In Another Castle: Miley's musical about-face

William Evans

Because, apparently, the world had been devoid of the uplifting and positive force that is Miley Cyrus, the arrival of her new single brought with it an interview with Billboard magazine. And because Cyrus has such insight on hip-hop in the way that I am an expert on French history because I pronounce the store Target as Tar-jay, she took it upon herself to criticize hip-hop by way of praising Kendrick Lamar. (Ironically, if Cyrus was happy that Lamar's “Humble” didn't include sexually explicit content regarding women, it's safe to say she's never listened to an album where “Lust” directly follows her new favorite song.)

People with no investment in hip-hop criticizing the form is as old as hip-hop itself. And I don't belong to the ideology that says someone must be a certified expert in something to have an opinion about it. But there is a difference with hip-hop, as many don't know if they are assessing the music or the culture when they talk about it. And if that is the debate, then they damn sure don't know the origin of either, which informs a lot of how the content is shaped.

The kicker with Cyrus, of course, is the outright hypocrisy of this “evolved” perspective. Now returning to her “country” roots, the singer suddenly has a problem with many of the tropes of hip-hop with no awareness of her own Olympic dive into those very mechanisms. No acknowledgment of her appropriating fashion, dances and images from hip-hop. No self-revelatory statements regarding her asking her producers to make “something black” for her. No come-to-country-Jesus proclamations for fetishizing black women's bodies in performances and videos. Just the turned-up nose and the quickly retracted hands of a person served a dish from a culture they don't care about.

The reality is Cyrus is not the first. There are plenty of artists who change their sound from their initial albums, sometimes because their sound changes, sometimes because they have broken free from their original record label who dictated their first exposure. But Cyrus follows in a long line of music stars that includes Jennifer Lopez, Pink and others who used hip-hop to widen their audience base and then promptly disavowed any existence of it once their popularity reached a certain level.

The irony is that this didn't bring them black fans, per se, though it did bring them more white fans who liked what they identify as “black” music. And Miley won't be the last to play three-card Monte with hip-hop, but I'd be surprised if many will roll around in such ignorance about their own complicity.

I would sign off saying, “It's been real, Miley,” but it hasn't. None of it has been.