Miley Cyrus, the Voice of our Generation.

| December 19, 2013 | 9 Comments

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
Yeah, yeah

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.

Featured image photo credit: Vivian L. Arita via photopin cc

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Category: featured, Music, Social Activism

About the Author ()

Evan is a Senior in the College of Arts and Sciences (2014). He is studying biology and anything else he can get his hands on. Evan is interested in urban ecology, environmental education, and food justice. In his spare time, Evan enjoys making music, checking his email, and running. Evan hails from Yorktown, New York.

Comments (9)

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  1. BECKY says:

    IAM IN LOVE WITH THIS GIRL, TOO BAD IAM TO OLD………SHE IS ONE OF A KIND AND I LOVE IT

  2. Rhiannon Pabich Rhiannon Pabich says:

    Thank you for writing this, Evan, and eloquently expressing some of the same jumbled up, confused thoughts I’ve been having for a while. I LOVE Miley, and regularly tell people that I would defend her to the death. I think she qualifies as the voice of our generation particularly because we’ve grown up alongside her– she’s only a few months older than me and that’s something I’ve always appreciated, because most of the “young” celebrities I was exposed to were much, much older than me. I love your analysis of “Party in the USA,” and want to bring up a much older song of hers, from the vault of the Disney days, “Wake Up America,” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNrtBhZcyV8) which is a pretty peppy environmentalist anthem that my adolescent self loved and wondered why I never heard it on the radio like her other songs.

    I really appreciate that, instead of jumping onto a groupthink train, you’re really taking the time to consider her as a person, not as a spectacle. Thanks.

  3. Apple Sauce says:

    Yeah, I really think you’re analyzing her songs way too much. I don’t give Miley or any of her writers credit for thinking into what the lyrics could mean besides they’re most literal meanings. She’s not that smart. I think she’s just trying to do shock-value and it’s already gotten boring

  4. anonymous says:

    Please, please please please please please please please do not speak for our entire generation ever again. miley is NOT the voice of anything: she is a privileged, untalented white straight able-bodied cis-genedered girl whose career was made for her and who appropriates the culture of a group of people whose experience she can never begin to understand. (“We Can’t Stop,” which you praise so highly, came about because miley demanded a “black sound.”)

    there are reasons for the “negative media attention garnered by Miley in the past few months” that has “pained you” so deeply. The outrageous and inappropriate slut-shaming that has gone on against her is one thing: she’s not a disney teeny-bopper anymore. but frankly, it’s irresponsible to talk about miley and the way she’s made her image without examining the racial implications at play. (For an overview of this issue as it pertains to her VMA performance, I’ll direct you to http://groupthink.jezebel.com/solidarity-is-for-miley-cyrus-1203666732 – although Jezebel isn’t always the greatest, this article does a great job outlining the problematics of Miley’s “ratchet” image.)

    all this being said, i’m astounded that you think MILEY is representative of our generation’s uniquely-formed need for connection and expression, let alone of the youthful rejection of authority and social norms. Our generation stands to inherit a world saturated with inequality and injustice: it’s our job to examine, question, and – hopefully – dismantle the prejudices that our culture continues to perpetuate regarding race, gender, socio-economic status, sexual preference, nationality, religion, and more that now permeate our world. This is a fucking exciting and infuriating time to be alive and young, and unless i’m missing something, miley isn’t too concerned with – or even aware of – the REAL problems that we face as a society. She’s lived a sheltered and privileged existence even by the standards of straight-white-people: she’s not the voice of our generation, and she SHOULD be the voice that our generation takes a stand AGAINST.

    When I think of the “voices” who represent a movement and a moment in a society or in an identity, I think of figures who endure (or will do so) for much more important reasons than pop-icon status. bell hooks, Junot Diaz, José Muñoz, Virginia Woolf, Dean Spade – these are people whose voices are meaningful: they offer the prospect of solidarity and identity, but also for critique and for change. They stand for something, and they recognize that society needs more than another voice recognizing that teenagers sometimes feel a rebellious desire to party. Miley and her “we can’t stop” attitude isn’t new, or interesting, or useful, or provocative, or representative of anything other than the commodified result of a late capitalist society that suckers people into thinking that ‘escape’ from the norm is possible through the endless consumption of the same mindless shitty pop music about mindless shitty teenagers and their mindless shitty “need” to party that’s been pumped out by the music industry ever since there’s BEEN a music industry.

    miley isn’t the voice of any generation i want to be a part of, and doesn’t align with any of the experiences i’ve had as a young person in today’s world. and given your predilection for sweeping generalizations, bold assertions, and general poor taste, i’d really wish you wouldn’t try to speak on behalf of our generation either.

