In light of NBC’s “music event of the summer” that aired last night—Miley Cyrus Bangerz Tour—I’m taking this opportunity to reminisce about the time she first twerked into our living rooms (and into our hearts? no?) with her inexplicably tasteless, pantsless assault on our televisions—last year’s VMAs, which were a teddy-bear’s-picnic-turned-what-in-God’s-name-am-I-watching.
Last October MTV gave us Miley The Movement—a documentary that serves as a modern Vindication of the Rights of Woman, with added teddy-bear leotards and very little about the rights of woman. It attempts to answer what on earth Miley was thinking when she performed at the 2013 Video Music Awards, that most strategic of hot messes.
Miley—who bears a passing resemblance to The Rugrats’ Cynthia doll (and a striking resemblance to Tilda Swinton circa Cannes 2013!)—raises questions that every inquisitive, self-searching young lady must ask herself during her formative years. How does one prove you still “got that heart” despite no longer living in a small town?
A distant salutatorian of the Disney School for Child Stars Who Go Off the Deep End in Later Life, Miley sheds light on her childhood, lamenting, “I was tryna get all my homework done in like 4 hours so I could go work for another 8 hours.” Despite an early life of apparent child labor, she nonetheless insists, “My mom is my homie. If I win, she wins.” Here the audience pauses to contemplate the doubtlessly Willy Wonka-like winnings that would warrant rubbing oneself on a very married man in a Beetlejuice getup 16 years your senior in front of the whole world (and with nary a thought for what Mr. Thicke’s famous father Alan might think—talk about Growing Pains!).
Alternating between divergent—yet consistently confounding—syntax (ranging from turnt up dopeness to here we go y’all), she seems confused, often forgetting to wear pants. Thankfully, Cyrus makes up for what she lacks in apparel with shoes, chains—at times, even tongue motions—that are far larger and less comfortable than necessary. This theme of confusion is further explored in a scene where Miley fights back at all of those trying to label this a transition. She expounds upon the topic: “It’s not a transition, it’s a movement. It’s a growth, it’s a change.” … So, like, it’s a transition?
Her apparent lack of understanding of the definition of “movement” begs the question: Who named this documentary? Who’s in charge here? Why is she in silk pajamas, and what hasn’t she vajazzled? At times, the documentary comes off like an inflammatory work devised to anger mothers who long to be their daughters’ homies.
With a hairstyle that calls to mind the “Hot Crossed Buns” nursery rhyme of my formative years as a budding concert pianist (only three notes necessary!), Miley tells the camera, “I don’t stress out. If I were any calmer I’d be dead.” Such claims are artfully juxtaposed with a clip where she screams at her mother-homie, Tish Cyrus, for intermittently massaging Miley’s neck, then hanging on Miley’s neck, then emulating stripper moves with Miley serving as her pole (OW OW MOM MY NECK, MY NECK).
Ever the coolest of cucumbers, Miley breaks down in the back of an Escalade to her producer: “Did we pick the right song (for the first single)???? I get nervous! You know I’m having a panic attack!!!” Miley…that rascal. Always keeping us on our toes.
As she sets about achieving her life’s greatest legacy (Billy Ray’s “Achy Breaky Heart” be damned), Miley suffers under the relentless scrutiny of her critics who claim that having voluptuous black backup dancers who figure as meat for Cyrus’s slapping on stage is offensive. She addresses these criticisms with an agile, erudite argument or, you know, she would if she weren’t so busy discussing more pertinent topics such as her dope style and her infamous haircut.
While Miley doesn’t apologize for her tomfoolery at the VMAs, the network clearly does, hence this piece of cinematic craftsmanship. It is to Atonement (2007) what Grease 2 was to Grease—a more heart-wrenching rendition with added shots of Miley vacuuming the aisles of her private jet (gotta stay humble y’all). Pop stars: They’re just like us!
Missing from the documentary is an interview with the violated Michael Jordan jersey from Miley’s “23” video. Nevertheless, we are treated to such delights as the aforementioned reprimanding of Tish (for emulating her hero Miley Cyrus while using the neck of her hero Miley Cyrus), as well as Miley’s reasoning for selecting her producer, Mike Will: “I love his beats, and no pop chicks are ever messin’ wit him like that.” I could swear that for a second the documentary turned into 8 Mile.
Of one fateful summer spent living in Philadelphia (not exactly Eminem’s hometown of Detroit, but close enough), Miley reflects, “I was in a little apartment, and it felt like I was like a real human being for a minute,” describing to her adoring audience an almost unfathomable phenomenon. We are again reminded that even Miley Cyrus experiences moments in which she almost feels like a regular human during the indisputable climax of the film, when she says “Shushy, Floyd” to her dog (who is presumably named Floyd).
“Have you ever been to South Street in Philly?” Miley asks a Rolling Stone reporter. “That’s where I got my first chain. Sixteen bucks—not real,” she says, laughing. “I was away from people for a minute, and I just started feeling my own vibe. I bought a pair of Doc Martens. I shaved my head. Driving a fucking Ford Explorer around. Just blending in.”
By the end of the documentary, three things are clear:
1. She has taken a stand against the bottom half of shirts;
2. The only real movement here is that of her butt cheeks; and
3. Philadelphia is to blame.
In conclusion, while Miley: The Movement
does not address any of the accusations of cultural appropriation leveled against Miley, it is nonetheless a fascinating look into the strategically hot and messy life of a pop sensation—someone so astoundingly confident yet so often without pants.