“Miley Cyrus’ twerk-filled performance at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards has become the most discussed, polarizing few minutes in a show that saw an ‘N Sync reunion and silhouetted Kanye West singing “Blood on the Leaves”. More than one think piece has accused Cyrus of appropriating and exploiting black culture for her own benefit at the detriment of its pioneers [like Big Freedia].”
– Jason Newman for Fuse.TV
On The #MileyTwerk Controversy and Queer Black Culture
“I’m a singer. I’m not a twerker, I’m not a rapper. I’m a singer…. I really can sing. And you know I can twerk—watch my videos. So there.” – Singer/Pop Artist Miley Cyrus
[Note: In principle and practice, many of the clips and links below are NSFW. Not. Safe. For. Work. Surf with caution. Some of the content doesn’t prepare you for this fact pre-launch.]
Feminists are not having it.
Kids in San Diego are getting in trouble—like “suspended” in trouble.
Hannity and Limbaugh are hornswoggled, all about this “shocking new twerking thing.” The word “twerk” has made it into the dictionary. Women are even twerking in church…on camera.
But y’all know twerking is nothing new. By now, you’ve likely traced its roots back to Africa’s diaspora, strip club feasts of fancy or your garden variety YouTube/Vine video. Let’s just say it’s familiar.
Twerking’s “a new thing” for Miley Cyrus to do in public (not counting press campaigns planned far in advance of any twerk attempts), so therefore it is “news.” Girlfriend is owning it as-is—so by now ya gotta know, it is Miley’s full intention is to twerk poorly and call attention to the fact that there’s not all too much junk in her trunk.
Ms. Miley ain’t out to win twerk-a-thon championships, and nothing that a Disney grad does—one who’s still on top—is accidental.
Now that that’s out of the way: folks can’t tell what they find most offensive about Miley’s runaway bootie: her lack of hip gyrations, her cultural appropriation, using African American folks as props alongside teddy bears, or her choice to milk every last drop of so-called shock value from ratchet living ’til it’s dry.
MC’s camp is well aware that the so-called American TV demographic isn’t ready for a real-deal twerk. Why would she practice twerking aiming to make that look authentic when it wouldn’t get on the air for the world to see? (Let the “people props” get closer to that.)
As for cultural appropriation, using people as props et al—this is nothing men (and/or Madonna!) haven’t done for decades in the entertainment industry—does that make it okay?
While ratchet/twerking music and culture’s aimed at dancing and partying all night (among, ahem, other ideas), twerking draws upon elements of queer culture. We are everywhere, so why would this not be the case?
LGBTQ folks find Miley’s new-found popularity scenario to be familiar: she’s shining in the spotlight, riding the wave of a cultural trend that’s been around in this form for at least 20 years. When such a trend makes its way to heteronormative culture and is performed by (at least more) heteronormative superstars, it’s salacious, sexy and provocative. “Controversial.” When it’s performed by LGBTQ folks in-community, people are confounded and disgusted. Granted, “disgust” is a subtextual form of interest and arousal, but most folks don’t take much time to process through that appropriately.
Too, to hear Huffpost/AOL tell it, their #MenAtTwerk compilation is one of America’s funniest home videos. As it’s taken out of context, that’s one viewpoint—but because of the platform and audience Huffpost has, such a viewpoint leaves room for much misinterpretation. In-culture, the #MenAtTwerk bootie-clap collage could be considered to be hot, fierce, authentic, queer-inclusive and/or funny at the very least. Not just “funny.”
Back in February, RuPaul and Big Freedia released the hypnotic video and single “Peanut Butter” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFoRH-VtFO4) flanked by raw, hot models and dancers (courtesy of Chi Chi LaRue and Big Freedia), and a whole…lotta…arse. (The title of the track is “Peanut Butter,” so no surprises there). This underground club banger’s selling well and re-popularized twerking in-culture in a way that Miley still has yet to understand. Ru and Freedia are internationally famous pop stars too—you just don’t hear about them in the press every…other…second on every other channel.
