Somewhere in America, someone is mad about the fact that Miley Cyrus is still twerking.
Last night, while Kendrick Lamar was busy taunting the entirety of New York's rap pool, guess what the city's most relevant rapper, French Montana, was doing? Recording with Miley Cyrus. They were working on his "Ain't Worried About Nothin" remix, of all things, and yes, this is a real thing that happened:
Shit like this is why Jay Z is Miley's biggest cheerleader these days. Every one of her interactions with hip-hop is completely subversive. She upsets people. People who need upsetting. As Jay Z puts it, “She represents an old world’s worst nightmare,” and he’s right. The Miley Cyrus Situation is far more complex than what Jay Z is saying about her, but his quote is definitely part of it.
Miley Cyrus isn’t just pissing off conservatives who are heartbroken at the sight of their precious Disney star turned ratchet. A lot of people who are generally supportive of the proclivities with which Miley is aligning herself are concerned about authenticity now that they see them coming from her, from blacks crying “cultural appropriation” to other rap-loving white girls who just can't believe that Miley really loves and respects hip-hop as much as they do.
All of those people have a point.
Three years ago, when "Party in the USA” was riding high at No. 2 on the pop charts, Miley revealed that, despite the song’s famous lyric about a Jay Z song playing on the radio, she had never, actually, in fact heard a Jay Z song.
10 million Instagrams of Miley Cyrus With Rappers later, people are understandably a little weary of her intentions. Thus, her credibility is consistently called into question. How did a girl who didn't know "Big Pimpin" from a can of paint just a few years ago so suddenly become a legitimate fixture within the realm of hip-hop? The assumption for most is: The rich little white girl is trying on hip-hop like an outfit, and in effect, usurping a minority culture to her benefit with the promise of no eventual consequence.
But are people just saying that because she’s famous? How do we know Miley Cyrus isn’t being real?
She’s from Nashville and her dad was a fucking country music rock star. I doubt they were playing 36 Chambers around the house when she was growing up. I doubt that a relative ever slipped her a copy of Ready To Die at Christmas. So Miley didn’t really get a chance to check out or give a fuck about hip-hop during the, like, first 16 years of her life. But fans of any music should want awareness of that music’s excellence to spread, so why are we mad at a young girl for getting interested in hip-hop at her first real opportunity to do so?
Like, consider her situation. Instead of buying her The Infamous, Miley's family was grooming her to be a multi-millionaire child star phenomenon by the age of 12, and, in a sense, her life was essentially decided for her. There wasn’t much room for hip-hop study sessions with a copy of Aquemini in Miley’s day-to-day itinerary.
But now Miley Cyrus is free. She’s a legal adult, and she’s in control of her own destiny. Of course, it’s still doubtful that she can really engage you in a conversation about who had the best verse on “Reservoir Dogs,” but she’s starting somewhere with this whole phase she’s going through, and as a fan of hip-hop, I commend her for it. Miley Cyrus could have so easily fallen in line with what was always wanted and expected of her. Miley Cyrus could have went on to play concerts where people feel comfortable saying things like, “I’ll fight every nigger in here.” Instead, the first call of duty of Miley's adult life was to get in the studio with Juicy J, and people who claim to love hip-hop have a problem with that?
Miley's obsession with the culture is progressive.
The pioneers of this music fought for the right for Miley Cyrus to shake her ass to Mike Will Made It beats and no one is even taking that into consideration. The establishment thought rap music was a fad and now, 30-something years later, Hannah Montana is completely obsessed with it. That shit is poetic and beautiful.
I understand that the racial implications behind everything Miley’s doing are heavy, but let’s really think about the claims being leveraged here and consider that maybe we shouldn't rob Miley Cyrus of her ability to be into this culture authentically. I think we should welcome her with open arms, and if anything, just hope that her quasi-fiancé Liam Hemswoth keeps a copy of It Was Written in the whip or something.
Yes, Miley Cyrus a fucking white girl who is incomprehensibly privileged, to the point that she can experiment with and buy her way into behaviors that she’ll never have to suffer for, even if people of color doing the same thing do. In some ways, Miley Cyrus is like Patty Hearst deciding that she wants to run around robbing banks with a bunch of gangsters only to be conveniently saved at the end of it all, mainly because she's rich and white. But Miley Cyrus wasn't kidnapped by hip-hop; she's the perpetrator in this instance. And Miley Cyrus isn’t robbing banks; she’s making music. So I think we can all stand to be a little less uptight about it all.
I just feel like, Miley could have remained comfortably distant from blacks for her entire career, but instead she’s diving headfirst into trying to understand the culture, and I don’t want to reject her for that. She can't help her privilege. If Miley Cyrus thinks that a musical sound and style of dancing invented by blacks are amazing, why should that be kept from her?
It’s not like she’s being ignorant about who originated her latest hobbies. I mean, Miley is literally shaking her ass while surrounded by thick black women in the “We Can’t Stop” video. She could have casted a room of lookalikes, completely whitewashed twerking, and made it a safe activity white girls could do across America while remaining gleefully oblivious to the dance’s inherent blackness. But Miley isn’t stealing twerking the way Elvis stole rock and roll. She’s paying her dues one move at a time, and to me, that’s brave and that’s powerful and more people in the community should realize this and stop trying to push her away. We don’t have to grant Miley immunity, but we can let her live and stop trying to enact social justice where none is needed.
If the powers that be had it their way, rap music would have never even reached a girl like Miley Cyrus. But it very clearly did and she’s a literal manifestation of rap’s cultural victories over the course of her lifetime. When Jay Z said, “I ain’t crossover, I brought the suburbs to the hood,” 15 years ago, he was in a way predicting that the proliferation of urban culture in the mainstream at the time would eventually beget the rise of a woman like Miley Cyrus.
Rap’s best artists have made it so that hip-hop as a genre and movement can’t be swept under the rug and ignored, by anyone, in the farthest reaches of our world. Miley Cyrus came in contact with this music at some point and she was obviously intrigued by it. Is it her fault that some rapper made a great song that she heard and liked? I think anybody trying to attack Miley is looking at everything the wrong way. At heart, the core of this whole new image that she’s putting out there through is just a genuine, honest appreciation for how good black music is.
Yes, it’s ignorant to deny that Miley’s skin color, background, and position in the world present some conflict in how that appreciation is perceived, but at the end of the day, it’s not that deep. She’s a 20-year-old girl who fucks with rap. She probably wasn’t even supposed to know about hip-hop, but since this culture is a pretty big thing, the pervasiveness and influence of it trickled down to Miley Cyrus eventually, and we’re seeing the result of that manifest itself today. Let’s be real, it’s pretty amazing to watch. I’m with Jay Z. Keep twerking.
Ernest Baker is a writer living in Los Angeles. He's on Twitter - @ernestbaker_