It’s later than you think when Sinead O’Connor speaks as the voice of reason.
The cue-balled songstress penned an open letter to Miley Cyrus warning, “Nothing but harm will come in the long run, from allowing yourself to be exploited, and it is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent.”
From twerking on Robin Thicke at MTV’s Video Music Awards to licking a sledgehammer and swinging naked from a wrecking ball in her new promotional clip, Miley Cyrus exudes a persona more sex symbol than singer. Supposedly, the strip-tease routines liberate her from the burden of Hannah Montana. Female disempowerment always comes advertising itself as empowerment.
But the sex-pot strategy hasn’t marginalized the former Disney Channel actress. It’s made her star shine brighter. Cyrus just hosted Saturday Night Live, performed on the Today show on Monday, and spent two weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100. From Madonna to Samantha Foxx to Britney, behaving as a stripper provokes attention, which prompts sales. Miley follows that tired template.
The Cyrus-Sinead controversy stems from Cyrus explaining that the inspiration for her sexually-drenched “Wrecking Ball” video was Sinead O’Connor’s more subdued clip for “Nothing Compares 2 U.” The only similarities appear to be close-up shots in which both performers appear to cry. The power of O’Connor’s video stemmed from the fact that she shed real tears. In an elongated, unspliced scene, an emotional O’Connor’s eyes well up and the tears stream out of the corner of them. Somebody forgot to inform Miley’s handlers of the location of the tear ducts. In her “Wrecking Ball” homage to “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Cyrus — rebelling against the laws of human anatomy as much as against human decency — emits tears from the middle of one eye.
The lesson? Miley is as fake as her saline-drop tears. The waterworks, the sex, the drug references — it’s all an act. It’s not called show business for nothing.
To keep it real, Cyrus responded to O’Connor’s open letter not in kind but unkind, comparing her to troubled actress Amanda Bynes and tweeting the Irish singer’s long-ago online plea for a reference to a psychiatrist. Even (especially?) when a mentor offers advice “in the spirit of motherliness” the risk of the mentee erupting like a spoiled child isn’t negligible.
Decadence isn’t the primary problem. Stupidity is. Music, an inherently sonic medium, has somehow become primarily a visual one. What stirred the soul now stimulates the groin. Former Eurythmics singer Annie Lennox said as much in a Facebook post gone viral. “I’m disturbed and dismayed by the recent spate of overtly sexualised performances and videos,” Lennox posted this week. “You know the ones I’m talking about. It seems obvious that certain record companies are peddling highly styled pornography with musical accompaniment.”
After several decades of nonsense equating obscenity with artistry, Sinead, Lennox, and other artists correctly interpret obscenity as an attack on artistry. Entertainers more interested in financial aggrandizement than artistic expression put on stage that which should be off scene, obscene. It’s ruined pop music — and strangely made it a niche, marginally-popular genre to boot. Never has pop been so unpopular.
When Elvis, The Beatles, or Michael Jackson ruled the charts, everyone from eight to eighty recognized their music. People surely recognize Miley Cyrus’s body. Her hit songs? Even at #1 her music misses most Americans. Sexing it up can get a half-talented artist to #1. But it degrades #1 in the process.
“Please in future say no when you are asked to prostitute yourself,” O’Connor wrote Cyrus. “Your body is for you and your boyfriend. It isn’t for every spunk-spewing dirtbag on the net, or every greedy record company executive to buy his mistresses diamonds with.”
The pop world has turned so upside down that even Sinead O’Connor makes sense.