Can We Please STOP Singling Out “We Can’t Stop”?
by Eliza Wallace on June 26, 2013
Posted in: Uncategorized
Hi cultural critics! Boy, I know this might not be news to you, but I just have to say it again: you know who is lame lame lame? That Miley Cyrus character and her new song, “We Can’t Stop.” Ugh. Drunk, no-talent, Disney-vom, mildly-racist-definitely-ignorant dum-dum. Ugh. You know what else is lame and stupid and unoriginal and a glaring blight on our presh musical memz and a sign of the apocalypse? No, it’s not that new Ke$ha song. It is ya’ll idiot critics who think it’s “news” to write yet another takedown piece ripping apart yet another Justin-Beiber-status muzak-droidbaby’s catchy-ass tune without taking a look in your own gawddamn iTunes Library’s Top 25 Most Played for the ‘zact same problem.
Here’s the setup of my bone to pick. Let me establish that in this gal’s opinion, Miley Cyrus’s new song “We Can’t Stop,” is a catchy-ass tune. One of my fave gal bloggers wrote, “ ‘We run things / Things don’t run we’ is the lyric of 2013. Shut it down til January.” (This same blogger and myself also recognize that this line, as well as other favorites, like “Everyone in line at the bathroom/tryna get a line in the bathroom,” is probably jacked from someone else’s less catchy, less PR-supported song or poetry or movie or art creation. S’not news either.) “We Can’t Stop” was written by a whole bunch of music dudes (??? – so, NOT Miley, btw) and produced by Mike WiLL Made It (don’t know who that is either, you guys). The song is a triiiiip. I have listened to it in the morning/at work/in the taxi/in my underwear for the last 3 weeks straight. (I have since then moved on to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” which, yes, I know it’s depressingly sexist but the girls in the music video have just beautiful tits, objectively speaking…who even am I anymore?) Entertainment Weekly called Miley’s new single “Ke$ha on Benadryl” which is perfect. The music video, however — watch it here — is some recent fodder of every writer and their sister from Jezebel to The Atlantic – that is, the scores of people who regularly recycle controversial cultural material gleaned from their more observant friends’ Twitters, which are to the future of journalism what Charlie Chaplin was for comedians or the blues was for rock (analogies, analo-Jesus!). The music video was directed by Diane Martel and features some shrug-ly weird shit and Miley’s frosted tips and some art direction/casting that is decidedly, if unintentionally and ignorantly racist. This music video is whatevsies, provocative-art-wise (it’s certainly NO Spring Breakers), and it is most definitely as problematic as everyone has noticed. In fact, it deserves every bit of the flack it’s gotten. But not all on its lonesome, oh no.
Dodai Stewart’s widely circulated Jezebel article from last week, “On Miley Cyrus, Ratchet Culture and Accessorizing with Black People” is totes on point. I vigorously nodded the whole time I read it, and so should you. BUT I take issue with the fact that though it mentions both the socioeconomic and racial elements of the misappropriated elements of ratchet culture (…will it ever be anything but laughable on baby Miley? It’s not like she actually nails an accurate iteration of intimidating swagger, so taking her so seriously is maybe a little off-track to begin with?), Stewart forgets to follow up on the former. Here’s one of my favorite parts of Stewart’s piece: “Miley and her ilk need to be reminded that the stuff they think is cool, the accoutrements they’re borrowing, have been birthed in an environment where people are underprivileged, undereducated, oppressed, underrepresented, disenfranchised, systemically discriminated against and struggling in a system set up to insure that they fail.” A thousand more vigorous nods in agreement, yes? Let’s take a moment, though, and quietly answer this question in our head: who are those considered to be of Miley’s “ilk”?
