Was Miley Cyrus Really Raised on Johnny Cash & Waylon Jennings?
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.
October 8, 2013 @ 1:26 pm
She must have been listening to it at somebody else’s house. I never heard anything that sounded like Waylon or Cash come out of Billy Ray’s mouth!
October 8, 2013 @ 1:30 pm
I really enjoy her rendition of Jolene. She definitely has talent, it would have been great if she had relied on that as opposed to shock-antics in order to gain a following.
October 8, 2013 @ 1:50 pm
That’s the thing, to get to the big popular level she’s at, you can’t rely on talent. It doesn’t carry the ratings the way twerking on Doc Seavers son does. Take all the shock and glitz out of it, and well, then it’s kinda boring.
October 9, 2013 @ 11:29 am
Just watched the video for Jolene and it is pretty good. But Dolly’s is the best.
October 8, 2013 @ 2:02 pm
She’s doing just fine.
October 8, 2013 @ 2:58 pm
You know I’ve always thought she had a great voice and tons of talent. I’m still a fan even though she has gone off the deep end, but I think this was all planned by Miley to put a “nail in the coffin” as they say to distance herself from the whole Hannah Montana bit. I think she just had to completely shock everyone so much by her “adult” antics in order to do that. Thanks for the sharing the Jolene video. I have never seen that video. It proves just how talented she really is. Here is another great performance by her.
TX Music Jim
October 8, 2013 @ 3:06 pm
She’s a messed up kid raised in the show biz bubble who really is not in touch with any sort of normal everyday reality like most of us. Sadly this shock everyone routine is working. The raw talent is there but that don’t cut it these days, sadly. I just hope she doesn’t end up overdosing and dying young like so many. Fred Eaglesmith said it best in his song “alcohol and pils it’s a cryin’ shame you think they would have been happy with the money and the fame.” She most likely was exposed to some Waylon and other greats as a kid but it did not sink in.
October 8, 2013 @ 3:37 pm
Singing about Cocaine , booze or drugs is nothing new. Rubbing you ass on someone or rubbing your crotch with a phallic symbol on stage would have had Waylon or Cash thrown in jail,( and most male singers of today) Cash and Jennings were jailed for less . Cyrus is an example of what many young female entertainers in the Pop/Rap sector feel is necessary to be on top today. Talent or not, it is sex that sells her act.
October 8, 2013 @ 4:05 pm
Ehh, it’s all just for the publicity and thus the fame / money. She’s not having a public meltdown like so many people are thinking she is, but none of this is genuine either.
Her behaviour is just a baited fish hook that America is more than willing to impale itself on.
October 8, 2013 @ 5:41 pm
Miley is a very talented singer, absoultely.
I don’t think much of this new grown-up version of Miley. If you think about it a lot of the child stars (especially the female ones…) that had a girl-next-door image and started out on Disney (Britney and Christina) and when they get to be about 18, 19, 20 years old, (somewhere around in there), they do a major image overhaul and are practically screaming at the top of their lungs “I”M NOT 16 ANYMORE!!! I’M A GROWN WOMAN NOW!” And they get edgier and the clothes got skimpier and such and such…
So basically its just a phase Miley’s going through. Right now its very jarring and in our faces but that’s the whole point of it but it will pass. Not that she will go back to being Hannah Montana either, but y’all know what I mean.
Bigfoot is Real (but I have my doubts about you)
October 9, 2013 @ 6:18 am
Nothing much to say about Miley but Trig your writing just keeps getting better and better. Really some well thought out and impressive commentary most recently.
October 9, 2013 @ 8:26 am
October 9, 2013 @ 6:29 am
The crazy thing is Billy Ray actually had some really good album cuts throughout his career. Songs like “Could’ve been me” and “Some Gave all” were really good songs and his albums contained numerous others. Coming out of the gate with “Achy Breaky Heart” made him a lot of money, but also kind of sealed his fate on how he would be known. I read the stories about when Hank Cochran was lying in his hospital bed and it was Jamey Johnson and Billy Ray who brought their guitars in and doing a song swap at his bed side. I think Billy Ray was actually very talented and I think Miley is too, but I think she inherits one thing from her father that may hurt her a little in certain aspects. I think she has a need to be popular and that will often at times be more important to her than the music. Her statements about how her VMA performance worked, because of how we are still talking about it or how she had more twitter hits after that performance than the Super Bowl does, kind of shows what she feels is more important right now. She is young, so maybe this will change one day. It’s a little like Taylor Swift. I think it’s possible that Taylor could have greatness in her, but we won’t know until she quits worrying about being so popular.
