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08 September 2013

Miley Cyrus Wants You to Be Free but Who is the "We" in "We Can't Stop."

It is not fair to say that Miley Cyrus is stealing from Madonna because every pop celebrity steals, including Madonna.  Madonna just happens to be the last most successful thief.  In fact, it is unfair to call what pop stars do as thievery. It is more like influences, homage, or incorporating the past to the present and reinventing it for personal expression. Well, that is not exactly the case. It is more about business than you think.

Whatever you call this; most contemporary pop stars cannot help but emulate or imitate pop stars of the past because they are all commodities.  Like commodities, they have to be modified from existing templates and redesigned for the new consumers.  Our new pop music celebrities are not artists.  Artistry, like in the case of Adele and Lady Gaga, is just a secondary factor.  In the business of pop music, the first agenda is to sell music. The problem is pop music has remained fundamentally the same; that is why we call it “pop.” It is like a brand of soft drinks. If you change the basic ingredient, it is not soft drinks anymore. Real innovation in music happens in the alternative scenes. Thus, in order to sell pop songs, you have to sell the pop stars as products and disguise them as artists. Lady Gaga and Beyonce are the most successful products so far. Like a product, target marketing is also important.  Adele appeals to a certain segment of the population so she is marketed differently and she will always be placed on a different shelf from the Katy Perrys, the Rhiannas and the Beyonces.

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Miley Cyrus is the latest repackaged product ready to be consumed by young buyers. Like Miley, who has outgrown her Disney days;  people in their early twenties, specifically women, are now new consumers ready to participate in the free market.  Miley may be their newest brand. 

The critic in me is tempted to declare that Miley’s new persona and video “We Can’t Stop” are her attempts to bring to the mainstream the West’s unspoken fixation on the “Lolita girl,” the prepubescent girl willingly participating in sexual politics.  Britney Spears successfully did this back in 1998 with “Baby One More Time.” However, such criticism is misleading.

“We Can’t Stop” video is about a group of young people having a party, complete with saleable accessories, clothes, speakers and lip balm shaped like spheres.  The video is just an extended commercial.  Miley dancing with a big Teddy Bear as a backpack just simply indicates that young women may all look grown up but they are just made-up “sexualized children” for male safe consumption. 

The must-have: Accessories to individual 
freedom of expressions?
Images used as part of commentary. 
Rationale for the Use of Non-Free 
Media. Click This
The irony of the song and Miley’s new persona is that both claim individual freedom, however, they espouse the opposite.  The song tells the individual to listen to his or her desires and satisfy them because that is the individual freedom that business wants us to believe.  That kind of thinking produces an ideal consumer.  In order to truly express our individualism, we need products. 
Miley proudly sings,

“It’s our party we can do what we want.
This is our house.
This is our rules
And we can’t stop.
Can’t you see it’s we who own the night.
Can’t you see it we who bout’ that life.
And we won’t stop.
We run things,
Things don’t run we.
We don't take nothing from nobody.”

Actually Miley, you did not make the rules. Business made them for you and you are just following them. And no, that is not your house.  Yes, you don't take nothing from nobody because you buy them. Most importantly, things run you because if they do not, you would look very original. 

"We Can't Stop" is not a declaration of individual freedom but it is the prescribed mantra of business to the new young consumer. In fact, the "We" may not really be "we" the people but "we" the business people.  Business says, "We sell to you what we think you need" and "We can't stop."

Sorry, I just can’t stop.

Readers may ask why this article focus only on female pop stars. Simply put, the most popular pop artists of our generation actually do little to emancipate women. On the surface, women are seen as having control but their personas betray them otherwise. For example, Katy Perry may be in charge of her career but her images in videos do not present a woman in charge, just a woman sprouting cream from her bosoms. 

TOP: Cyrus on a wrecking ball in her video "Wrecking Ball." MIDDLE: the Perisphere in the 1939 World’s Fair in New York: the sphere contained a diorama called "Democracity" which depicted a Utopian city of the future called “The World of Tomorrow." One of its engineers, Edward Bernays, the father of Public Relations, believed that business should response to the individual’s desires which, in turn, create a passive consumer. A happy passive consumer is the key to controlling people in a democracy .  BOTTOM: The EOS lip balm in Miley’s video, the perisphere in miniature?

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Information about the photo of the Perisphereclick this
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

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