She’s just being Miley

Welcome to the latest installment of Former Disney Stars Gone Wild, featuring none other than Hannah Montana.

Miley Cyrus’s newest video for her single “We Can’t Stop” is her latest attempt, post Vanity Fair sheet scandal, to distance herself from the squeaky clean Disney child star image she grew up with. Admittedly, it is difficult to prove yourself as a “serious” artist or real pop star when you are known for playing a pretend one on TV. I am all for artist’s desire to broaden their audience and change their image – think Nicki Minaj’s successful foray into pop music in the last few years. Miley’s attempt to do so falls flat musically.

But this article isn’t about the music; it’s about the video (see above). In what seems to be an attempt to recreate the website Tumblr as a physical entity, we have Miley in leotards, smashing a skull made out of french fries (god bless the poor intern that had to create that thing), wearing grills, sporting a giant teddy bear backpack, girl fights in pools, stationary work out bikes, graphics from the 90s, and twerking. Oh the twerking. “We Can’t Stop” was produced by Mike WiLL Made-It, a notable hip hop producer who also produced “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” with Juicy-J – which, interestingly enough, was originally written for Rihanna. Just a little fun fact on that.

But what Miley’s doing in this song – and the video – really isn’t that rebellious. By name checking black pop culture – wearing a grill, repeating the phrase “turnt up” and “bout dat lyfe,” and twerking –  she is following a long tradition of white artists name dropping black culture to gain fame and popularity. We’re not the first to take notice. Miley is already being slammed by many feminist blogs and websites for her cultural appropriation, which is when someone takes a style of dress, or a type of performance from a minority group. The problem with cultural appropriation is when the person who appropriates it is a member of the mainstream culture and is appreciated for their “edgy” or “daring” behavior or look, while the minority culture they are appropriating it from is looked down upon for doing the same.

Example: Selena Gomez’s performance on “Ellen” of her new single “Come and Get It”, in which she dons a bindi, an important symbol in the Hindu religion. Indian writer Jaya Bedi writes: “A  pop star like Selena Gomez wearing one [a bindi] is guaranteed to be better received than I would if I were  to step out of the house rocking a dot on my forehead. On her, it’s a bold new look; on me, it’s a symbol of my failure to assimilate. On her, it’s unquestionably cool; on me, it’s…another thing that makes me different from other American girls.”

Yet, in the video, Miley hired dancers, women of color, that clearly know how to twerk and included them in multiple scenes. They are not just her back up dancers (sorry Miley, they do outshine you) but interact with her playfully throughout their scenes. So, unlike Selena Gomez’s obvious appropriation of the bindi, Miley’s is a little bit more complicated. Now, you’re probably wondering: Isn’t it okay for her to try to show her appreciation for twerking? I think so. The problem here doesn’t happen on an individual level – it’s not Miley’s fault- but on a cultural one. When Miley twerks, she is rewarded with praise by the media – like Gomez- yet, the black women who originated twerking receive no such recognition.


Here we see Miley attempting to twerk it like the pros.

Here we see Miley attempting to twerk it like the pros.

If you Google twerking, there are no front page stories on or MTV praising the skills of black women twerking. No, the articles are about Miley Cyrus. There is no media recognition or praise for black women who engage in a style of dance they created. In a on YouTube featuring two young black women that has over a million hits, the comments are largely disparaging. For instance: “if you worked and studied as hard as you shake that ass you could get out the ghetto.” Or: “these are sad uneducated people that have no idea who they are and just think they are being cool.”  When black women twerk, it is seen as indicative of being poor or low class and fulfilling negative stereotypes about black people. When Miley Cyrus twerks, it is seen as something cool.

I’m not saying this is Miley’s fault – I think that her video, and inclusion of the women who can do it a lot better than her shows an attempt to appreciate, rather than appropriate, culture. But pop music isn’t made in a vacuum and the way the video is produced makes the women look more like her accessories than her friends.

Leave the twerking to the professionals, Miley.


Sidenote: Mashable came up with a list of their 15 weirdest moments.



critiquecultural appropriationdisney starhannah montanamiley cyrustwerk
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  • [...] we won’t stop. So, I can only hope her stylist doesn’t stop. Miley may or may not be a little off her rocker, but she’s definitely rockin’ some amazing [...]

  • Reply July 1, 2013

    Adair-Hayes Crane

    Definitely agree with Paris, that girl is ROCKIN that style. Good point about the video’s attempt to recreate Tumblr as a physical entity. All interesting and debatable points about a video that’s abuzz in the entertainment world, and I honestly thing Miley means no harm. This video brings a lot of topics to the surface.

  • [...] our writers, Clare Austen Smith, is taking a month off of writing about things like Rick Ross and Miley Cyrus and traveling the world instead. And we’d be jealous, if she didn’t ask us to tag along [...]

  • Reply August 26, 2013

    Torsten Knabe

    I agree with all of that critique, but if the problem is at a cultural and not an individual level, then what steps could Miley have taken to mitigate the cultural effect? Is twerking off limits to her because she is white and thus it will be perceived through her as cool? Should she only do twerking in a video with a black woman who she can help promote?

    My opinion is that her record company wanted to do two things simultaneously. 1) Make Miley’s image edgier to get her away from Hannah Montana and being an innocent child and 2) Introduce her audience of Hannah Montana fans to hip-hop.

    This is because of an economic imperative. There are more white people than black people, and black people are disproportionately affected by poverty giving them less disposable income to buy music. Thus, the market for black only music is limited compared to what hip-hop could sell for if white folks started listening to it as well. As such, that’s why you see white artists performing blackness to increase attention to themselves, in part because of the rub off effect that some of the fans of Miley’s new work will like other hip-hop songs. It is no accident that Usher signed Justin Bieber to his label – they wanted to broaden the base for their artists to white middle class Americans. The same thing is happening here.

    I don’t think youtube comments on any video are an accurate metric of anything really.

  • Reply August 26, 2013

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  • […] all started with her insane, fun and obscure video for her hit “We Can’t Stop” that led to her VMA performance that still remains the topic du jour at water coolers across the […]