October 9, 2013 @ 7:44 am
As much as Billy Ray, quite often rightly, gets ridiculed, I will fight anyone that claims “Some Gave All” is not a good song. He wrote it, too. I still get goosebumps at the first chorus.
October 9, 2013 @ 6:47 am
I think their is a profound difference between the two. Sure, Johnny Cash went through a period of substance abuse, but he ended up redeeming himself and staying true to his original image for the most part. I don’t see that with Miley Cyrus. If anything, she is completely transforming her image into something rather revolting, and I wish that people would stop giving so much attention to a bunch of stupid antics that only end up raising her popularity. Do people have nothing better to talk about these days?
October 9, 2013 @ 8:28 am
Nobody was comparing Miley Cyrus to Johnny Cash here, though when I wrote this, I knew that would happen and that more people would not understand what I was getting at than would. And I’m okay with that.
October 9, 2013 @ 10:16 am
That chick is punk as fuck
October 9, 2013 @ 11:26 am
This may have already been said, but according to the quote above Billy Ray said “She grew up around the greats. Waylon Jennings, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash.“ To me “growing up around” means physically being around someone and spending time with them, whereas “growing up on” means listening to their music. She may have heard their music growing up (as I did), but I doubt she grew up around them.
Strait Country 81
October 9, 2013 @ 1:30 pm
well,George Jones was her Godfather or whatever.
October 9, 2013 @ 12:33 pm
The only thing that matters when it comes to discussing a current artist and names like Waylon or Cash, is not the actual music or the antics, it is the simple foundation that Waylon and Cash were built on….Don’t let anyone ever tell you what you can or can’t do. Period.
With that said, I can see how Miley was influenced by Waylon and Cash. It has nothing to do with musical genere, songwriting, foam fingers, auto-tune, etc… Hell, Waylon got that attitude from Buddy, a rock and roller. It is just plain and simple, don’t let anyone ever tell you what you can or can’t do.
Let’s not forget that Waylon and Cash weren’t always looking back on a wonderful career, and Miley’s career hasn’t been completed yet.
October 9, 2013 @ 1:59 pm
Great, insightful commentary, Trigger.
Since you briefly referenced the Miley Cyrus-Sinead O’Connor feud, I just have to say that while she had her points surely, I was flat-out unimpressed by her letters. I felt they were marred by too many logical fallacies (appeal to pity, appeal to fear, blanket generalizations, strawman) and just came across as too preachy and dystopian.
Firstly, I take contention with her insinuation that women should keep their sexualities guarded and private, and juxtapose them from the arts at all costs. And my reaction was “Why is it that we are encouraged to sell every other part of ourselves………whether it be our blood, our semen, our time, our ideas, our skills, our care, our talent, and our voices just to name a handful…………..yet sexuality is a lone exception that is off-limits?” Why is that? Why CAN’T we sell our sexuality?
And before anyone attempts to put words into my mouth and claims I’m encouraging all young women to do sex work, that is not what I’m stating. What I’m stating is that women who consciously join and perform sex work should be respected just as much as any other conscious-hearted profession. Regardless of how outspokenly purists like to dismiss to outright condemn sex work……………there ARE practical, psychological and social motivations for women (as well as transgenders and a handful of men) when you look into phenomenological studies published in recent years.
Sinead O’Connor’s visible contempt of sex workers in both her choice of words and tone projected toward them is plainly counterproductive, and just came across as moralistic hand-wringing. Again, make no mistake. She had some sound points here and there. But I hardly regard the letters, or even any points she makes, as “brilliant” when they are undermined and made ineffectual by regurgitating patriarchal notions.
The issue here, to me, is NOT sexual expression in itself, but the commodification of the body and, in effect, sexuality. And, consequentially, the fact so many of us fail to ascertain sensuality from sexuality, or conflate the two terms. And while both should be embraced and not be stigmatized, it’s predominantly sensuality where the potential for great art and positive body-image in the broader sense resonates.
I’m not convinced Cyrus understands this yet. But what I will say is that, while I’m no fan of her music and really flat-out find her absolutely overrated as a personality…………..I nonetheless honestly believe that she is genuinely taking a great deal of command with her recent career decisions and she is not being exploited by the industry nearly as much as O’Connor is suggesting. Pan her MTV Video Music Awards performance all you want…………what is clear is that she looked like she was having the time of her life on stage and authentically invested in her performance. She appeared fully comfortable in her own body…………..something that can’t be said for many other pop stars including Britney Spears, who has looked stiff and bored in countless recent performances.
