In Defence of Miley Cyrus’s VMA Performance

Miley Cyrus’s performance for the Video Music Awards at the end of August was something of a jaw-dropper. The 20-year-old’s duet with ‘Blurred Lines’ singer Robin Thicke was, in every way, overly sexualised and undeniably inappropriate for younger audiences. However, what I find far more concerning than two celebrities, dancing provocatively around a stage after the watershed, is the public outcry against Cyrus alone; and in my opinion it is here that lies the far more serious problem.

What worries me is that Miley’s critics observed the sexual nature of her performance as an indication of her fragility and instability; coming to the unjustified, sexist conclusion that such a fearless, independent assertion of her own sexuality must mean nothing other than that she is heading sadly, rapidly and unstoppably towards a Spears-esque breakdown. Mika Brzezinski, female host of MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ commented scathingly on Miley’s performance:

I think that was really, really disturbing. That young lady, who is 20, is obviously deeply troubled, deeply disturbed, clearly has confidence issues, probably an eating disorder and I don’t think anybody should have put her on stage.”

So what you are arguing, Mika, is that any woman confident enough to express her sexuality live on television, without encouragement or coercion by a man, must be on the verge of a breakdown? What a gross accusation that is. Our society has become so accustomed to men objectifying women that in defence, it has started to move towards the conclusion that any public expression of female sexuality must always be unacceptable. However, this belief is causing critics to operate a double standard which leaves the other half of Miley’s duet, Robin Thicke, quite exempt from criticism.

This performance was rehearsed: Thicke knew exactly how the dance was going to go, and evidently had no objections to being a part of it. So when it comes to criticising the performance’s excessive sexualisation, should we not, in addition to Miley, be asking Robin Thicke why he thought the display was appropriate for television? Better still, should we not be asking him why he wrote such a derogatory song in the first place? The initial music video (now banned) for Thicke’s single, the fastest selling hit of 2013, showed him and co-writer Pharrell Williams fully clothed whilst three female dancers shimmied around them topless. The song clearly objectifies women and yet his role in the VMA performance was barely acknowledged.

What was it that Miley did so wrong? Was her performance too sexualised for the audience that night? Perhaps. But the same critics who vociferously condemned her dancing, applauded Bruno Mars’ performance of his song ‘Gorilla’ as a “solid artistic statement”. The lyrics of Mars’ song are too sexually explicit for me to include in this article; a clear demonstration of the gender-based double standard.

Miley Cyrus is trying to make her way in a profession that is riddled with patriarchal hypocrisy. If a male artist expresses his sexuality through his music, he’s a chart-topper. If a female artist attempts the same, she’s labelled ‘troubled’, ‘disturbed’ or ‘disgusting’. We live in a society that considers itself fairly liberal and believes in gender equality, however there is still an unexplainable taboo circling female sexuality. Is Miley Cyrus really guilty of anything that her male contemporaries are not praised for? I believe that criticism of Cyrus’s performance at the VMA’s was about something other than concerns for her wellbeing or dislike for her voice: it was a stark illustration of society’s intolerance for the expression of female sexuality and the sexist double standards that exist within the music industry.


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