Miley Cyrus "twerks, stuns VMAs crowd". She "vie[s] for attention at MTV's Video Music Awards", alongside Lady Gaga. She "gives racy performance at MTV's Video Music Awards". She "gets embarrassingly raunchy at the VMAs". Miley Cyrus, ladies and gentleman, is a whore who whored it up at MTV's Video Music Awards on Sunday night.
For those who missed Sunday night's spectacle, Cyrus performed her song "We Can't Stop" with more bears, more black women and in an ill-fitting hairy unitard. She then ripped that off – ripping clothes off is a big thing at the VMAs and in all exciting sexual scenarios – and acted as a live version of one of the nude ladies in Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" video.
The morning talkshows had a field day with Miley's performance. Mike Brzezinski devoted a segment to it on her show Morning Joe, where she and Joe Scarborough did what they do best and made grandiose assumptions about the lives of people they don't know:
I think that was really, really disturbing. That young lady, who is 20, is obviously deeply troubled, deeply disturbed, clearly has confidence issues, probably eating disorder and I don’t think anybody should have put her on stage. That was disgusting and embarrassing … That was not attractive. That was not fun. That was not funny. That was really, really bad for anybody who’s younger and impressionable and she’s really messed up … The whole thing was cringe worthy but I feel bad for her. She is a mess. Someone needs to take care of her. Someone needs not to put her on stage and make a complete fool of herself.
Brzezinski was so displeased that she spent the morning tweeting about the performance and retweeting others' comments on it. Over at the Today show, Brooke Shields and Willie Geist should get an honorable mention for their ability to merge from a discussion about Cyrus into watching Shields tie a cherry stem in a knot with her tongue. Shields, who once guest-starred on Hannah Montana as the character's mother, seemed to find the whole thing distasteful and helpfully brought up the time she took her kids to see Cyrus perform and the pop star seemed "tired." She said that her own youthful sexualization was okay because she was naive about the meaning of nothing getting between her and her Calvins. She then exclaimed, "And I was a virgin until I was 22!" as Geist took the cherry stem out of her mouth.
Shields and Geist weren't the first on Today to share their thoughts on Cyrus. "Where have you gone, Hannah Montana?" asked a pre-packaged segment that was one of many where talking heads just talked about the show but couldn't actually play clips of the most "racy" parts of the performance. Like many others, Today's staff seemed to justify their criticisms of Cyrus by the fact that the celebrity audience during the show was equally shocked, discussing now famous shots of the Smith family with their mouths open (even though they were reacting to Lady Gaga's performance), Rihanna looking bored (or high) and Drake, with his head down, jamming.
For anyone paying attention to Miley's Twitter presence for the past week or so (she's been hyping the VMAs like crazy), or anything at all that she's done lately, her performance shouldn't have come as a surprise. But outside of Miley, no one should be surprised that the sexuality of a young girl managed to outshine Kanye West singing a song about lynchings, Drake doing his Drake thing, NSYNC reuniting, Katy Perry pretending to be Million Dollar Baby and even Lady Gaga, a woman who traditionally does the outshining as reigning Queen of the Weird. The VMAs have a long and prestigious history of women doing crazy sexual things onstage, more so than any other awards show, perhaps because it's not really an awards show but a spectacle. Madonna, Britney Spears, Madonna and Britney Spears — the VMAs is an event where everyone feels like they should push the envelope, and sex is the best way to do that.
And let's be honest: Miley's performance was not impressive. Even before Robin Thicke showed up and she started "twerking" on him – a word NPR helpfully defined to its readers in a piece called "Did Miley Cyrus 'Flirt With Bad Taste' Or Dive Right In?" – she was destined to be the oddest thing about the VMAs, not the least because of her continued appropriation of black culture, as noted in the more articulate pop culture criticisms of her performance. There was no clear theme, simply a mashup of her music video and Thicke's and the sexy sex sex sexy sex.
Cyrus's performance was shocking, but for reasons not being discussed. It was jarring because, as opposed to the random, half-nude models we're used to seeing prance around Robin Thicke, we were watching a 20-year-old woman — a household name, someone we "know" — play the object in Thicke's sexy sex dream. And as was the case during the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake Super Bowl fiasco of 2004, the focus has been on Miley's performance choices and not Thicke's compliance in them. While criticizing a woman for her actions might imply that she's being given an agency that has been long denied, it's not. It's holding her to a standard not required of her companion, who got to sit back and enjoy the young ass shoved in his face. Whether Cyrus was doing it somewhat ironically (she didn't exactly look sexy most of the time; the tongue wagging and pigtail buns were almost comical) doesn't seem to matter. Her lack of clothes and movements spoke stronger than anything else.
If we shouldn't be surprised that this is how Cyrus resorted to "pushing the envelope," then we shouldn't be surprised by our own reactions to it. It makes sense that she and Thicke and every other performer who does this each year at the VMAs else would try to sell themselves to us this way. What doesn't make sense is that we keep reacting just the way they want and then acting upset about it. We don't want to stop feeding on what they offer us. As an audience, we're the most predictable of all.
Image via Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for MTV