What is a better indicator of Tumblr’s future success: Getting bought for 1.1 Billion by Yahoo! or Miley Cyrus bringing twerking to America’s living rooms? I think this is at least up for debate. I suspect in towns across America parents are Gchatting their children as I write this, asking what “twerking” is and why Billy Ray Cyrus’ daughter is doing it on the front page of cnn.com.
Over the past few years twerking has migrated from the depths of New Orleans bounce clubs to the internet/ tumblr-land where it has been re-appropriated by hypebeast b-boys and b-girls. It’s debut on MTV via Miley Cyrus means that twerking is now officially over.
The Miley backlash has poured from everywhere throughout the week, from memes and tweets to coverage on Good Morning America. The varying degrees of slut-shaming has hardly died down as we enter the weekend.
While the racially insensitive criticism is more than fair, I think it’s important to look past the “pushing the envelope” narrative that has come to redefine Miley in the past two or so months. When the original “Miley Twerking” video appeared on YouTube in April, the general consensus amongst people who knew what was going on was that Miley seems to be sort of cool. Dressed in a hooded onesie—this is about as unsexual a twerking video can be. Her point seemed to be that she was implementing herself into an internet trend. You can’t even really tell that it’s the pop princess under there until the very end, almost like it’s supposed to be a reveal. Miley wanted us to judge her twerking objectively, detached from her celebrity status.
If you want to see white people twerk, Tumblr is generally going to be your place. When Miley showed up upside down in April, the people of Tumblr could embrace her as their own. Yeah, she’s a child-star born to a celebrity, but she’s twerking like a 17-year-old b-girl who is practicing for her first night out in a big city. It’s hard to know just what celebrities are like. While many seem devoid of interesting opinions or hobbies a normal person can relate to, some seem just like us. Zach Braff has made somewhat of a second career by simply being a redditor.
Miley twerking makes Miley Cyrus the human being a lot more interesting. Miley twerking means she is actively engaging with the internet the way we do. Picking up a New Orleans dance movement that she found on the internet is not that different than Kanye listening to Chicago drill music and incorporating it into his record. Or, for that part, any mainstream artist using an emerging trend or meme in niche culture and exploiting it in the mainstream arena.
So this leaves the question: What do we want of our child stars? Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez aren’t without their own personal controversies, yet they remain uninteresting people. They lack a certain edge. You can call Selena Gomez a lot of things, but you probably wouldn’t call her cool. She probably listens to Mumford and Sons in her free time. She has done nothing to suggest otherwise. Justin Bieber is about as mainstream as it gets. He has no interest in exploring new ideas until they are right in front of his face. That is to say, Justin Bieber is not taking an active role in engaging with parts of culture that aren’t already popular. Catch him court-side at Miami Heat games wearing a snapback hat.
So while Miley’s attention-grab is obviously over-the-top and beating a trend to death, you have to give it to her for doing something internet-relevant. While I’m sure a lot of people are going to have to embarrassingly explain what twerking is for the next few months, we should at least appreciate Miley’s attempt at doing something different.