Bow down before Ashley O, a pink-haired pop star played by Miley Cyrus. In Black Mirror’s season 5 episode "Rachel, Jack And Ashley, Too" Ashley’s looking to make a change in her career. Instead of making bubblegum pop, she’d like to go a little more goth. The problem is, her controlling aunt won’t let her. In fact, she’s downloaded Ashley’s personality into a smart device called Ashley, Too, so she can continue churning out hits long after Ashley is gone, which may be sooner than anybody imagined.
Those hits, though, should sound familiar to Trent Reznor fans. Turns out, the songs in Cyrus’s Black Mirror episode come courtesy of Nine Inch Nails.
For this episode, creator Charlie Brooker reworked some of the lyrics to Nine Inch Nails’ 1989 hit “Head Like A Hole,” turning it into a female empowerment anthem. While that might sound far-fetched since this industrial track off NIN’s Pretty Hate Machine is all about “yelling at a beast without putting a face to it,” according to Reznor, it apparently wasn’t all that hard to switch the messaging with a little help from a danceable beat. When it comes to Ashley’s music, it’s almost like that mashup of Nine Inch Nails and Carly Rae Jepsen, which shouldn’t work at all, but somehow actually does.
According to Den Of Geek, Brooker told reporters at a Black Mirror screening in London, that he “got to rewrite [Reznor’s] lyrics in a chirpy way. I’m not the best lyricist in the world and she’s singing ‘I’m stoked on ambition and verve’ instead of ‘you’re going to get what you deserve.’” Well, at least it rhymes, right? Turns out Reznor, liked Brooker's new take, titled “On A Roll." Brooker told reporters Reznor “thought it was very funny. He found the dark comedy very entertaining.”
Trent’s right, it’s darkly funny hearing Ashley passing lyrics off like “Hey, yeah, whoa-ho/I’m on a roll/Riding so high/Achieving my goals” as an empowering message to her teen girl fans. Especially, when the point of the episode is to show how little power pop stars actually have. In an interview with The Guardian, Cyrus said her Black Mirror episode gave “such a realistic take on what it’s like working in the music industry. It really portrays the overt exploitation of artists and that numbers usually eclipse the creative most of the time.” She went as far as to say that there is “a part of Ashley O that is not a character” because she shared some of her own personal experiences with the creators to help craft the fake pop star.
In Brooker’s rewriting of “Head Like A Hole” he switched the line, “You’re going to get what you deserve,” to "I'm going to get what I deserve." When Reznor sings or more accurately growls that line it feels like a real threat. He will make them, whoever they are, pay. Ashley delivers that verse as if it was an affirmation, something she can achieve if she just puts her mind to it. For her, it’s said as if it’s something she’s pinned to her vision board alongside a photo of Oprah and made come true. As she tells her fans, the song is all about being “in control of their own destiny” and “having the confidence to be who you want to be.” While Reznor’s got bravado, there’s something almost more terrifying about Ashley making his words come true. She actually makes her aunt pay for stifling her creativity and turning her into a hologram. Somehow, the song does become a women's empowerment anthem for this particular woman.
By the end, Ashley gets to let down her long blonde hair and channel some of Reznor’s rage on “Head Like A Hole.” Even if it’s to the dismay of her young fans, some of whom look on in horror and run out of the divey venue the kohl-rimmed former pop star is now playing. It’s in that final moment that Ashley gets to show off some of that verve of hers. But, in some ways, it feels as if Ashley’s just being Miley and finally becoming a pop star on her own terms.