It all began with a tweet.
And this kicked off a discussion on Facebook I wasn’t able to participate in because I’ve been logged out due to exams. I then, as part of my procrastination, went and read some blogs that my friends had linked to on twitter. They were all well-written and made good points, such as this one on how we ought to stop slut-shaming Miley
. I just wanted to emphasise that the reason I tweeted that was not that I think "Miley is a slut". For a little while I felt uncomfortable with myself because for a second I thought I was slut-shaming her because her performance made me uncomfortable. However, with a little help from my friends, I figured it out.
The reason I felt so squicky stems from a remark in that excellent article:
I don’t think performers should be allowed to get up onstage and simply perform like “any of these girls…on the world stage”. If a concert pianist got up and performed “Hot Cross Buns”, people would object. If a pole dancer in got up in a strip club and merely spun around a pole like a five-year-old in a kindergarten playground, people would object. One of the criticisms of Idina Menzel’s concert recently was that she pulled randoms up from the audience to sing with her, and some of them couldn’t sing in tune. When you get up onstage, you have a responsibility as a performer to do your best to show how you stand out, how you are better than the people in your audience (which is why they are paying to watch and support you).
I have absolutely no problems with:
Nudity has been in art as long as there has been art. Art is meant to reflect humanity, and therefore celebrating the human body is totally legit. Out of curiosity (and because my memory is failing, and because I was bored last night), I went and googled some of Britney’s performances. I stumbled upon her performance at the 2000 VMAs
where she stripped down to a pair of sparkly, skin-coloured pants and matching crop top. Basically she was as naked as Miley. But in contrast, Britney’s dance routine was an actual choreographed routine, not randomly prancing around the stage. The same went for Lady Gaga’s performance this year, where the last part of Applause was basically her in a G-string. There was evidently a lot of thought, creativity and effort put into the song (plus, come on, listen to Gaga’s voice, and then listen to Miley’s…)
I don’t get why Miley was the only naked one in Robin Thicke’s song when she wasn’t even meant to be the central performer of it. Couldn’t he have taken his top off to even things up? And Blurred Lines isn’t exactly a song about the celebration of the human body, so I don’t know what a nude body would add to it.
Again, this isn’t a new thing. People got upset with Christina and Britney because they were grinding against dancers back in the 90s. People got upset with Madonna before that. People got upset with Elvis before that. Sex is another part of being human – there is no reason why it should be taboo. I just remembered that I have personally gotten up onstage in a bikini in Miss Saigon and shimmied around to The Heat Is On, because it was perfectly appropriate for the context (we were playing prostitutes during the Vietnam War).
However, while Robin Thicke was singing, as one of my friends said, Miley was basically being a prop. Which explains why to me, their performance did not look sexy at all – the same way as most porn isn’t appealing – the actors don’t look like they’re enjoying themselves at all.
Again, this links back to why performances need some level of thought put into them. For the record, I dislike the Blurred Lines video as much as the VMA performance. None of the naked women walking or grinding or gyrating throughout the video clip are there for any reason apart from the directors thinking they look good naked. On the other hand, I am on a HUGE Korean pop kick at the moment, and that’s because heck, they put so much EFFORT into their videos. They don’t just take their clothes off and assume that looks sexy. They use killer dance moves and vocal effects (ok, not everyone does – but you should go listen to Jessica and Taeyeon of SNSD for examples). Sure, people, be sexy, but commit to your performance – especially don’t use other people as props to look sexy.
Oh yeah, and I'm actually not that bothered that Robin Thicke is a married man. When you are onstage, you are a character. Just as my chorus mates had to remove their wedding rings before getting onstage as Vietnamese bar girls. Just as movie actors can't expect to only be cast in sex scenes with their current husband/wife. But at the VMAs there was no context or characterisation, which made all the raunchiness make no sense and appear purely gratuitous.
