Say It Ain’t So, Miley, Say It Ain’t So

Believe me, nobody is more disappointed in Miley Cyrus’ new music video, “Can’t Be Tamed,” than I am. Now, I don’t really mind that Miley is betraying her Disney roots, since she’s been trying to ditch those for a while now. And I don’t really care that Miley Cyrus is setting a bad example for her fans, though I understand why this video may upset some people on that ground. I don’t even care that the song is pretty bad—this is Miley Cyrus we’re talking about, not Radiohead.

No, I’m not disappointed on any moral or aesthetic grounds; I am disappointed by Miley’s total lack of originality.

Don’t get me wrong: This is by no means the first time that a pop singer, Miley included, has been unoriginal. At this point, it is pretty much incumbent on pop stars to be derivative. From pop stars like Miley Cyrus (and most other stars who dominate Top 40 radio), we don’t really expect innovation so much as clever repackaging of general clichés. In fact, back in November, I praised Miley for being so open and honest about this relationship: The fact that she was so willing to admit that she was singing about listening to Jay-Z not to express any personal feeling, but to appeal to general taste in music, was refreshingly honest.

What’s different about “Can’t Be Tamed,” though, is that the reasons for the lack of originality have changed. Instead of singing bland, generic pop songs about a wholesome youth (like she did on Meet Miley Cyrus) or an innocuously “rebellious” teenager (like she did on Breakthrough),* she’s now singing songs about being a wild, intensely desired pop star. In other words, she’s not being unoriginal to appeal to an experience her fans can relate to, but to boast about how cool and independent she is. It’s a totally self-serving brand of unoriginality.

*I realize I’ve revealed an embarrassing familiarity with Miley Cyrus’ oeuvre in the course of this post, but what can I say? I’m a fan.

Even worse is that, like so many pop stars who came before her, Miley is convinced that she is the first person to pave this ground. She’s said in interviews that this video is “unlike any other music video,” apparently not realizing that she seems to have stolen the lighting from Lindsay Lohan’s “Rumors,” lifted entire shots from Britney Spears’ “Oops I Did It Again,” and borrowed the more basic dance moves from Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty.” Let’s not even mention how the entire conceit of the song—that everyone is fascinated by Cyrus and yet she cannot be controlled or pinned down—is the same as Jessica Simpson’s in “A Public Affair,” or Britney’s in “Do Something,” or pretty much every single of Fergie’s solo career.

The more a pop star starts singing about being unable to be tamed and talking about being completely original, the more generic she seems. It briefly seemed possible that Miley Cyrus was self-aware enough to understand the role she played and avoid the expected pratfalls. With this video, though, she follows the exact path that every other young female singer who got famous too early followed. So even if you don’t have any moral problems with a girl singing about how she “goes through guys like money” when she is still technically a minor, this video is still a disappointment.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Douglas on May 8, 2010 at 2:33 PM

    I know you might be inclined to bristle at the mere thought of any comparison between Miley Cyrus and Bob Dylan, but when you referred to your earlier post about Miley’s “refreshingly honest” take on her relationship to her arguably inauthentic music, it reminded me of your Dylan post. I won’t try to ad-lib a conclusion here; I’m just observing.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Douglas on May 8, 2010 at 2:34 PM

    P.S.

    “So even if you don’t have any moral problems with a girl singing about how she “goes through guys like money” when she is still technically a minor, this video is still a disappointment.”

    Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if she made it doubly problematic by singing about how she “goes through guys like rental cars”?

    Reply

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