I’ve been a big fan of Miley Cyrus since 2009 and should say so outright. The negative media attention garnered by Miley in the past few months has pained me deeply and so I write this post to confess why I am so fond of her music.
Miley Cyrus is the voice of our generation. More than ever before, members of the #generation (or Generation Z) are interconnected through social media and the Internet. We can express ourselves immediately and receive instant feedback on our ideas. The ease of information sharing means potential for self and community growth not yet seen in history. New rules need to be written to govern social interaction and connectivity, innovation and creation, and just about everything else.
These themes are exactly what Miley’s songs are about. Let me explain using “Party in the USA” as an example. This is a song about a girl who arrives in a new place (specifically Hollywood) and is concerned about being socially accepted. In the first stanza, she even asks, “Am I gonna fit in?” She feels homesick and displaced until her taxi driver turns on the radio and she hears Jay-Z, one of her favorite artists. At this point it is unclear whether she nods her head and moves her hip inside the taxi cab (as the lyrics suggest) or at a major outdoor dance party (as the music video suggests) but either way she realizes that music is the means through which she can connect with new people in a strange new place. This idea is repeated throughout the song with refrains such as “It’s definitely not a Nashville party” and “I guess I never got the memo.” She ends the song with the following verse:
Feel like hoppin’ on a flight (on a flight)
Back to my hometown tonight (town tonight)
Something stops me every time (every time)
The DJ plays my song and I feel alright
Our generation must deal with constant displacement as global economic forces move educational and employment opportunities around the globe. We are learning to interact with people of different backgrounds and the queasiness expressed by Miley Cyrus is definitely a feeling we all know. But Miley, as our guide, reminds us that music, and the way we express ourselves is eternal and transcendent. By expressing ourselves (for example, through our favorite artists) and connecting to each other, we can overcome any barrier.
In a more recent song, “We Can’t Stop,” Miley expresses a similarly important message for our generation. She starts off the song by declaring that because ”It’s our party,” we can do, say, love, kiss, and sing whatever and whomever we want. The “we” is our generation and as she states, “This is our house [and] this is our rules.” There is a clear defiance she expresses in both her desire to keep going, and even her inability to stop. “Can’t you see it’s we who own the night?” she asks rhetorically. To answer this question she sings:
We run things, things don’t run we
Don’t take nothing from nobody
This song is not about Miley. It’s about “we” and it’s about “us.” The older generation is used to the status quo, used to running things a certain way, and those rules only hamper our ability to innovate and connect with each other. Of course, as a relatively young generation, we “own the night,” or are still relegated to the boundaries of global world order. But Miley’s song hints at the passion and creativity that we are just waiting to share in broad daylight.
We are a generation that is redefining how we express ourselves and connect with each other in a future of globally shifting uncertainties. We are a generation that can rewrite the rules that bind people in what they do, say, and sing and whom they love and kiss. Miley has already begun this transformation and is not afraid to say what she means. So I salute Miley’s artistry and vision. Not just any singer can express such powerful messages while still rhyming “yeah” with “yeah” (“Party in the USA”) and “stop” with “stop” (“We Can’t Stop”), but she pulls it off. I say we give the girl a break from the critical media spotlight and let her be the voice of our generation.