3. The shock factor
Lady Gaga is the queen of shock factor. In their day, so were Picasso, Van Gogh, the people who sang “Rock Around the Clock” (it was seen as terribly progressive, having a party and staying up all night), Elvis, Queen…I could go on and on and on. Art is about pushing boundaries. If you have half an hour, watch this amazing video about Stravinsky trying to break free from musical norms. People have been trying to challenge the status quo since FOREVER. But, you have to push boundaries in such a way that you show thoughtfulness and skilfulness. Otherwise it is meaningless.
So why am I objecting to Miley Cyrus’ challenge? Firstly, she’s not challenging the status quo if she’s simply doing what all the other adolescent females are doing. Secondly, she shows neither thought nor skill. And neither does Robin Thicke when he starts singing and randomly gyrating.
I have to be honest in that I don’t know much about black culture in America (I can tell you about indigenous Australian culture because I did an assignment on it, but I’m pretty sure it’s different), so the historical facts raised in this post
were new to me. But, they fitted with my belief that whatever Miley attempted lacked “depth and context”.Recent KPop performance for comparison. Not necessarily as elaborate as some of the SNSD dances and doesn't have the vocal strength of TaeTiSeo, but still fun, sexy and skilful.
Anyway, in summary, Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke show that sadly, we’ve gotten to the point where pop musicians spend more time anywhere except their rehearsal room. Cheap stunts are more important than perfectly planned performances. Even if the two VMA performances were carefully choreographed, they certainly didn’t appear to be.
I guess it explains why the only time I seem to discover pop songs these days is when they get onto Glee. Because those kids really work themselves to the bone, even if you don’t agree with the content of that show. It explains why I love KPop videos, which show what you can produce when you take the talents of multiple people and add hard work (that includes the people who film and produce and add special effects!). It explains why though sometimes I find Gaga irritating, I admire and commend her on the hours she evidently puts in behind the scenes.EDIT:
Getting up onstage is a HUGE privilege. I'm a musician myself, and even as a kid, I remember getting into the finals of eisteddfods and stuff and feeling so happy and lucky that I made it up there, but also nervous that I had a responsibility to show why I deserved to be there. Unfortunately, Miley Cyrus did not show in any way why she deserved to be up onstage, if her performance could be replicated by any of the teenagers randomly pulled up from the audience. I am sure she knew that what she was doing was superficial and sloppy, but did it anyway, I am also sure she knew what sort of publicity storm she would generate by acting as such. Excuses cannot be made for grown-up performers. Something is inherently wrong with our culture if we celebrate mediocrity, and getting onstage isn't so much about elevating yourself and showing off as showing how much an object of ridicule you can be.
All right, now I'm going back to my world of Kpop, classical music, and broadway ballads. Here are some strong and sexy female musicians to counteract the damage Miley did.
Meet Hyuna, whose solo video is just...**drool**
Meet Samantha Barks! I bet you forgot she played Eponine!
She's been around for ages, but Vanessa Mae is still one of my music idols.
So my twitter and feedly feeds have are still overflowing about the incident. A lot of defenders are going, "OMG! Everyone should get to be 20 and do what they want!" I still stand firm in my belief that this is true in the privacy of your own home or even in the mosh pit where you are just one of many bumping and grinding people. It is absolutely not okay when you get the honour of an audience because you are not "just a 20-year-old who wants to have fun", you are a performer. Mistakes belong in rehearsals.
Why am I getting so worked up about this? I'm not a professional by any stretch, but I have many friends who are aspiring to become so, for example, I know several twentysomethings who practise piano for 8-10 hours a day, have won international competitions, and still can't get steady incomes. I know people who have cried because they played 1-2 bum notes in a concerto that to the untrained ear sounded perfect. Heck, have you guys seen Shine
? Miley's mistake will probably, if anything, sell more
records for her, but if you were to have a meltdown in the classical music scene your career would simply be over. There is so much talent in the world that is currently in the hands/heads/hearts of struggling/starving artists which is why that atrocity at the VMAs offended me personally.