Why Miley Cyrus Needs to Stop: The Appropriation of Black Music Culture
So I want to briefly (as briefly as possible) talk about why there has been such an overwhelmingly negative response to Miley’s behavior recently.
For those who haven’t heard, Miley has recently been spending a lot of her time with rappers. This isn’t unfamiliar behavior, and I am personally starting to think it’s become a new form of rebellion for white teen celebrities in transition (see: Bieber and Lil Twist).
Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with white kids spending their time with black folks. When things become problematic is when admiration turns into appropriation. This is why Miley is under fire.
Let’s start with the twerking. For those who still don’t know, twerking is a dance style, pioneered, perfected and done by black people. Black women, to be more specific.
Recently, Miley made headlines for this video of her “twerking” in a unicorn costume. Then again at a Juicy J concert. (Note: she is “twerking” to “Bandz a Make Her Dance,” a strip club joint; more on that later).
If you knew anything about twerking prior to it’s popularization you know that then, and now, there is a negative stigma attached to women who do it. Words like, ghetto, hoe, and stripper come to mind.
Tumblr user gradientlair says “Black women twerking is ‘lewd’ and ‘degrading’ but White women doing (or trying to do) the exact same dance is ‘cute’ and ‘classy.’” The point here being there is a double standard, and a racial one at that. Read the article for more on that: Black Women and Twerking - Why Its Creators Face Bigotry That Miley Cyrus Never Will
Beyond the twerking, Miley has fairly rapidly catapulted herself into a completely different scene. That scene happens to be the black music scene. In her time spent with the likes of Juicy J, French Montana, and Wiz Khalifa Miley has decided once again to mold her musical identity and overall persona in what I can only think to describe as contemporary black face.
Now, I say this because Miley has attempted to wear black culture like an accessory. Like a mask. Her very superficial “appreciation” of the culture only goes as far as it amuses her. Are there ways to engage in a culture that is not your own? Yes. But Miley’s brand of appropriation completely misses the point of thoughtful engagement, and instead skips to mimicry of the black aesthetic.
Where this behavior takes a turn from recreation to profit is with Miley’s new single “We Can’t Stop”, produced by Mike WiLL Made It, you guessed it, the produced of “Bandz a Make Her Dance” and another strip club banger, “Pour it Up” by Rihanna. (not to mention the song was originally meant for Rihanna)
In her recent Billboard cover story, Miley talked about her inspiration for her new single and upcoming album. She discusses “moving over to a more urban side.” This is enough to reveal the more calculated career-motivated end of Miley’s fascination with black culture. But, as if to drive the point home, she goes on to say “I love ‘hood’ music, but my talent is as a singer,” implying of course, that hood music is inferior, or devoid of talent.
“We Can’t Stop”, is the culmination of Miley’s latest appropriative activities. I didn’t want to watch it, and trust, I struggled through it. In this manifesto of appropriation Miley details celebrates her brief foray into black, hip-hop culture. After popping a grill into her mouth she sings about “getting turnt up” and “shaking it like we at a strip club” and generally being “bout’ that life.” This blatant parroting of black phraseology and culture is the equivalent of a shitty temporary tattoo. Watch at your own peril.
So, you see, the problem here isn’t that Miley is hanging out with black folks. The problem isn’t that she wants to go a different direction with here music and her career. The problem is that she is appropriating a culture that she has no understanding of, and using it for whatever she pleases, pleasure or gain.
This would be a problem in any case, but her fame and notoriety cause even more of an issue, as many elements of the culture she is drawing from are not mainstream, and once she starts advertising them, they are for sale, and black culture becomes a commodity for ignorant white people and she is cashing in. White girls everywhere are getting turnt up, “twerkin with their homegirls,” and trying to look like the latest paps shot of Rihanna. Meanwhile, the black artists she’s stealing from remain ghetto and unsophisticated in the eyes of the mainstream culture.
In conclusion, Miley needs to stop. So does every other white person who thinks they can appropriate elements of marginalized cultures without consequence.