The other part of O’Connor’s letters that I took issue with was that they harbor an overly simplistic, tribalistic “us versus them” tone regarding sex in that it’s influenced by a “battle of the sexes” framework. Contrary to what we are often told, the “battle of the sexes” is not bred in our blood and bones. Even though our most modern collective history could easily suggest we’re wired to compete, the vast majority of our collective history confirms quite the opposite. In fact, as much as 95% of our ancestral experience points to egalitarian instincts which we inherited through foragers/hunters and gatherers……………who shared everything accordingly and raised the young of each group together…………and this would remain so until the advent of agriculture led to the fetishizing of paternity; which in turn also led to the gradual hoarding of wealth and inventing the concept of fidelity with the original purpose of legitimizing inheritance.
I don’t at all deny that the entertainment industry is rife with much of the latter. It IS. I don’t doubt any second there ARE some out there who wouldn’t hesitate to usurp all kinds of young talent. But though she’s correct in characterizing the music industry as a male-driven one (i.e. predominantly middle-aged to older white males calling all the administrative and executive shots in most sectors)………………..she seems to go ever further in suggesting men don’t value women in the performance and visual arts who openly express their sexuality other than that they are terrific to fuck. That just comes across as dystopian, dour, uninformed and even bitter. On top of that, she also berates and diminishes the value and importance of sex workers. Thus, again, it is ironic that she expresses displeasure with a patriarch-driven institution, yet is in effect reinforcing patriarchal notions regarding sexual expression, sex work and morality!
As a genderqueer, I myself find the fact that the average high-achieving woman still get paid approximately 18% less than the average high-achieving man according to a recent Standard & Poor study absolutely sickening. The way our hierarchies are structured and managed still heavily favor men and disenfranchise women (or, to be even more accurate, the feminine spirit). Yet O’Connor’s divisive tone doesn’t help matters none, and she traipses on the borderline of man-hating in her letters, in my opinion.
Anyway, with regard to whether she actually grew up on Johnny Cash or Waylon Jennings or not, I don’t know what to think. There’s definitely not a substantial amount on evidence when Googling “Miley Cyrus + Johnny Cash” or “Miley Cyrus + Waylon Jennings” that convinces me this is so. On the other hand, it stands to reason Miley Cyrus soaked up the music her father would play like a sponge all the same, and her father has at least said over the years that regards Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Buck Owens as influences, as well as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, and Credence Clearwater Revival.
Based on what we know, I think Cyrus’s claim is half-true at least.
October 10, 2013 @ 5:37 am
I don’t buy the fact that everything was planned (aside from her doing any crazy degrading thing that comes to mind for attention). I think fame is a drug a lot like crack, and when you’re very young you have no sense of self worth or identity outside of the drug affect to fall back on. She had all that attention during the Hanna Montana years and grew up with it before that. Imagine being a teenager surrounded by thousands/millions of screaming fans and a horde of “yes men” constantly stroking your ego. She’s just doing everything for as much attention as she can get.
There’s no where left for her to go though. Maybe she can get by with one or two more albums but then she won’t be young enough to be cool to tweens anymore and there won’t be anywhere left for her to go for shock value. Her records will stop selling and the money and attention will dry up. That’s when she’ll really go nuts.
Then, a few years will go by and she’ll have a brave rehab story and all the attention will be back on her and the media will all want us to feel bad for how hard her life has been. Then she’ll have a country album and claim she’s gone back to her country routers. Just watch.
I think Taylor Swift has the same problem but deals with it better. Her attenting drug affect issues show up in different ways. She’s only dated movie stars, a Kennedy and other famous singers outside of ‘country’ music. She constantly has to be surrounded by other celebrities at all times and can’t stop sending out pictures and such about it. I really think Taylor Swift is as messed up as Miley Cyrus from getting such a young infusion of the mega attention drug
PS. I think at the beginning of every SNL episode there should be a disclaimer at the bottom of the SNL logo: “*This show sponsored by the the DNC.”
October 10, 2013 @ 6:27 am
Yes she was. I heard Billy Ray talk about how Waylon came over and sat in their kitchen and played guitar.
October 10, 2013 @ 7:03 am
I was flipping through channels a few weeks ago and came across some shows about songs Dolly Parton had written and their context within Dolly’s overall career (wish I could remember the show’s name). Miley was one the celebrities interviewed, and I thought all her comments were well thought-out and showed a respect for classic country songwriting. Made you think all the more that her current shenanigans are a big publicity stunt.
October 10, 2013 @ 10:25 am
Her PR folks must be happy as pigs in poop. I’ve never seen her videos, didn’t watch the VMAs or Saturday Night Live, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of her music. But she even gets an article on Saving Country Music. That’s good PR.