I can tell you right now, I almost automatically listed Biebz, One Direction, Selena Gomez, all the sweet sugar-pop babes who are almost patently not self-aware and almost inevitably lose their shit and their tight bods and pull a Brit circa 2007/Amanda Bynes (no judgment honey, you do you, #bless) once they reach their respective breaking points. But then I remembered A$AP Rocky. Who I really like, as an artist. (His line “The only thing bigger than my ego is my mirror” in the song “Wassup” was simply inspired.) A$AP Rocky’s music video for his recent song “Wild for the Night” involved him jumping up and down and tussling the hair of a street child in a crumbling shantytown in the Dominican Republic. Ehhh. That makes me uncomfortable. Especially when he is jumping up in down in his gold grillz on someone’s cardboard house and like, “sampling” the exotic Dominican girls. And then I remembered Solange Knowles, who I really really really really like, as an artist. Solange’s music video for “Losing You” was set in an impoverished landscape in Capetown, South Africa. Jezebel doesn’t manage the continuity of their content very well it appears, because in October 2012, they published an article entitled, “Solange’s ‘Losing You’ Video Solidifies Her Spot as Coolest Girl in the World.” It goes on to wax poetic about the “pleasing at-once-modern-and-retro visuals and relaxed party ambiance.” And it’s true, it’s a beautiful vid that features a South African fashion subculture called Les Sapeurs and Solange pose-pose-posing like a queen. I loved it; I thought it was hot. A quote from Solange on the setting? “…[S]ome of my friends from New York came down to Cape Town and we all had a very damn good time.” Sorry, what? Something about the tone of the whole thing sounds so familiar. The opening shot of “Losing You” is of miles and miles of South African ghetto. Damn good time! But maybe, just like Miley says, “It’s our party, we can do what we want!”
Inappropriate appropriation, specifically of once- or currently-colonized and/or Orientalized cultures, can be seen everywhere and is manifested troublingly by even such “hip” (vommmm) or “WRMC-approved” musicians. [Editor’s Note: Solange’s “Losing You” in fact topped our Top 91 poll this past May.] Some of our favorite musicians set their promo videos in “foreign” (that is, foreign to the musician) landscapes for shockingly inconsiderate, unaware, flippant aesthetic purposes. Moreover, being members of a racial minority isn’t an excuse for Solange and A$AP in this case, because they ignorantly indulge their economic power and their status as citizens of a nation with a history of imperial colonization. Both are wealthy Westerners who don’t actually hail from the countries in question, who fool around in a colorful pastiche decorating the ghetto, using the people who live there as props and exotic caché.
Just because one celebrity character is more likable to the self-righteous, liberal arts ranters (Me! You! Everyone we know!) and one is deemed more trashy or stupid or vapid doesn’t mean the “cooler” one shouldn’t suffer the same scrutiny or analysis. Chewing out Miley or Justin Bieber or whatever little sparkly little doll is the most reviled by the current collective cool police is easy, and we forget to give fair critique across the board, forget to put even the “good ones” under our relentless lenses. And yeah, it is almost as terrible and fake and shitty when celebrities do the reverse and try to spread their benevolence upon the less fortunate (Brad n’ Angie n’ the gang). But we all ought to do our best to try to talk more real talk these days, you know? #WISDOM.
The other day I was composing Tweets in my head, as I unabashedly often do, because I like to I.D. with that group of self-centered people who work very hard at publicizing their carefully re-crafted internal thoughts, crave an audience and wait for approval. (This group of people is also known as “contemporary writers,” HA.) I had just gone to H&M and was (still am) particularly jazzed about my new shoes, a pair of raised white platform sandals. An early mental Tweet draft: “Only have fallen twice in the past 24 hours in my new geisha sandals!” Thought about it…decided not to Tweet it. Not because it wasn’t funny (though I admit it wasn’t) and I hold myself to a high standard of comedy on Twitter, but because I did a quick re-think on the usage of “geisha” as a descriptor for a trendy, $15 accessory. The whole history and cultural significance of a geisha that I very vaguely know about and mostly from the Memoirs of a Geisha film that came out when I was twelve years old doesn’t seem to belong to me just because I bought some whore shoes.
[Editor’s Note: There’s actually yet another fascinating layer to this. The Rob Marshall-directed adaptation of the bestselling novel Memoirs of a Geisha drew the ire of just about everyone, back when it was released in 2005, because the three lead roles went to prominent Chinese actresses because their recent appearance in hits such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon made them more bankable. The filmmakers defended their choices as being economically motivated, not racist or Orientalizing; Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li, both Chinese, were bigger in Japan at the time than any Japanese actress. Japanese actor Ken Watanabe insisted that talent – which all of the film’s stars do possess, in spades – was more important than race or nationality in casting. Zhang Ziyi argued that geisha culture was so antiquated that it would have been equally foreign to a Japanese actress playing one of the film’s roles, which makes less sense. Oh, and the entire cast, including extras, was comprised of actors from all over Asia, including China, Korea, and Malaysia as well as Japan, because, hey, who can tell the difference? The film was performed in English, by the way. Lastly, the source novel was penned by Arthur Golden, a white, Ivy League-educated American who now lives in one of the nation’s wealthiest counties. Just some food for thought while we’re on the subject.]
