Miley Cyrus and Courtney Love: proof that there's still a sexist double standard in music
Despite their vast musical differences, Cyrus and Love share a lack of PR/media filter
Agents provocateurs, or just car crash celebrities? Disney childstar turned crotch-toucher, Miley Cyrus, and ex-Hole frontwoman Courtney Love both play Glasgow this month. Henry Northmore finds them brash and bizarre – but refuses to be shocked
At this very moment, Miley Cyrus is probably the most famous pop star on the planet. She twerked her way into the global consciousness grinding up against Robin Thicke in flesh-toned rubber pants at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. The former Hannah Montana actor sparked a media feeding frenzy, further compounded by appearing naked in her video for 'Wrecking Ball'.
She joins a procession of ex-Disney prodigies making that tricky transition from child to adult star. Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Lindsay Lohan have all walked the same troubled path. Curiously, Justin Timberlake, the male star who has followed the nearest career trajectory, was praised for breaking new ground when he released tracks such as 'Sexy Back'. It just highlights the continued dual standards at play in modern culture. As part of such a male-dominated industry, sexuality has become the default setting for many young female artists (not that it's the only route, as Lorde – who recently objected to Photoshopped ‘perfect’ photos of her – and countless others have proved while conquering the charts across the globe).
In this particular instance, it's funny how Thicke is hardly mentioned, and Cyrus is left to shoulder the responsibility. Meanwhile, rappers continue to spout misogynistic lyrics and be proclaimed street poets. To pluck one from thousands of examples, the chorus to 'Birthday Song' by 2 Chainz, one of the rappers who performed alongside Cyrus and Thicke at the VMAs, goes 'All I want for my birthday is a big booty ho'.
Society still has a big problem with outspoken women. Just ask Courtney Love (who coincidentally plays Glasgow the same week as Cyrus). Musically they couldn’t be more different but there’s a shared honesty to the lack of PR filter in their sometimes bizarre, sometimes off kilter, sometimes bold statements. Hole never really got their due; Celebrity Skin was a fierce dynamic album but they were often reduced to 'just another Nirvana rip-off'.
And there's mutual love between the two, Love tweeting: 'if it wasn't for @MileyCyrus 2013 would've been a dull dreary year. if you can't agree with that, you're an idiot.' To which Miley replied: '@courtney, I ♥ you!'
It's not even as if Cyrus was doing anything new – it seems strange that 30 years after Madonna released 'Like a Virgin', people are still shocked. The main problem for Cyrus is the reaction outweighs the event itself. In the UK, the VMAs aren't the national institution they are in the States so the vast majority heard about Cyrus' apparently scandalous performance second-hand. The print version came with moral indignation already added. How many 'outraged' Daily Mail readers actually sat down and watched the video for 'Wrecking Ball'? All anyone focuses on is the lack of clothing but ‘Wrecking Ball’ is a heartbreaking slice of pop balladry (admittedly five writers share credit for the song, none of which are Cyrus), the video emphasising her stripped-down, naked emotion. It’s far less titillating than the tabloid exaggeration. As Miley herself told MTV News a few days after twerkgate: 'They're over thinking it. You're thinking about it more than I thought about it when I did it.'
Music became an industry decades ago. That horse has already bolted. Underground culture – from disco to punk to twerking – nearly always ends up being exploited for commercial gain. At worst, Cyrus is a symptom not the cause. Her stance is perhaps a little naïve but, then again, she's a young woman who has grown up in the media spotlight. It's not surprising she's faltered from time to time. At least she's releasing music she would genuinely listen to rather than the insipid country-lite of her Hanna Montana days.
In many ways, isn't Cyrus just living up to her role as a pop star? Her VMAs performance was kinda silly, a bit cringeworthy but it definitely wasn't boring. By creating this furore she's just fulfilling her job description.
Miley Cyrus, The Hydro, Glasgow, Mon 12 May; Courtney Love, O2 Academy, Glasgow, Thu 15 May.