The Troubling Tale of the Hannah Montana of Hip-Hop
How did the American sweetheart go to hip-hop hustler and back?
Before saying anything much about Miley Cyrus, it’s important to point out the elephant in the room that gets overlooked ever since she came into her own as a serious artist about 5 years ago: SHE WAS A DISNEY STAR.
Many a good 90’s kid knows that she became famous from the hit show “best of both worlds” or whatever it was called, in which she played Miley Stewart, just your regular fun-lovin’ American teen who doubled up as super international megastar Hannah Montana. For reasons largely unexplained, no one could recognise her as soon as she put on that god-awful blonde wig and this caused many an awkward moment, like when she smears pie on her face to prevent her BFF Lizzie from recognising her.
What stands out the clearest from this show is her Dad’s dire hair and the disturbing trivia that her 16 year old brother was played by a 32 year old. But lets all try and remember the important things here. Miley is an affluent, white, Southern American woman. Her dad made an objectively catchy one hit wonder in the 90’s that somehow gave Miley the connections to be catapulted into childhood fame on Disney-channel.
So this is where our investigation begins. How did the sweet canned-laughter kids-TV child pop star Hannah Montana go to bonafide rowdy pill-popping gangster-gal “We Can’t Stop” Miley Cyrus? When the video for “we can’t stop” came out, it was quite the shocker. In the video, Miley parties hard with a stuffed animal, sings about pills, and in an ultimate act of hedonism and defiance, eats bread that’s not even toasted.
The video spread far and wide, critics and fans alike were taken back. My 9 year-old cousin asked me what twerking was. Miley’s breaking out of her good girl shell couldn’t have been clearer, and if she was doing it to sell records and gain attention, it certainly worked: the album “Bangarz”, which she described as “dirty south hip-hop” sold 270,000 copies in the first week. Miley had also become “woke”, talking about queer rights and legalising weed in interviews given afterwards.
The criticism that she had majorly appropriated black culture in order to gain attention and seem rowdy came fast and hard. Twerking had been part of hip- hop for a while by then, but when Miley did it, it was suddenly cool, not vulgar.
The fact that the release was so well orchestrated and ultimately sold her so many records didn’t help. It is hard to believe that this was a spontaneous affaire or some random spiritual awakening of Miley’s.
I wonder how the meeting between Miley and her PR people went. Did she say “I wanna be badass” and they said, “all the cool kids are acting black these days, why don’t you try that?” Or did they ingeniously go “people are getting tired of this Nickleodeon thing, go grab a wrecking ball and some Timbs and we’ll see what we can do.”
Her new aesthetic has continued since, with her wearing dreadlocks and rapping about being “high on purp” with Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J on “J’s on my feet”.
Maybe Miley’s transformation isn’t a well-executed market ploy and she is actually just a social-satirical performance artist, or a prematurely famous teen trying to find her feet as an adult. Even if this is the case though, she is still just one of many.
Adapting black culture at your convenience isn’t just Miley’s thing, its been done loads before and continues to be done. It wouldn’t really be a big deal if it went both ways, or if we could stop suddenly calling dreadlocks “avant-garde” as soon as Miley wears them. But there really is a lot that points towards a pervasive bias in the music industry that favours white artists, a bias that goes all the way back to when Elvis Presley “invented” rock’n’roll.
Like that time when Macklemore won a Grammy for best rap album over Kendrick Lamar, or when Kanye infamously flipped his shit because T-Swift snatched a “Best Music Video” award that should hands down have gone to Beyoncé.
Miley has now done another 180. Her most recent Billboard interview featured Miley “unplugged” in an innocent flimsy field talking about how she’s “done with hiphop” because all anyone raps about is cocks and Lamborghinis.
She wants to go back to an acoustic sound; back to being a love-song singing knee-high boots wearing country gal again. She always had the option of sinking back into her white privilege and it’s no surprise that she’s now chosen it. People will easily get used to the idea that she’s no longer a delinquent, even though she performed as the worst stereotype of hip-hop culture.
Of course, our dear Miley knew all along that in the end hip-hop was just a wig that she could easily take off when it ceased to fit.