It looks like Miley Cyrus finally decided to leave her on-stage twerking and hip-hop-laced tracks behind. The "Party In The USA" singer is returning to her country sweetheart roots, and, if the title track for Cyrus' album Younger Now is any indication, she has a lot of regrets about her Bangerz past. Just as many black people already suspected, the former Disney star is calling her 2013 bad girl facade a phase, and in "Younger Now," Cyrus says that she’s changed quite a bit. But the promotion surrounding the album makes it seem as if this is just another publicity stunt. If changing for the better is actually on her radar, it's going to take a lot more than a new look and sound to do so.
But what does being "younger now" even mean? Cyrus sat down with NPR in September to discuss the inspiration behind her sixth studio album. She explained,
"I think when you are a teenager, young adult, you're trying so hard to be cool or to prove something or to be something away from who you've been as a kid. And I guess as I've gotten older — what 'Younger Now' says is, even though it's not who I am, I'm not afraid of who I used to be."
What Cyrus is describing sounds a lot like growing pains — something plenty of adults can attest to experiencing. Trying to figure out who you are can be scary, and soaking up influences from surrounding popular cultures can be inevitable. In Cyrus' case, her immaturity at that time led to completely molding herself into something she thought the outside world would deem "cool." But in her particular case, the twerking on stage and in her music videos — followed by mimicking the appearances of the Nicki Minajs and Lil' Kims of the world — made her a laughing stock instead.
In the video for her new album's title track "Younger Now," Cyrus tried to reinvent her image once again — this time reverting back to her country roots. The visuals are unsettling, to say the least. Stills of Cyrus dressed up in an all-white silk night gown, with her blonde wavy locks accentuating her blue eyes, seem to evoke a sense of purity and wholesomeness. It's a turn from her dark roots and the spandex she donned in "We Can't Stop." And with lyrics like "no one stays the same" and "change is a thing you can count on," Cyrus is doing all she can to disassociate herself with her controversial past.
Younger Now puts forth a more mature, well-behaved, and grounded Cyrus — an image that seems way more acceptable to the country following she's striving to tap back into. And as far as the title track goes, the message is more than clear: whiteness is pure, and everything outside of that is obscene. Clips of her dressed as legendary rocker Elvis Presley and dancing in 1950s-esque women's wear attempt to further prove Cyrus' transition. But in reality, those same images just put the Tennessee native's white privilege on display.
For Cyrus, the Bangerz and Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz albums were all part of a phase. That also can mean that her appropriation of black American culture during the height of her 2013-2015 publicity was just an experiment. She wore the culture of a disenfranchised group as a costume for popular and financial gain, only to discard that identity once she became bored — aligning herself with culture vultures before her time.
Cyrus has, of course, denied that she's appropriated hip-hop culture, but her usage of all-black backup dancers as props, rapping about being high, and rocking grills in the "We Can't Stop" music video suggest otherwise. In a September 2013 Rolling Stone interview, Cyrus defended her antics, saying, "I don't keep my producers or dancers around 'cause it makes me look cool. Those aren't my 'accessories.' They're my homies."
"I'm from one of the wealthiest counties in America," she continued. "I know what I am. But I also know what I like to listen to. Look at any 20-year-old white girl right now — that's what they're listening to at the club." But, while listening to rap music and admiring hip-hop culture are totally acceptable, Cyrus infusing those stereotypes into her newfound persona was not.
Yes, Cyrus is a culture vulture. Her apparent obsession with black people and black culture over the years has undoubtedly proven this. She took on an entirely different identity while exploring tracks intertwined with hard 808s and melodic rap flows, and wore it with pride for years. But don't get it twisted, Cyrus' switch back to country doesn't make her any less of a culture vulture today. In fact, pulling inspiration from Elvis Presley, the original culture vulture, in her "Younger Now" video presents so much irony.
Like Presley, Cyrus stole the sounds and artistic expressions of black culture to take her career to the next level. For the 1950s' icon, dabbling in "race music" is what made Presley a musical sensation. And although not referred to as "race music" today, Cyrus taking a liking to hip-hop is what ultimately made her a conversation topic in pop-culture too. "Party In The USA" was a total chart-topper in 2009, but 2013's "We Can't Stop" garnered Cyrus a whole other level of attention — both good and bad.
“People stare at me anyway, but people stare at me a lot when I’m dressed as a f*cking cat," Cyrus said about her Dead Petz past in a May 2017 Billboard cover story. And she couldn't have been more spot on. Working with the likes of producer Mike WiLL Made-It and dancing on stage with hip-hop group Three 6 Mafia helped Cyrus become a topic of discussion in the black community — the very one driving the current trends in entertainment, according to a 2015 Nielsen research study on the black influence.
If achieving a new level of success or relevancy was the goal, Cyrus wanting to tap into this market makes sense. But her "I'm just having fun" message rubbed the black consumers, who she was searching for a co-sign from, the wrong way. While Cyrus was having fun twerking in unicorn onesies and wearing dreadlocked wigs to award shows, black people were busy protesting their right to live. And when it came to supporting them, Cyrus (although not exactly sought after) was nowhere to be found.
Even Nicki Minaj spoke out against Cyrus' inappropriate usage of black culture after bumping heads with the singer just before the 2015 VMAs. After Cyrus made a seemingly unsupportive comment about Minaj's tweet calling out the lack of diversity among VMA nominees, the rapper told New York Times Magazine,
"The fact that you feel upset about me speaking on something that affects black women makes me feel like you have some big balls. You’re in videos with black men, and you’re bringing out black women on your stages, but you don’t want to know how black women feel about something that’s so important? Come on, you can’t want the good without the bad. If you want to enjoy our culture and our lifestyle, bond with us, dance with us, have fun with us, twerk with us, rap with us, then you should also want to know what affects us, what is bothering us, what we feel is unfair to us."
The match that sparked Minaj's flame had everything to do with the lack of industry recognition black artists receive for their impact, and the overwhelming praise white artists are used to getting — especially when using influences from black culture. In entertainment, black culture has always been an hot commodity, but the black bodies attached have, more times than not, been ignored. And just as the industry has, Cyrus tried to use black people to be "cool," and it doesn't seem as though being an ally was on her radar.
And unfortunately for the 24-year-old, Cyrus' hip-hop stint didn't exactly work in her favor. Now, it seems as though all the negative press is what pushed her back to her country roots. But, according to Cyrus, her decision to distance herself from black culture came as a result of lyrical misogyny. In the aforementioned Billboard cover story, she said,
“I also love that new Kendrick [Lamar] song ['Humble']: 'Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretch marks.' I love that because it’s not ‘Come sit on my d*ck, suck on my c*ck.’ I can’t listen to that anymore. That’s what pushed me out of the hip-hop scene a little … I am so not that.”
Cyrus' received criticism from the black community for her comments, just like many of her appropriating antics did in years prior. Trying on black culture, only to discard of it once you realize the grass isn't as green as you thought, is white privilege at its finest. Cyrus wasn't met with open arms while trying to break into the hip-hop world, and so it seems she took to criticizing the genre in order to make sense of her new-and-improved country persona.
Younger Now can easily just be another one of Cyrus' transitions. The singer has tried on so many styles — from Hannah Montana to "Wrecking Ball" — and will continue to do so until the right opportunity is commercially sustainable. The "change" that Cyrus speaks off in both her title track, and the recent NPR interview, doesn't seem to go beyond aesthetics. It takes a lot more than removing her bejeweled nails and transforming her short, pixie do' into wavy locks to prove she's "changed."
Who's to say that this move isn't just another one of Cyrus' phases? After all, she has yet to show the public anything other than experimentation.