I don’t have a problem with drug references in songs, Many of my favorite songs have drug references. Almost all of them reference pot, and strangely, I don’t smoke it, but I don’t object to it either.
Arlo Guthrie – “Coming into Los Angeles”
New Riders of the Purple Sage – “Henry”
New Riders of the Purple Sage – “Panama Red”
John Prine – “Illegal Smile”
John Hartford – “Granny Wont You Smoke Some”
John Hartford – “Holding”
Little Feat – “Willin”
Cornmeal – “Red Speckled Thai”
Dillard Hartford Dillard – “Two Hits and the Joint Turned Brown”
Hell, even Harry Chapin’s – “Taxi” has a drug reference.
October 10, 2013 @ 2:10 pm
I watched some of her special on MTV, ‘The Movement’. There was one part where she was talking about what a ‘bad bitch’ she is cause she went shopping with Pharrell and picked out her own dress for some red carpet event. She kept driving the point home that she went shopping with Pharrell during the making of her album and picked out her own dress and how unique she was for doing so.
Also, I saw her on Jimmy Kimmel one night and she kept saying how she and Snoop Dogg were ‘SO MUCH ALIKE!!!!!’ What I don’t get and this goes for the guy she did the MTV thing with, Thicke, you have two extremely privileged white kids who grew up extremely different than 99% of the people in U.S. but of course, they can totally identify with the ‘black experience’. They can’t identify with the ‘white experience’!
October 10, 2013 @ 3:50 pm
I’m impressed against my will at her ability to perform without gimmicks.. also, I wanna high-five a dwarf after a live performance! I’ll admit I’m a little jealous.
October 10, 2013 @ 5:37 pm
And while she certainly wouldn’t rate in the top tier of my favorite female vocalists, there is no question Miley CAN sing, and I’d personally prefer hearing her voice over Taylor Swift and Cassadee Pope among established female vocalists/entertainers.
I’d rather she stay away from corporate country airwaves with the possible exception of an occasional feature on another artist’s duet. But I have to say I agree with Trigger that it is refreshing to see such gratitude and sincerity beamed from established superstars on stage. It’s truly a relative rarity in this day in age. I can’t think of the last time I sensed that from Rihanna. Or Selena Gomez. Or even Beyonce.
And while I’d rather she stay as far away from “country” radio as possible, I have to say I understand the appeal of Ke$ha, as Trigger explained in a commentary about two years ago (I think). I did NOT like her debut LP “Animal”. I completely dismissed and panned the album at the time of its release, and even now it hasn’t grown on me because it is basically a small handful of catchy singles tethered to a lot of filler. It was one-dimensional and lacked substance. However, upon hearing her EP “Cannibal”, I have to say I began to understand her appeal. Her lyrics are blithering idiocy, and I’m not going to argue otherwise…………..and yet I found the self-awareness, urgency and strong sense of personality ensconced under all that lyrical balderdash charming. And while her idiosyncratic fashion selections and antics (such as urinating in public) are easy to dismiss as desperate attention-seeking and free publicity, she almost always strikes me as true to herself when she goes out of her way doing this.
And I frankly found “Warrior” to be one of the best pop albums I’ve heard in the past year.Why? Because Ke$ha so effectively and dexterously knows how to intuitively toe the line between irreverence and self-awareness. And multiple times on this album in the same breath, she’ll utter some awkward rap or lunkheaded couplet, as well as purport one-liners and tropes that would do many third wave feminists proud and come across as rousing and self-affirming. And much like Cyrus during “Saturday Night Live”, I’ve seen many flashes of this sincerity and gratitude grace Ke$ha’s face when performing live as well.
If they dare attempt to reinvent themselves as “country” artists, you can expect me to call them out just as much as the next person here. But as pop acts, I think Ke$ha is among the best in the current crop as far as consistent chart presence, and while I haven’t heard enough of Miley Cyrus to have an overall opinion of where she ranks in preference, I do certainly believe she has more to offer than Rihanna, Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj or even latter-career Madonna do or practically ever have.
October 12, 2013 @ 10:07 pm
October 15, 2013 @ 9:46 am
The thing I don’t get is that she’s actually not crazy. She’s no Britney Spears. Britney seriously had some mental problems. She completely lost it from the fame. Miley is doing everything completely on purpose. You’re right, she isn’t a bad singer, at all. She’d rather look, sound, and act like trash though. Even as Hannah Montana, she was a damn good singer for her age. Instead of creating a career based on talent, she chooses to act like a nasty piece of crap.
It pisses me off that Billy Ray has the guts to play the Waylon and Johnny Cash card. She isn’t getting any of her shit from country legends. That’s just him trying to stick up for her when he knows theres not much face to save