What Was Up With That Miley Cyrus AMA Performance?
On November 24, 2013, Miley Cyrus closed the American Music Awards with a performance of her number one single “Wrecking Ball.” Unlike her previous appearances on awards shows, including the infamous MTV Video Music Awards, Cyrus’ performance was relatively tame and void of shock value. She stood on stage and sang her song, proving to her critics and fans that she was talented. However, this is pop music after all, and Cyrus wasn’t going to end the night without causing a commotion. Even if Cyrus didn’t do that much on stage, a computer generated cat projected upon a screen behind her most certainly stole the show.
The question on everyone’s minds was the same: What the hell was that? Even without shocking, Cyrus made us shake our heads. The consensus from most casual viewers is that the “weird” cat ruined the performance. As thesmartone from the Goldderby forums writes, “I think Miley Cyrus would have had one of the best performances of the night if it weren’t for the cat. Her vocals were really good, and she proved that she can actually sing, but that she just chooses on her own to do all of these distractions in her performances.” What these criticisms fail to realize, however, is that ” these distractions” are the point of Cyrus’ performances.
Some seem to get this, and a few critics have even attempted to articulate the symbolic significance of the cat. Judy Berman of Flavorwire, for example, claims that the cat is a “‘fuck the haters’ gesture wrapped in the kind of sarcastic apology best expressed by the crocodile tears of a giant kitten.” Todd Martens of the Los Angeles Times, on other hand, situates the kitten’s presence within the surreal realm of stoner humor. These perspectives are certainly worth considering, but I think Cyrus was up to something a little more consequential, and she was implicating us in the process.
In order to comprehend the importance of the cat, we must keep two things in mind: First, the cat is a computer generated image, which means that it isn’t “real” in the sense that Cyrus’ presence on stage in the human flesh is. Second, we should note that the cat, while not being “real”, emulates the emotions Cyrus expresses in the song’s music video. This is because the cat represents the artificiality of Cyrus’ pop star image. Like Cyrus, the cat expresses emotion and sings along to “Wrecking Ball,” and its uncanny presence reminds us that Cyrus is a calculated pop star who knows how to sell a false image to the public.
The fact that Cyrus happens to be performing her most emotional, personal song is no coincidence. Even during intimate moments, Cyrus calls attention to the fact that her public image is a creation. In a sense, Cyrus’ image can be understood as her art, and the AMA performance can be viewed as a response to the critics who attack her for being fake and shocking for the sake of it. Cyrus provides her critics with confirmation. When the cat sticks out its tongue at the end of performance, this is Cyrus’ proverbial wink to the audience, as if to say, “I knew exactly what I was doing all along, and you all fell for it.”
In addition, Cyrus’ costume is sexually revealing, and it is decorated with images of cats--the same cat that is projected digitally on the screen behind her. The message couldn’t be clearer. Cyrus is the cat, and everything she has done in the public eye before her AMA performance, from the sexual antics to the emotional confessions to the shocking revelations, were fabricated for the production of her star image.
There is nothing authentic about Cyrus’ public persona, and she wants us to know this because the image she creates is her art. More than the music or the movie performances, her greatest creative achievement is the ability to persuade people into thinking that the pop star they see twerk on stage or hang naked from a wrecking ball in a music video is the real her.
This is why Miley Cyrus is the most relevant pop artist of the 21st century. Whereas others are satisfied with producing successful albums and singles, Cyrus is determined to create an entire public persona, and she won’t stop--she can’t stop--until we take it seriously. So far, given the recent controversy and attention devoted to her every move, she has succeeded. However, like every artist, there’s a conscious attempt to call attention to the craft in the hope that the audience will stand up and applaud.
At the end of Cyrus’ performance, audience members at the AMAs clearly gave her a standing ovation, but the look on some of their faces shows that they weren’t entirely sure what they were applauding.
What do you think? Leave a comment.