‘Bout That Actual Life: On Actually Fierce Twerk Game
“I haven’t really seen one bad comment about my twerk video,” she said, then added jokingly, “This is the first thing! All right, I can’t sing, I can’t act, I’m dumb, I’m a hillbilly, but I can twerk, so whatever!” – Miley Cyrus
What did not get as much mainstream press time in this latest cultural case study? Rap Artist-Musician Big Freedia, killin’ it with a jaw dropping set at the Afro-Punk Festival, which took place on the same day as the VMAs did, in the same city and cultural mecca (Brooklyn).
Still, Rap Artist-Musician Big Freedia’s mic is on. People are watching, listening and learning. Big Freedia isn’t any fly-by-night dilettante or hobbyist. This artist is the real, live deal—she’s been all up in Bounce culture and then some since 1999. While promoting her new FUSE show Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce (http://www.fuse.tv/shows/big-freedia), she’s making her voice heard, sharing her reflections about the repeated #MileyTwerk spectacle.
While she’s honest about leveraging this strange, emerging opportunity, Big Freedia minces no words: twerking has been screwed and chopped by mainstream culture, and someone from within the culture itself needs to set the record straight.
Sissy Bounce is here, it’s queer, and it’s always been with us.
Reigning Sissy Bounce Queen Diva: Big Freedia Takes New Orleans Bounce to the World Stage
In Her Own Words
“… It’s offensive to black culture and black women who’ve been twerking for years. Every time we do something, people want to snatch it and run with it and put their name on it. And they still don’t even have the moves down yet. Just get me and Miley together so I could give her ass some lessons.” – Big Freedia, on Miley Twerk-A-Mania
Big Freedia doesn’t just make Bounce music—she makes Sissy Bounce music.
She had plenty to share regarding Miley’s twerk-storm. From a recent interview with Fuse TV (http://www.fuse.tv/2013/08/big-freedia-miley-cyrus-twerk), here are a few thoughts Big Freedia shared with her audience:
“…. she was trying to twerk. For one thing, we have a dance in bounce music called ‘exercising’ where you just open your legs and shake your butt a little bit from side to side… but she still didn’t even get that right because she didn’t have any butt control. She needs more practice.”
“When you have my dancers, they’re professionals. They’re from New Orleans and know what they’re doing . When they started dancing, it was original twerking. Miley’s dancers were prop dancers. None of them were professional dancers.”
“They could’ve used girls from New Orleans, even if they were not black, who knew what they’re doing. They’re just using anybody possible just to get that buzz since twerking is hot now. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this, though. I knew the twerking thing was really taking off, but I didn’t know it would blow up like this.”
FUSE asked, “Going back to Miley, let’s say you were the choreographer and saw her performance as a dress rehearsal. What specific tips would you have given her?”
Big Freedia responded, “Don’t do it.”
Big Freedia also told Colorlines.com she plans to release a response track called “Twerk It,” which “explores the roots of twerk vocabulary.”
Twerk Couture: Bad Girls Twerking Badly Still Puts Twerking On the Map
You can’t really explain [twerking],” Miley said. “It’s something that comes naturally…It’s a lot of booty action…. I’ve been practicing probably for the past two years, in my own time in my living room.” – Miley Cyrus, to E Online
This is an achy-breaky trend that will not die, and Miley isn’t even attempting to backpedal her way out of it. She is riding it for all it is worth to her—and she’s not in this twerk game alone. She of course has handlers and press people. In her mind (from all press interview accounts), Miley really is just chilling with her friends and doing what she loves.
It’s A Feminist/Black/Queer Thing: Miley Isn’t Here to Make It Rain.
On Channeling Nothing
RT @MileyCyrus “Mile, if twerkintwerkin woulda been invented…. And I had a foam finger…. I woulda done the same thang you did.” – DAD
If you watch Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” video or even Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” the point of the shimmery video spectacle is not about making sure celebs and models are “dancing well.”It’s all about the performative pantomime. Again, we already know this yummy aesthetic quite well: Andrew Christian and Chi Chi LaRue’s underwear ad campaigns alone take bootie-shaking to beatific heights, masterfully conjoining commerce, spectacle and eroticism. – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8S94OlPt7o.
