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Yes, Miley Cyrus. That sledge hammer-licking slut. Did you see her on the VMA’s with that foam finger? And then riding that big wrecking ball wearing nothing? Let’s all wag our fingers, shield the children from all the spectacle, position ourselves as self-righteous and above it all….and then watch her latest video 4 times in a row once the kiddos go to bed.
Is it shocking and disappointing that the girl who once was America’s biggest teen star and role model turned out so? Of course it is. Is it also painfully predictable? Most definitely. But Miley is almost so shocking and disappointing, our outrage goes without saying.
It may be just as disappointing that Miley forever ruined the cool factor of drug references in songs with her recent single “We Can’t Stop.” And though we all may want to act shocked at what little Hannah Montana has turned into, putting drug references in your songs is just about the most conformist thing an artist can possibly do in 2013—country music included.
Though Sinead O’Connor had some brilliant points in her primary open letter to Miley Cyrus, as we saw later with subsequent Sinead letters, brilliant points or not, Sinead could nearly match Miley blow for shave-headed blow when it came to the crazy department.
Somewhere within the numerous and ever-present melees that have surrounded what is right now the most popular and influential artist in American music is that Miley Cyrus is a woman, and artist, and a daughter. No, I have no desire to leave my take on the multiple threads of whether Miley is exploiting or empowering herself as a woman with her recent antics. Even broaching the subject just lends to Miley and her marketing team’s underlying goal, which is to keep her name in the headlines and her singles high on the charts.
What I found interesting is when her father Billy Ray Cyrus recently opened up to Arsenio Hall about his daughters recent antics, he said, “Miley is very smart. She’s thought this thing out in advance of where she was going and, again, going back to her heart and her roots of the music and doing it because that’s who she is. She grew up around the greats. Waylon Jennings, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash.“
Really? Miley Cyrus grew up on Waylon and Cash? Even regular CMT pop country pom pom waver Alison Bonaguro called foul on such a crazy assertion. After all, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings would never reference cocaine in their songs, would they? In Miley’s song “We Can’t Stop,” she says things like, “We run things, things don’t run we. We don’t take nothing from nobody,” and “It’s my mouth I can say what I want to.” Sure, the times change, and so does the nomenclature and context. But maybe there was a little more Waylon and Cash in there than we were willing to believe.
Miley hosted Saturday Night Live over the weekend, and while half the earth was waiting to see if the foam finger would re-appear, and the other half was manning the Miley Cyrus rehab watch, she tripped everyone up by coming out and performing two distinctly live, stripped down, heartfelt performances with no electronic accoutrements. Yes, Miley Cyrus can actually sing quite well; singing is supposed to be the point of all of this. Right at the apex of when the world was rooting against her to fail as washed up at 20-years-old with nothing but shock to create attention for herself and no substance or talent behind her music, she proved that somewhere deep inside her was a nugget of forte that was dramatically underestimated. Check mate.
At the end of the second song Miley performed on SNL—the drug-laced and defiant “We Can’t Stop,” accompanied only by acoustic guitars—Miley showed one brief moment of sincerity when the crowd erupted with applause. She was truly shocked and grateful, showing a wide, unguarded, bright-eyed smile that harkened back to her innocent Hannah Montana days—a character she ironically ceremoniously killed off during the same SNL episode. It still amazes me why stars don’t go to the stripped-down performance more often. It certainly gives them the ability to deliver a more memorable moment than some of the big stage productions.
Another performer who regularly calls on shock to draw attention is Marlyn Manson. In his take on Patti Smith’s 1978 song “Rock ‘n Roll Nigger,” he adds the line, “Cause I am the all-American antichrist. I was raised in America, and America hates me for what I am. I am your shit.”