    • Evan says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment!

      It is interesting that you brought up the appropriation of cultures. This is certainly something Miley is guilty of, as is our generation and its music icons (http://thoughtcatalog.com/nico-lang/2013/08/cultural-appropriation-is-a-bigger-problem-than-miley-cyrus/). However, I don’t buy the argument that we are mindless consumers listening to whatever the music industry pumps out. We listen because we like what we hear. And at least in the experiences I’ve had as a young person, we like to appropriate cultures, and be rebellious, and party and party and yeah. Regardless of any normative assumptions, Miley’s popularity (as well as Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry) tells me that she IS the voice of our generation. Or at least “A” voice of our generation.

      You are right in that we live in an exciting and infuriating time and have the responsibility to “examine, question, and – hopefully – dismantle the prejudices that our culture continues to perpetuate.” We may have inherited a world of inequality and injustice but we shouldn’t be let off the hook that easily.

      Perhaps the challenge our generation faces is reconciling our “rebellious desire to party” with fighting systematic inequality and injustice. I’d argue that our generation desires to do both in which case we have to grapple with the statement you made that “[Miley is] not the voice of our generation, and she SHOULD be the voice that our generation takes a stand AGAINST.”

      Maybe Miley is the hero we’ve deserved, but not the one we need. In that, you and I may WISH she sang about social justice or white privilege, but instead she sings about something surprisingly meaningful to our generation. How do we deal with that? Rejection? Given her popularity, we are clearly not heading down that road.

      We SHOULD be looking up to role models such as Junot Diaz or Malala or Jennifer Lawrence because they do have something useful to say and represent. But we still have voices like Miley Cyrus that represent us, whether we like it or not. And we seem to like it.

      • anonymous says:

        widespread popularity doesn’t mean something should immediately be celebrated. is chris brown also the voice of out generation?

        also, in including jennifer laurence in that last paragraph, it’s clear you’ve a priori missed my point entirely. i weep for our generation.

        • anonymous says:

          He didn’t immediately celebrate it. But in failing to understand or rather accept Miley Cyrus is A (I agree with you, I don’t appreciate the ‘THE’ label) voice of this generation, in what way are you holding yourself to a higher standard? You may not like it, but I don’t see how you can so intensely ignore this seemingly clear – albeit arguably embarrassing – truth…millions of youth have made their opinions pretty obvious. Whether it’s right or wrong is moot here. Should that be the case? maybe not (I definitely don’t think so), but that’s a different argument altogether.

          As for the Jennifer Laurence comment, yes white, able bodied girls receive by and large a pass in becoming famous. They are the body who is celebrated, and all others start off at a much more unfair and overall incredibly lower standing in our society. But don’t tell me that with that one comment, he’s given you cause ‘to weep.’ It was A person in a list of three people, the other two do not fall into the category of white and able-bodied girls. Again, I agree with you that Hollywood and TV/Media in general is made up of 99% of the same body. Duh. But that does not give you a reason to exclude the people who make up that %. Focus on celebrating those under-celebrated, sure, but because Evan here mentions that body while he’s also discussing society’s thoughts surrounding that body is hardly surprising.

    • Kate Conroy Kate Conroy says:

      “white straight able-bodied cis-genedered”

      Why can’t a cishet girl be a famous icon? I’m sorry she’s not diverse enough for you. She is one person. She can’t be gay, black, hispanic, muslim, and hindu all at once, if that would even satisfy you people who think you’re so damn cultured because you bring down all cishet people.

      • anonymous says:

        “she is one person”

        she is one person who represents the same image that makes up 99% of Hollywood women. we celebrate miley necessarily at the expense of others who might bring a new perspective to the table. you don’t really “get” the concept of diversity, do you?

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