My Anaconda DO

Fuse, MTV, VH1…they all used to be the places to go for your music video fix. But just because they’ve died down doesn’t mean music video culture has as well- in fact, music videos are more popular than ever, thanks to YouTube. Especially when it comes to pop artists- particularly female pop artists- we’ve seen a niche brand of music videos. Stylized choreography, dramatic vignettes, and flashy outfits. And more often than not, our diva herself wearing hardly anything or something skintight, completely and utterly sexualized. Recently, our pop stars have been fighting back against this very paradigm.

I hadn’t even thought about Miley Cyrus since Hannah Montana’s primitive seasons on Disney Channel. But there was absolutely no avoiding her my first month at college- that’s when the music video for Wrecking Ball was released. Fully immersed in my alternative/indie persona, I’d sworn off pop music. How edgy. But I was also a budding music journalist, so I decided to give the video a watch. I giggled with my friends as she nudely swung past, bright red lipstick the only color in the otherwise stark scene. But introspectively, I couldn’t help but consider what this meant for me.

A song about confusion, submission, and heartbreak, “Wrecking Ball” quickly made its way up the charts, carrying the controversial video along with it. It starts off seemingly innocent- a single tear tracks its way down her pallid face. Then we see her licking hammers. And finally, she’s nude, riding past our eyes atop a wrecking ball. “What the heck, Miley?!” the world cried in disbelief.

Not only is her nakedness a metaphor- for being completely naked in front of a person in a relationship, not just physically but emotionally, mentally. But it’s also a power symbol. We’ve all watched little Hannah Montana transform into a grown woman, and Miley chose this particular song and video to embrace her newfound maturity, both in her sound as well as performance. She’s unashamed of how she’s grown- physically, musically, and especially mentally. After shedding herself for another person- the unnamed lover and subject of the song- she’s taking ownership, and complete control by showing herself completely naked on top of a huge, heavy, destructive device.

And then there’s Nicki.

A year later, Nicki Minaj put out this vaguely familiar song and a booty bumping video to accompany it, featuring Drake. And it’s an absolute feminist masterpiece. I know what you’re thinking- how could that possibly be true, with the myriad scantily clad women, and the shining, bouncing bottoms?

Well…that’s exactly it. Nicki knows exactly what she’s doing and she’s proud of it. Lady Minaj has shown the world that she’s here, she has a huge ass, and she’s not afraid to show it off- under her circumstances. We see a lot of imagery of male arousal throughout the video- the coconut dripping in the beginning, the wine glass spilling over the sides, spreading whipped cream all over her chest, the bananas spinning around on the turntable…yet when in contact with an actual male in the video- Drake- she doesn’t surrender her ownership of herself. She slithers all over him, snake-like, wrapping herself around him in the most enticing way possible. But as soon as he reaches out for a taste of his own, she retracts. No, no, Drake.

There’s also something to be said regarding her sample choice- clearly borrowing from Sir Mixalot’s Baby Got Back. Though catchy, “Baby Got Back” has clear footholds in the concept that women’s bodies are objects for men to admire and drool over. In fact, in the spoken intro, one of the female characters states, regarding the fictional woman whose butt is the subject of the song, “She looks like one of those rap guys’ girlfriends.” They go on to claim that people only talk to her because she looks like- wait for it- a prostitute. The intro closes out with an even more horrifying line- “She’s just so…black!” As if all black women are good for is having big butts.

“Anaconda” is reclaiming the male gaze and transforming it into something under feminine control. It’s also fun to dance to.

miley-cyrus-nicki-minaj-

And more and more female artists are catching on. Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” video showcases her essentially mocking the now popular notion that all she does is date guys, who eventually break her heart, leaving her to write another hit song about them. Beyonce has too many to count. Not to mention the countless other artists you may not even know about who are out there making empowering videos, embracing their womanhood. This is an important step for female musicians to take. It’s allowing them creative control over their music videos, and more importantly, the male gaze that’s commonly present behind them. As I mentioned in a previous post, the people working behind the scenes in the music industry are predominantly male. And whether it’s conscious or not, there’s been a clear sexualized skew in female pop musicians music videos.

So pull up those high-waisted shorts and dance along with them. You deserve it, and you look great doing it.

Growing Up, Part II

Remember how the image Miley created for “Can’t Be Tamed” didn’t resonate quite well enough? Well, her next move (which you all know) hit it out of the park. Let’s take a moment to enjoy:

“We Can’t Stop” in Bangerz, 2013

She’s brought her imagery back to the everyman (everywoman?) approach – featuring herself in situations her fans are better able to connect to, and pushing the limits. Unlike “Can’t Be Tamed,” which was centered on fantasy, this new image is rooted strongly in relatable activities, but being more rebellious, defiant, and independent than most of her fans likely are. By doing this, she puts herself in the lead of a generational movement. This is a wise decision, one that probably considered the response to her previous album as part of the concept design.

In addition to cultivating a new image, Miley has developed her voice. She’s less dark and more free, while not returning to the whine. The themes are rebellious, but supportive of things that are important to her target audience: friends, fun, and love (well, lust).

Even though this was probably the best move Miley could make, it’s not the move I wish for her. Listen to what I stumbled upon:

This isn’t an original song for Miley, but a cover of “Jolene,” which she performed in 2012 in a series called The Backyard Sessions.

This is the most beautifully I have ever heard Miley sing ANYTHING. This is artistry, technique, and quality content all in one.

WHY AREN’T YOU SINGING LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME?!?!?!

And now I am off my soapbox.

Growing Up, Part I

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but let’s talk about Miley Cyrus.

I don’t need to tell you about her career, but we can talk about her music.

Miley started out as a young singer with a young audience. This is “7 Things” from Breakout in 2008, her first album completely separated from Hannah Montana.

The song is formulaic and predictable, and Miley’s voice is a little whiney. However, she’s already demonstrating strong vocal technique – you can’t fault her there. The content is appropriate for a tween audience, but very mild. It’s not too exciting, but speaks directly to them.

In the next example, “Party in the U.S.A.” (in the 2009 EP The Time of Our Lives), Miley keeps the teeny-bopper style. She grows up in content a little bit, while still remaining within the realm of safe. Take a listen:

Do you how her voice is broadening? She has a fuller sound, and has grown in vocal dexterity since her previous album. This song is, unfortunately, very catchy… I’ve been singing it all afternoon despite my best my musical preferences. I guess that’s good news for Miley, though.

In 2010, Miley needed to stretch the boundaries a little more in order to keep up with her aging fan base. The next song we’ll listen to, “Can’t be Tamed” (featured on an album of the same name), tests the waters for a new artistic direction.

The imagery on the video is darker: less playful and more intense than her previous videos, with more explicit sexual suggestions. Miley’s voice has darkened too, and she finally looses the whiney tinge we’ve been hearing throughout her previous work. Her music has also changed: the percussive elements hit harder, and the instrumental arrangements create a sound that is more sinister than playful (such as we heard in “Party in the U.S.A”).

Miley attempted to grow up with her audience by creating an image of independence and rebellion. Considering that Can’t Be Tamed didn’t make it to #1 (although #3 isn’t bad!), this image didn’t resonate as well with audiences as it could have.

Remember the way Lecrae chose to test-drive a new strategy before committing fully? Miley is testing the waters too: trying to find an image of independence and rebellion that resonates with her growing-up fan base.

Come back in a few days to take a look at the decision Miley went with (though you already know it), and the direction I wish she’d taken!