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miley cyrus and the sexualisation of the music industry

Image via Mike Schmid

Image via Mike Schmid

Miley Cyrus no longer wants ‘Disney star’ attached to her name. The fact of the matter is, she’s twenty years old, and her work on ‘Hannah Montana’ was done when she was a young adolescent. She’s maturing into a woman, and wants the world to know it. And her recent performance at the VMAs was just one of the ways in which Cyrus is stating this to the world.

Just in case you missed the performance about which the Internet basically exploded, I will now run through the main points which caused this consternation. (I would provide a link to the performance on YouTube, but due to copyright restrictions, I’m sure the link would only work for a further day or two before it is forcibly removed.)

– Miley emerges from a giant teddy bear prop, wearing a teddy bear teddy (yes I’m aware that’s confusing). Sticks tongue out of her mouth excessively.

– she sings her newest single ‘We Can’t Stop’, albeit slightly out of tune, with a series of dancers also dressed as teddy bears. Sticks tongue out of her mouth excessively.

– Robin Thicke, the artist behind ‘Blurred Lines’ then comes on stage to perform said song with Miley. Miley now strips down to almost identical outfit to that which is worn by the women in the ‘Blurred Lines’ video clip. Sticks tongue out of her mouth excessively.

– ‘Blurred Lines’ is performed, Miley twerks and grinds on Robin Thicke’s crotch, making sexual gestures on herself with a giant foam hand, for some reason (maybe she’ll announce her new promotional deal with Coles in the days to come). Sticks tongue out of her mouth excessively (with it this time landing on Robin Thicke).

So there you have it. As I said, the Internet and social media went crazy over this performance, labelling Cyrus everything from a “train-wreck” to a “whore”, and Robin Thicke was basically ignored, presumed innocent in the whole thing. Cherchez La Femme’s Karen Pickering really summed it up with her Tweet at the time saying that this was yet another example of slut-shaming on a global level, all directed towards the young Cyrus. For some reason, the performance of the ever-evocative Lady Gaga, or even from Katy Perry, was more or less completely ignored. Why all of the attention directed at Miley?

For one thing, it’s because she clearly craves this attention. And she’s clearly gotten it, so she’s achieved her goal in this regard. And it’s the kind of attention that she wants as well – the kind that acknowledges her as a young woman aware of her sexuality as an adult (rather than the previous attention she had garnered as a child star, and as the daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus). In other words, being something like many other twenty year old women out there in the big wide world, only with a career and a lifestyle which allows for its projection into social media circles. It’s simply a shame that the expression of female sexuality is demonised to the extent that it is – one only needs to search Miley Cyrus’ name in Twitter to see the reactions and spiteful language directed at her, as well as the creation of ridiculing Facebook pages.

Anyway, Miley Cyrus is just one person in the popular music business who uses sex and sexual innuendos to draw attention to herself, and to her music. Look at Robin Thicke, the silent participant in this performance (note: sarcasm). He used sex and the sexualised image of might-as-well-be completely naked women to draw attention to ‘Blurred Lines’. And that’s just a recent example. It’s been happening for years in the music industry, especially since the rise in popularity of the music video as a means of accessing both the artist and the artist’s music. Miley Cyrus once again drew attention to herself with her video clip for her most recent single ‘We Can’t Stop’ due to its sexualised content. In a similar way, nearly ten years ago Fiona Apple drew similar attention to herself for her music video for ‘Criminal’, released when Apple was the same age as Cyrus is now. Even before this, the now-iconic Elvis Presley was even banned from television screens due to the style in which he performed and danced. So this is hardly a new practice.

So the issue isn’t really with Miley, as she’s certainly not alone in having potentially explicit content in her videos and her performances. The question really is why do musicians feel the compulsion to sexualise themselves? Isn’t their job solely to make music, and to entertain in their performances, rather than to sell themselves and their bodies as part of this?

I suppose conclusion to be reached is that this should be the case – but it isn’t. In the music industry of today, appearance and sexualised content is just part and parcel of what’s expected of popular artists, both men and women. Fortunately, this isn’t a blanket theory, and not all popular artists fit this mould, but it’s becoming this way. This could come down to society’s fixation with appearances and body figures, perpetuated by mainstream media outlets. Or it could be due to the fact that really, music is a product, and this product must be sold – any sex sells.

In other words, there are plenty of motivating factors behind Miley’s and any other popular music artist’s decision to perform or present themself in a sexualised manner. Personally, I believe that the only mistake that Miley made in her VMA performance was aligning herself with ‘Blurred Lines’, a song which sends entirely the wrong kind of message to society (and which has been fabulously analysed by Lip, which I strongly recommend reading). Otherwise, she didn’t really do anything wrong. She’s a popular music artist, after all.


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One thought on “miley cyrus and the sexualisation of the music industry

  1. This was a really good read! I love that you spoke about sexualisation in the music industry and related it to Miley Cyrus and Robin Thickes performance. I would love to hear what you have to say about Robin Thickes song and video clip for “Blurred Lines”

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