There isn't anything particularly insidious about Miley Cyrus' appearance (actually, starring role, since she is on screen more than Wiz, Mike, or Juicy J) in the video for her rumored beau's new song "23". She isn't crossing any lines that she hasn't already stomped across, or even adding anything else to the current fever pitch of her conversation. But, what stops us in our tracks here (as is so often the case with Miley) is the fact that she seems completely tone-deaf.
The metaphor of a young girl who's just discovered her mother's makeup comes to mind — she's going overboard, using a heavy hand to prove how "adult" she is, with all the obvious signifiers: red lips, thick eyeliner, fake eyelashes (both literally and figuratively). Sure, Miley is sensitive to receiving flack for "just growing up," and we see her point. But, the problem here is that she isn't just growing up: She's running full-force into established scenes and social moments she doesn't quite grasp. Madonna did it with Vogue, Gwen did it with harajuku, and both received relative backlash for it.
A bit of a personal note: Throughout the video, Miley rocks a bunch of classic Bulls gear, celebrating Michael Jordan and the iconic red, white, and black colorway worn by the original Dream Team. As a Chicagoan, this makes me feel immediately protective. Further muddying the issue: The current national conversation surrounding Chicago isn't a positive one: the massive, problematic gun violence in Chicago was just addressed this weekend by the President, and today four people were charged with spraying a park full of people with military-grade weapons. Intentional or not, Miley's "hood" posture in Chicago gear feels disturbingly off-key, especially since no evidence exists to support that she an actual fan of anything other than the cultural currency that a pair of Jordans provides.
And yes, Miley is working with some of the most respected producers and rappers in the game (Juicy J, Wiz Khalifa), and we respect her for that — but, that doesn't mean that she isn't guilty of cultural appropriation, or exempt from criticism for it.
It's not the song or even Miley's hyper-sexed participation in it that leaves a sour taste in our mouths. It's the fact that, even with her voice chopped and screwed, the fact remains that she has very little knowledge of what she is singing about. But she's too old to be written off as a kid in too-big
heels Jordans, just playing dress-up.