainstream palatability—while labeling it “growth.” This rhetoric simultaneously positions black culture as something that’s disposable once “maturity” is reached. White pop artists use blackness as a form of “rebellion,” to own their “sexuality” while simultaneously perpetuating harmful stereotypes about black culture.

It must be convenient to adopt certain clichés of blackness when you feel like it, knowing you always have the ability to return home to white privilege when you want to. Miley (like so many non-black artists) was able to wear blackness as a costume and call it “expression.” And like so many non-black artists, when the gig was up, Miley returned to her “roots” when she needed to.

Monday’s “Bodak Yellow” gag was a perfect reminder that for Miley a song that’s about coming from nothing is just a game on a talk show. She can always try on the costume for laughs but at the end of the day, she gets to take it off.

We don’t care about Miley’s predictable return to whiteness precisely because it’s so predictable. All we ask is that national treasure Cardi B is left out of it.

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