If you were able to (uncomfortably) sit through the Miley Cyrus' Bangerz era, with her titillating performance and narrow-behinded twerking, her recent news about hip-hop no longer being “her thing,” might just send you over the edge. Most of us knew from the very moment she dropped, “We Can't Stop,” equipped with black female dancers in the background, this was going to be trouble. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think “23” was an entire bop, but there is no "get out of jail free card" when it comes to cultural appropriation. But to also use tenets of feminism to support exploitation for coins is devious, even for you, Miley. Moreover, you’re what’s wrong with feminism.
The truth is, we always knew she wasn’t about this life. Yes, she dropped a track with Juicy J and the like, but many of us knew better. Her breakup with Liam and post-teen Disney angst, seemed more like this was a phase rather than respecting and embracing an art form. The problem isn’t that Cyrus wanted to express herself, but that there is a complete and utter bias when it comes to expressions of blackness. For white women, they become infinitely “cooler” without question. For Cyrus, this was donning a Bulls jersey, leotard and Jordans, while flossing in gold grills to trap beats.
Truthfully, any up and coming black female artist that tried that combo (except if you’re maybe Beyoncé), may not have been deemed so trendy. While black women still struggle to overcome hair discrimination simply because of their hair texture, Cyrus is rocking locs and defending herself as “knowing who she is.” But this is also the problem with a privileged approach to feminism. White women become the exception to society's social rules and black women are told to just stop picking on them if they bring it up.
So even when these expressions are blatantly whitewashed or mediocre, they are instantly a new trend. This wasn’t about liberation or self-expression, because after Bangerz hit 1 million in sales there was little else -- anything for that matter -- that she added to the conversation about women in the music industry. Instead of pushing back against the narrative, or using her privilege to build with female artists, we got confusing YouTube videos of Cyrus twerking in a unicorn onesie.
This is why Cyrus’ newfound disdain for hip-hop music lyrics, is eye-roll worthy at best. She went from humping inflatable penises on stage, to casually tossing off a part of a culture like a cheap, plastic 90’s bangle. But in the process of expressing herself and being about “unity,” she shamed another woman of color for questioning that privilege. In 2015, when Nicki Minaj chose to address their recent Twitter feud, Cyrus’s response is why unity is difficult to accomplish under the feminism umbrella: women of color’s experiences are often benched or erased for their white female peers.
Cyrus was quoted by ET in a New York Times interview saying, “If you want to make it about race, there’s a way you could do that. But don’t make it just about yourself," the 22-year-old singer said. "This is the reason why I think it’s important to be nominated. There’s girls everywhere with this body type.'” Anytime, privilege is mentioned as a vehicle of oppression, black women, or Minaj in this case, are shut down as divisive or inappropriate.
And most of all, artists like Cyrus are allowed to reinvent themselves. This is not to say that black artists are not, but society has a way of validating artists like Miley turning over a new leaf. For example, Beyoncé’s country inspired hit “Daddy Lessons” when performed at the Country Music Awards this past year. But not even Queen Bey, could sidestep criticism about the authenticity. Fans argued that she had no business at the ceremony. When Rihanna released “Work,” sung in patois, it became a summer jam, but still not without dozens of covers by white artists “anglicizing” her words. So even when black artists decide to try something new or outside of what we expect, dare we say, that most music has some form of black influence ---it isn't met with the same
Cyrus isn’t the only one trying to create art or find herself as a woman, but privilege allows white female artists to experiment, and exploit without too much judgment. For Miley, they just called it "getting clean and reinventing her music." She called this her “getting out of her Dead Petz” phase, but she also contributes to negative connotations around a genre that yielded sales, endorsements and live appearances. That’s what’s wrong with feminism -- interest in black culture is always a phase. Once it’s over, it becomes a feature story on Billboard and forgotten.