The Only Person Who Can Save Rock and Roll…

by Matt Meade

I have good news for Bobby Gillespie.  The Primal Scream frontman is the latest aging rock and roller in a long line of aging rock and rollers to declare that rock is dead.  Speaking with BBC Arts & Culture he said, “Where’s the anger and rage and confrontation in pop music?  It’s not there.”

He may not be able to find it, but I have.  He claims that pop music is too conservative, so I have turned to the mainstream rock press (the most conservative group out there) to find out who they are afraid of.  Who keeps them up at night?  Who do they want to keep their children from?  It’s not Odd Future and it’s not Pussy Riot.  The most confrontational rock and roller making music today, happens to be Miley Cyrus.

Just ask Ann Powers of NPR, who recently griped that the latest Disney film, Frozen, is filling a void left by Miley Cyrus.  Powers claims that the children who are begging their parents to take them to see this film and who are listening to “Let it Go,” the film’s hit single, “are girls that have been heartbroken by Miley Cyrus and her transformation. They need these kind of pure emotional songs.”

Let’s not even deal with the fact that Hannah Montana has been off the air for three years now and the young girls who asked for Miley Cyrus CDs in their Christmas stocking are picking their majors right now, while Frozen is being marketed to kindergarteners.

Let’s not even get into the irony of a song about “becoming yourself,” being used as a weapon against Miley Cyrus as she emerges from childhood into the sexuality of young womanhood, or with how silly is the claim that she broke the hearts of a generation of kids.

Let’s not ask why her overtly sexual transformation been read as bad or wrong, or heartbreaking.  Let’s not ask when “pure emotion” and sexuality became mutually exclusive.  I sort of already know the answers to these questions which is that it is easier to shame Miley Cyrus for acting “overly sexual or sexy,” than to actually critique her music.

The real question has to do with whether or not Cyrus’ vagina (great name for a punk band by the way) is more disgusting than the way Disney creeps its way into kids’ minds, and onto their underwear (literally) and into their stomachs through happy meals and toothpaste displaying cross-eyed snowmen.  The real question is why Ann Powers and NPR aren’t writing more about whether or not Miley’s appropriation of black culture is at all gross, or terrible, the way Wilbert Cooper of Vice is.

I am not sure if Miley’s sexuality is breaking the hearts of a generation of kids, or if her twerking is racist, but I do have good news for Bobby Gillespie.  Right now, in addition to being compared to some of the biggest selling acts in recent memory, Rihanna, Justin Timberlake and Madonna, Miley Cyrus is also being compared to some of the most confrontational and transitional music in history, like Elvis, and Eminem.

I can’t wait until she actually writes a good song.

4 thoughts on “The Only Person Who Can Save Rock and Roll…

  1. Man, this is utter brilliance. I find your argument compelling and thought-provoking on so many levels, among which are: 1. The whole institution that was originally (if sometimes falsely) premised on rebellion is now the Establishment: rockers and rock critics and others who probably think they’re socially “liberal” are leading the charge into a falsely idealized past. This is not a totally new idea (it’s a version of the old hippies-on-Medicare trope), but looking at a figure like Cyrus through this lens is just great. 2. Your comparison of Miley’s vagina to Disney is so damn cogent. 3. Your last sentence. It goes to the heart of a real complexity, in that (to me) the best art is not always the art on the social vanguard, and figures that are of huge cultural importance are not always the most talented in their fields. It’s easy to confuse “important” with “great,” but I think we shouldn’t… First-rate stuff, dude.

  2. I had not even considered how my comment about how terrible / boring her music really is could reveal so much about the progression of popular music. The real innovators are always the unsung and forgotten. The remembered artists are the ones who can “get over,” for one reason or another. Like Elvis (not Bo Diddley, or Chuck Berry). Like Nirvana (not the Melvins, or Pixies), like Jay-Z (Not Biggie). Those other artists are remembered, but not in the same way as the “face” of the movement.

    Cuz the main stream can have a conversation about the morality of shaking your hips, not about pissing on little girls; the main stream can have a conversation about whether or not a lyricist is too dark as long as he is handsome; the main stream can discuss drugs and guns in the abstract, but not when the artist is actually indulging.