Don’t let Miley’s twerk game fool you: titillation sells, and you can always take that to the bank. Twerk is another set of clothes for Ms. Cyrus. Miley’s still got time for high fashion photo shoots with Terry Richardson and has covered V, Cosmo, Harper’s, Elle UK and counting in recent memory. Those magazines don’t (yet) encourage ratchet couture spreads, and this twerking thing is but another momentary fashion prop for some.
Too, engaged to a man or not, Miley is gay-friendly and (many say) a queer lass indeed. Playing at queering culture isn’t something that can be shut on and off. Cyrus makes a proactive point to remind her fans about this, and the We Can’t Stop video is all about playing at bi-chic tropes and omnisexual aesthetics that may or may not keep happening when cameras stop rolling.
In terms of controversy and criticism goes, Miley takes it all in stride. Trained to deal with the public from a very early age (at least years old), she and her handlers know how to keep people talking and to take “faux rebellion” nowhere near the bleeding edge of real rebelliousness.
As for the pop star’s heiney? Here we have the good ol’ “Goodie I still get to look trick:” you criticize a woman for shakin’ what her momma gave her, telling your partner, the press, your friends, “Oooh! This is just scandalous!” All the while, you’re never taking your eyes off her bum and assorted hijinx. Scandalous attention is still attention.
We Can’t Stop Miley Cyrus. We Won’t Stop Miley Cyrus.
Cyrus’ only responses to criticism have moved along two main streams of thought.
Here’s one: when criticized for her unicorn onesie twerk video, Cyrus essentially said [paraphrased] “J. Dash is happy…no one heard of his song “Wop” before I did that.” And two: when hip hop legends such as Jay Z shout her out in their rhymes and in the press, people tell Miley he’s dissing her. Her responses?
RT @MileyCyrus Somewhere in America a Jay Z song is onnnnnn
RT @MileyCyrus That’s a win win forrrrrr me.
RT @MileyCyrus Call it what you want. But I don’t see Mr. Carter shoutin any of you bitches out. #twerkmileytwerk
And Jay Z agrees.
Miley is still working with (and yes, twerking with) Snoop Lion (aka Snoop Dogg), Odd Future, Ludacris, Big Sean, Pharrell, Juicy J, Nelly and many other rap artists du jour. The Yin Yang Twins wrote a stripper pole-ready song about her tush and twerking it. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-UXJO-iydM)
The verdict is in: Miley is “right” on all accounts.
Speaking of accounts, Miley’s still posting pictures of her bootie @MileyCyrus, and you can keep up with Big Freedia’s latest pics and posts @Bigfreedia.
So let’s get a move-on #MCTWERKTEAM…. Assume the #MileyTwerk position and represent.
“Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce” debuts Wednesday, October 2 at 11/10C on Fuse TV and you can buy her album “Queen of Bounce” on iTunes by clicking here (http://www.bigfreedia.com).
You can learn (and dance!) more by watching the documentary “Big Freedia The Queen Diva” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0yrp3nsvAs
You know Miley’s on top of the promo gig too: according to Miley’s Twitter TL, you can of course pre-order #Bangers / Wrecking Ball on iTunes here: (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/wrecking-ball/id691238659?i=691239109).
Now Playing – Big Freedia – Y’all Get Back Now
Because she is royalty, let’s give the Diva the last word. Big Freedia recently told the Daily News:
“Twerking—and it’s a lot more than twerking—comes from a long history of music and dance in New Orleans. Twerkin’ happen around the world for a long time now, so I’m very excited that it’s coming into the public eye, as long as it’s respected.”
We could say more on the matter and likely will.
But wouldn’t you rather be dancin’ and watchin’ all up on this anyway? Let’s free you up to do that. And let’s keep it real: how many times have you had to switch to your “kitty pics” screen-saver so you wouldn’t get caught watching “Peanut Butter” on loop? Oh—that was just us? Oh, okay. Right.