As much as we may like to shame Miley Cyrus, or Billy Ray Cyrus for raising such a monster, or Disney for manufacturing such a pop monstrosity, the simple fact is Miley Cyrus is a product of who we are. She is a child of the American culture. For better or for worse. From her embarrassments to her virtues. She was raised on Waylon and Cash, by the guy who sang “Achy Breaky Heart,” starring in a show from Disney. It’s never smart to underestimate anyone—financially or artistically. At the time that Miley seemed to be unraveling right before our very eyes, she was the most in control. I wonder if Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash had similar moments in their careers?
Sometimes you can find wisdom and beauty in the strangest places.
Timberly was not the musical guest, that was T. Pain & Ludacris, your generic hip-hoppers catering their music to teenage suburban yuppie offspring who wish they were brothers from the hizzood.
And this got me to thinking about SNL, another Saturday night staple for years Austin City Limits , and Rolling Stone Magazine.
All three of these once great institutions used to be all about supporting REAL music, whether it was popular or not. They used to be about promoting acts that were not necessarily getting the pub they deserved from other media outlets. SNL has never been about country music. In fact when Garth Brooks hosted the show, his emo pop alter ego Chris Gaines was booked as the musical guest. But during its early years they really tried to promote lesser-known, but really talented musicians.
The Rolling Stone started out by covering bands in the late 60′s San Francisco music scene, and helped propel that scene to a national level. When The Outlaws were taking over country music in the 70′s, Rolling Stone covered the Austin scene and Chet Flippo was dispatched to Nashville to cover Waylon Jennings and the ‘Hillbilly Central’ crowd at Tompall Glaser’s studios.
Austin City Limits was formed solely to cover the Austin country rock scene that exploded in the 70′s, and was inspired by Jan Reed’s GREAT book, The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock. As the years went by, they also covered some national acts, but they always stayed true to covering Austin music and country music as a whole.
But nowadays, all three of these outlets seem to only be interested in whatever ‘Johnny Come Lately’ is hot at the time, and usually that Johnny Come Lately is some sort of version of ‘hip-hop.’ And forget trying to promote regional acts or culture. All three of these promote the same damn thing.
In other words, back in the day, but on the same week The Rolling Stone would write a story about ‘The Grateful Dead,’ Austin City Limits would show a performance by ‘Willie Nelson,’ and SNL would show ‘Simon & Garfunkel’ or ‘Patti Smith.’ But nowadays The Rolling Stone runs a story about Gnarls Barkley, Austin City Limits shows a performance by Gnarls Barkley, and Gnarls Barkley plays on SNL. And our music culture continues to become more homogenized and less regionalized, and is controlled more and more by big record label corporations trying to make as much money as possible at the expense of good music.
Austin City Limits’ first season in 1975 was a who’s-who in the Austin music scene. This year they had performances by Gnarls Barkley, Coldplay, and REM. Even if you like these bands, why do any of them need exposure? Who needs exposure is Wayne ‘The Train’ Hancock, Dale Watson, and other legacy members of the Austin country music scene. And Dale and Wayne aren’t just bar acts, but people who have national followings and influence other people’s music.
I know that in the last issue of Rolling Stone they had an interview with Hank III and I don’t want to take anything away from that. I commend them for that and for helping get the word out for Reinstate Hank, but they also screwed up his review of Straight to Hell that you can read about by clicking here. And for every REAL musician they cover, there’s 20 Taylor Swifts or Timberly McGraw stories. At this point Rolling Stone is not much more than a teenie-bopper fashion magazine in my opinion, that only has glimpses of good content.
And Rolling Stone just changed it’s magazine print format because they said they are loosing money. Austin City Limits will tell you they have to have pop acts to keep ratings up. But what they don’t understand is that if they stayed true to their roots, they wouldn’t have any financial trouble. They should stick with what made them good instead of trying to scrape for every last dollar. Austin City Limits is on pubic (purposely misspelled-save the emails) television which not supposed to worry about making money anyway. I’d rather see Austin City Limits ride into the sunset than have a one hit wonder like Gnarls Barkley shame it’s stage.
But shit, what do I know?
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