Miley Cyrus's tongue-wagging (and other lewd acts) at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards last night, Aug. 25, has set everyone's tongue wagging today as we all try to process what exactly happened when the former Hannah Montana star took to the Brooklyn stage.
Miley was supposed to perform her summer hit "We Can't Stop," which would then segue into Robin a performance of "Blurred Lines."
But as she descended a staircase from a giant robot teddy bear, sticking out her tongue to its maximum extension, viewers knew they were in for a whole new, NSFW side of Miley.
She then proceeded to play air guitar right over her you-know-what, thrust her pelvis this way and that, twerk, spank a woman dressed as a bear, strip to her nude-colored underwear, rub her crotch with a giant foam finger, graze that foam finger over the crotch of Robin Thicke, grind her butt on his crotch, thrust the foam finger from her crotch, and make out with Robin's neck.
Predictably, the show's teenaged audience members screamed and cheered after the performance. But some of the stars in attendance didn't know what to make of the risque display. The cameras showed Drake averting his eyes as Miley performed. Rihanna dutifully watched but looked appalled. And Taylor Swift covered her eyes, laughing uncontrollably.
And celebs were even harsher on Twitter:
Grinding (sort of) aside, another issue with Miley's performance was her continued use of African-American tropes in her interviews and dance routines. In her We Can't Stop video, the black women represented were only present during her twerking segments. The camera only focused on the butts, and eventually, Miley slapping them. These segments featured exclusively African-American women, where the rest of the video was pretty whitewashed. Then last night, this happened:
But basically, she, as a rich white woman, is "playing" at being a minority specifically from a lower socio-economic level. Along with the gold grill and some hand gestures, Miley straight-up appropriates the accoutrements associated with certain black people on the fringes of society. (See: "Ratchet Girl Anthem.")
In the video, Miley is seen with her "friends": Mostly skinny white boys and girls who appear to be models. But in a few scenes, she's seen twerking with three black women. Are they also her friends? Or is she just hoping for street cred? Note that she is wearing white, in the spotlight, the star of the video — and they are treated as props, a background for her to shine in front of. We've tackled the use of people of color in the background before; it's a theme that persists, but remains wrong. In a white-centric world, putting white women quite literally in the center of the frame while women of color are off to the side is a powerful, disrespectful visual message, and it really must be said: Human beings are not accessories. These women might be her friends, but the general dynamic created is that she is in charge and they are in service to her.
Jody Rosen at Vulture called Miley's performance a "minstrel show," and said that when Miley crossed that line into spanking her backup dancer, "her act tipped over into what we may as well just call racism: a minstrel show routine whose ghoulishness was heightened by Cyrus’s madcap charisma."
The stuff that comes out of Miley's mouth doesn't help, either, like, "A lot of people wanted to try to make me the white Nicki Minaj [...] That's not what I'm trying to do. I love 'hood' music, but my talent is as a singer." Miley is certainly treading on some complicated territory, and we're not sure she's fully thought through exactly how complicated it is.
Of course, Miley does have a response to reminders that she's white (or at least, she did earlier this month) but it doesn't exactly elevate the discourse.
Watch the performance and make your own decisions below.
What do you think, Cyrusians? Is Hollywood being too harsh on the Bangerz pop star? Or did Miley cross a few (hundred) blurred lines of decency last night?