This song is basically Elvis Presley and the moon landing all in one.
Between our great nation being on the cusp of war with Syria, the hullaballoo over the new Danny Brown album, and this video ethering our entire generation, today has been a pretty busy one for pop music. More important than all of that, Lil Twist, Justin Bieber, and Miley Cyrus put out a song called “Twerk,” mere days after she ripped a hole in the fabric of the space-time continuum by shaking her butt in the vague proximity of Robin Thicke's crotch. That moment was meant to set the stage for this one. Miley won. We lost.
That Miley is barely the sonic focus of the song is inconsequential. The ass on the artwork is hers, and while the vocal focus is Bieber, the attitudinal focus is upon Miley, and Miley alone. Its beat is ominous, a martial stomp mimicking the sound of a million concerned parents marching towards the town hall to turn in their petition banning twerking, their feet in perfect lockstep. It is not a fun track. It is a song meant for to die to. This is not a mistake. People who are stupid are legitimately scared of Miley Cyrus and her twerking, and this is a song meant to freak them the fuck out.
What Miley Cyrus is essentially doing—throwing black culture in the face of mainstream white America—is nothing new. Elvis perfected it in the late 50’s when he dry-humped the air on Milton Berle. He did it so well he wound up with a file in J. Edgar Hoover’s database. Now, we are all J. Edgar Hoover: every tweet, every barroom discussion, every thinkpiece (no matter how well-written, valid, and elucidatory) helped set this moment up. It’s proof that there is indeed levels to this shit, and no matter which one we might be competing on, the corporate pop machine is winning one that we can’t even see until they’ve already thrown their cards on the table. We unwittingly just helped Miley Cyrus and her “Team” raise her profile and rebrand to the point where we can barely remember she was once girl who copped to having never heard a Jay Z song before.
That Miley Cyrus is experiencing her Elvis moment is even more significant and symbolic given her background. Her father is a famous country singer whose most famous song is an anthem for goobers throughout the world. She came up in the nightmarish Disney child star assembly line. She has grown up in public and has experienced things we can’t even comprehend. In all likelihood, she does not understand the significance of her VMAs performance and its very real ties to minstrelsy. All she knows is she just put out a song called “Twerk” and has officially played all of us.
There is something else to consider, something that we so far have failed to take into account. Why is Miley Cyrus singled out for her appropriation of black culture when her male analog, Justin Bieber, has been throwing up gang signs on Instagram and freestyling—to various levels of success—for a couple years now. People seem way more OK with this than Miley. This might be because Bieber’s team made his transition to hip-hop seem like a natural evolution—he came up affiliated with Usher, has collaborated with rappers on every album, and “Boyfriend” is basically a rap song, albeit one for goddamn children. But ultimately, boys are permitted to move in American culture in ways that girls are not. That’s fucked up. But someone on Miley Cyrus’s team knows this. And they exploited it. And then they exploited our own impulses.
Pop music is 20% actual music, 80% pro wrestling, and Miley Cyrus just hit us with the Stone Cold Stunner.
Drew Millard loves getting "Turned Up." He's on Twitter - @drewmillard