    So… Miley is just edgy enough. No arrest record yet, nothing too gross and weird in public (just a couple performances / photoshoots). Now she just needs to make something as catchy as “Hey Ya,” or “Rock Your Body.” I wonder when that will happen.

  3. This is well-written and I think agree with your main point: Ann Powers is a dum-dum and as a young, white, cis-woman, it’s pretty easy for Miley to be subversive. And really, the only reason I need to argue the Presley comparison is because I’m imagining Miley Cyrus smacking her gum and being like “I’m on a whole other level of shit.” Which is what she said in the October issue of Bazaar about wearing a white sports bra, white leggings, and white Nikes. You’re acknowledging that you haven’t skimmed the surface of her fondness for appropriation though, so I’ll refrain from bringing that into the conversation any further.

    Where I take issue with your argument is that you’re saying that Miley is emerging “from childhood into the sexuality of young womanhood”. She’s not. She’s doing what all other pop stars before her have done (“Dirrrty” by Xtina, “I’m a Slave for You”, B. Spears, etc.). We’re watching someone become what we’re told sexy is–skinny, white, wearing little to no clothing, and licking her lips suggestively. I guess Miley’s “other level of shit” is just waggin’ a tongue around. Noted. Listening to her songs off Bangerz though, I’m not hearing much about having sex or even wanting to have sex. And I’m not begging for some thoughtful ballad about losing it to your first love–though in “Adore You”, she does sing “You and me—we’re meant to be/In holy matrimony/God knew exactly what he was doing/When he led me to you”. See Disney? She hasn’t changed that much! She’s still just a gal who wants to get hitched. I mean, I get to a certain extent I’m doing what everyone else is doing–saying that there’s a wrong way and a right way to acknowledge and play with your own sexuality. But I’d appreciate someone who is such a vocal admirer of Lil’ Kim to, I don’t know, maybe acknowledge that she likes oral sex. And ultimately, I’d say that instead of saving rock n’ roll, she’ll soon fall back into the fold given that Larry Rudolph (B. Spears’ former manager) became her manager in 2013. Just in time for that totally organic, sexual transformation that signals the coming descent into pop muzak.

    1. I don’t disagree with you on the topic of Miley’s plastic sexuality. The record is full of caricatures and approximations made by someone who has not yet lived. The record can present itself as trite, soulless and silly.

      However, do you know who was born to Billy Ray Cyrus on November 23rd, 1992? I’ll give you a hint. It wasn’t Miley Cyrus. It was a person named Destiny Hope Cyrus. That’s right.
      Miley Cyrus is a construct as much as Hannah Montana is a construct.

      This most recent incarnation of Cyrus is much like the masks and costumes donned by masters of musical re-interpretation like Michael Jackson, or Madonna Ciccone. Madonna has taken flack for making every kind of record, from every type of genre. And Jackson spent his whole career trying on costume, after costume, and persona, after persona. Much like Jackson transformed his skin, his voice, his face to aproximate a white woman, much like Madonna had to try on religions and career choices, Miley too must transform before our eyes.

      Why is it so hard to believe that Cyrus, who grew up watching her father make millions with a novelty hit he sang while doing a bad impression of a country music star, would present for the world a caricature of the female pop star?

      You think Bangerz is sub-par pop music and soulless? Of course it is. Bangerz is insightful commentary on our sub par, disposable, plastic, and soulless culture. How else do you explain the inclusion of a word like “acrophobiac” in a song entitled Bangerz? That juxtaposition reveals and calls attention to the absurdity. And “4×4” is clearly holding up a mirror to “Cruise,” the atrociously bad darling of the 2013 CMAs. Miley goes so far as to enlist the help of Nelly, neutered on the country hit, but giving his most full throttled verse since his work with the St. Lunatics on Miley’s tune. And how else are we supposed to consume “Ma Darlin’,” an auto-tuned version of “Stand by Me,” where Miley sings about 3D movies, other than as commentary on the way we are recycling our own past for commercial gain?

      It reminds me of the costumes donned, and the characters created by another artist. An artist who was turned on by his own followers again and again. An artist named Robert Zimmerman.

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