Miley Cyrus Is Trying Too Hard

Photo: Rob Latour/REX USA.
Miley Cyrus became famous playing a normal girl who just happened to have a secret life as a pop star. Hannah Montana is certainly not what immediately comes to mind when thinking about Cyrus these days, but after Cyrus' performance as VMAs host, it's hard to feel like she's not still pretending a little bit.

There's a difference between being shocking and controversial and just announcing that you're shocking and controversial. Throughout the MTV live show, Cyrus seemed to be shouting her loony bin bonafides from the rooftops. Cyrus clearly never heard the adage "show don't tell," because she was doing a lot of telling on the stage, as if she wasn't sure we would get the message. Cyrus certainly isn't the only pop star to seem enamored with his or her own penchant for making mouths fall agape — see: Lady Gaga — but being allowed to host an awards show at the age of 22 drew Cyrus's desire to seem outlandish into focus.

The show's most colorful bits emphasized the same things about Cyrus over and over again, mostly that she loves weed — a lot. Early on, she took a selfie with an assortment of people, having them say "marijuana" in place of "cheese." In a later sketch, she had a sleepover with Tyga and Mike WiLL Made-It. When the lights were turned off, all three lit up. In yet another, she ate a pot brownie and hallucinated that Snoop Dogg had turned into her pig. During her musical performance of "Dooo It!" off the surprise album she announced at the end of the show, she sang, "Yeah, I smoke pot." We figured that, Miley. Backstage, she passed a joint to a photographer. (There's a supercut of all of these references now, helpfully provided by Slate.)

"Is Miley's brand just: drugz?" writer Rachel Syme tweeted. Yes, it appeared to be, with a healthy dose of nudity or near-nudity thrown in. Before the show was over, her nipple appeared on camera. Sure, the Parents Television Council was mad, but both the nipple and the PTC's anger could have been predicted.

What was more troubling for Cyrus was that the truly buzzworthy moments were the ones derived out of Cyrus' continued ignorance about race. She seemed genuinely surprised when Nicki Minaj challenged her, referencing the comments Cyrus made to the New York Times, in which she attempted to discredit the points Minaj had made about how the industry treats black women. (According to Entertainment Weekly the conflict was not staged.) Meanwhile, the dreadlocks Cyrus wore were criticized as appropriation, and her use of the word "mammy" drew widespread condemnation from the likes of Janet Mock and Chance the Rapper. One assumes this wasn't the controversy Cyrus was aiming for, making her weed and nipple-related provocations only seem more inauthentic.

You could argue that Cyrus's brand of Jeremy Scott-designed wackiness, while vast, was well-defined on the VMAs: It was sugary and neon, mixing weed paraphernalia with the aesthetic of a 90s roller rink. But maybe Cyrus isn't as sure of her aesthetic as she lets on, and that's why she keeps insisting on how edgy she really is. This is a young woman who is constantly in the process of reimagining herself, she told the Times: "If one of my friends doesn’t see me for two or three weeks, you have to re-get to know me in a way. My soul will still be the same, but everything around me can be different, and I won’t dress the same and maybe different kinds of people will be around."

Cyrus is a good singer who is at her best when she's performing at a lower frequency. (See: Her backyard sessions.) Her Happy Hippie Foundation is a noble effort. Her album, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz, may be too oddball for some, but she clearly has passion for her creative output. But, on stage at the VMAs, her insecurities were her most defining element as she tried to convince us that, yes, she really enjoys smoking weed.
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