When Good Girls Go Bad
The MTV VMA 2013 held on August 25 at the Barclays Center saw many memorable performances, including the much anticipated ‘NSync reunion. However, an over the top appearance by Miley Cyrus became the highlight of this year’s show, generating heated discussions, record YouTube views, and media following. More than one hundred individuals filed complaints with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), describing the act as disgusting, raunchy, and lewd. Viewers also discovered the meaning of ‘twerking’. In fact, Cyrus’s gyrations had at least as much shock value as Madonna’s famous performance of “Like A Virgin” (she had locked lips with Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears at the same venue ten years ago).
Was Miley Cyrus trying to prove that she had put her Disney Hannah Montana days behind her and that this was her new grown-up self? Or might it have been a deliberate ploy for publicity for ‘Bangerz’, her upcoming album of October 4? The latter seems to be the case. In an interview two days after the VMA, Miley Cyrus acted matter-of-factly, was frank about the show, and seemed to downplay her onstage persona—so different in kind to her iconic good girl image. As she said, “[With onstage part- ner Robin Thicke] we knew we were about to make history”. This suggests intent. Moreover, she downplayed the effects of the bad publicity: “I don’t pay attention to the negatives because I’ve seen this play out so many times [before]”. The Awards, in short, seem to have been a perfect launching pad for a media blitz.
The song she performed during the 2013 VMAs, “We Can’t Stop” was from her new album “Bangerz” and had been released June 2. The music video, which, among other bizarre scenes, showed her twerking, was released on June 19. The song peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, whereas the music video became the fastest clip to reach 100 million views across Vevo platforms.
After the notoriety gained on August 25 at the VMAs, Miley Cyrus released the music video of her second single, “Wrecking Ball”. The music video shows Miley Cyrus crying while singing against a white background. In contrast to her racy performance at the VMA, this close-up scene is refreshingly real. As the song enters its second verse, how- ever, Miley Cyrus is shown sitting fully naked on top of a wrecking ball. If, earlier, the video had set the stage for the shock of the nude by playing on Miley’s vulnerability, it now unleashed its coupe de grace to effect. The response was staggering. 12.3 million views followed in Vevo in the first 24 hours, a new record. Nothing had been left to chance, as Miley had shrewdly promised her 13 million Twitter followers that she would reveal the complete track list to “Bangerz” if they broke Vevo’s record. She did follow up on her promise.
The music video for “Wrecking Ball” evidently continued to anger and upset many. In a recent interview on New York City’s Z100 radio station, Miley Cyrus said her nudity actually had a deep and very personal message to communicate: it was a metaphor for how vulnerable she felt after a breakup (with ex-fiancé Liam Hemsworth) As she said, “the song is a pop ballad [and] it’s one of the songs that everyone is going to relate to…everyone’s felt that feeling at some point.” Indeed: “Wrecking Ball” eventually hit the No. 1 spot on Billboard Hot 100 in its fourth week on the chart, becoming Miley Cyrus’s first single ever to hit the No.1 spot.
The VMA performance had a negative impact on Miley Cyrus’s clean image. It reportedly cost her the coveted cover of Vogue magazine and more promotion as a new fashion icon. But it re-launched her music career, and “Wrecking Ball” topped the Billboard Hot 100 for the second consecutive week. The success of “Bangerz” cannot be in question now.
It may come as no surprise that today’s artists will not shy away from controversy to get noticed. With a new album on offer, Miley Cyrus scandalized a national TV audience to push sales. Arguably, she had to risk more than other artists, like Madonna or Lady Gaga, who keep their business intact as they move forward (Miley took her losses). Beyond that, the example points to the continuing power of TV and video clips in the fortunes of the music business. Since MTV, in the mid 1980s, the visual shell of a song is as important as its sonic print.
By Corliss Lee