One of my professors surmised that in the future, we wouldn’t refer to most incidents as “racist” anymore. Instead, we would say the subtler and more complicated “culturist,” which includes what we think of today as racism and all of the offenses we commit and don’t pay enough attention to. If we are going to call out racists and culturists, which we very well should do, by golly, we need to not hand out quiet free passes to ourselves and our idols just to maintain the stability of our personal nexus of cool. Except for Jennifer Lawrence, who is queen and can do no wrong, even when flashing the gang symbol of the LA Kings at the Cannes Film Festival (LOL ok fine, that never happened, but omg what if???? Would our hearts be able to handle it?).
Images via Google Images.
this article was a waste of everyone’s time
seriously though who uses “‘zact” to replace exact in what is supposed to be (and could be) a decent article. it makes me feel as though agreeing (which i do wholeheartedly) will turn me into a girl who wears headbands and drinks out of jars. also to add my own point, no one has ever called out MIA for heavily referencing Saudi culture in the Bad Girls video (ironically it is probably because the same people complaining about white people doing this actually just think that she is Saudi or that all middle eastern cultures are the same, even though she is sri lankan which is not even a middle eastern country/ are also trying to “maintain the stability of [their] personal nexus of cool” as you wrote).
Word. That video is cool as fuck and also so problematic. The same could be said about a lot of Romain Garvas’s work. While I’ve not read anything on “Bad Girls” specifically except one mediocre thing on Racialicious (http://www.racialicious.com/2012/03/06/m-i-a-and-the-real-bad-girls/), M.I.A. is something of an appropriation train wreck in terms of her music, her speech, her fashion, her videos, everything. One need not dig too far on the internet to discover thinkpiece upon thinkpiece on the subject of her use and abuse of signifiers borrowed from cultures, political groups, etc. to which she does not belong. Many of these are actually not critical essays but album reviews, since M.I.A. puts such decisions front-and-center not only in her videos but in the tracks themselves such that it’s hard to review her music without confronting the problem.
If she has been called out less than she should have been over her career, I think it’s due A) to the fact that it’s still kind of unclear how involved in extremist politics she or her family has ever been and also B) the same ugly reason you mention, about obliviously racist folks assuming she’s a part of the given appropriated culture or thinking it’s okay because she’s of Sri Lankan descent. There’s also that disastrous NYT piece from a while back which allowed M.I.A. to embarrass herself so badly along these lines that no one need add much. There’s also a SUPER annoying trend among music critics to give this stuff a free pass because “contradictions make artists exciting” and because “this is the age of the Internet” — a highbrow rhetorical maneuver that releases artists from the obligation to be politically responsible and us from having to face the political consequences of our consumer decisions, etc. The ever-valorized Pitchfork is far and away the #1 perpetrator of this, cf. also everything they’ve written about Kanye West from just before “808s & Heartbreak” right up to the present.
I agree with this but it is written in the voice of an annoying girl who I would punch if I ever heard her talking in real life.
Ahhh shoot, I was actually trying to make anyone who agrees with this arti turn into a girl who wears stilettos and drinks Dark n’ Stormy’s (Not even kidding! That would be my ideal!), but I def understand your stylistic qualms and appreciate you pointing them out. For blog-type pieces, I take a page from Kate Carraway, a columnist at Vice, who uses Internet vernacular/abbrevs to talk about really serious and complicated topics so she can hold the attn of an audience of Tweet-ers who might go read about baby North West’s new baby Bentley instead of prescription drug abuse or rape culture or the many shades of contemporary racism/culturism after getting bored a couple sentences in. Also great call and thanks for the contribution of the MIA example and xoxo to my editor for following that up.
i LUV dark-n-stormies (no plural form of that word looks right)
You having a bad day there, little camper?