Cyrus deserves a break, Thicke deserves a stake
To appreciate the disturbing gender divide in popular media, one only has to take a hard look at two of the most talked-about artists in recent months. Robin Thicke, the man behind “Blurred Lines,” and Miley Cyrus, who made news last week with her hit “Wrecking Ball,” almost beg for a comparison.
At first glance, the two artists seem radically different. Thicke is 36 years old and married, with almost two decades of experience in the music industry. Cyrus is only 20, and a former Disney Channel star.
It is highly disconcerting, however, that there is such a large disparity between the widespread condemnation of Cyrus and the comparatively minimal criticism of Robin Thicke for their work as artists, as well as their performance at the 2013 VMAs. It takes two to tango, but the phrase does not seem to apply to their performances. Cyrus was practically burned at the stake, but Thicke’s only regret after grinding on a girl 16 years his junior may have been that she stole the spotlight.
Lately it appears Cyrus has been doing everything in her power to scrub away her persistent image as America’s sweetheart. Needless to say, Cryus’s decision to take a ride on construction equipment in “Wrecking Ball” and to “twerk it out” in her single “We Can’t Stop” has been controversial. As a result, the wholesome sweetness of Hannah Montana has been erased.
But perhaps that is the point. What right do people have to dictate the career choices of a performer in the midst of redefining herself? Horrified fans of a younger Cyrus would have her stay stagnant, crying foul at the shearing of her trademark wavy locks, and at her provocative wardrobe. They throw around words like “slut,” “trashy,” and “pathetic.”
Such treatment is not only unrealistic, but grossly unfair. Many people fail to recognize that the celebrities they fall in love with are liable (and justified) to change. In pushing boundaries, Cyrus is creating an unforgettable buzz, gathering a new fanbase, and establishing herself as a performer with staying power. Frankly, it does not matter if a million people find Cyrus’s clothing distasteful and her actions crude. She has the right as an artist to make choices about how she wants to be perceived, as well as a right as a woman to do with her body what she will.
While Cyrus has been criticized for her performance and rapidly changing image, Thicke has enjoyed resounding popularity for the blatantly misogynistic “Blurred Lines.” The song hides behind a smooth beat and annoying catchiness, but the closer one looks, the less it sounds like sexy dance music and more like an endorsement for sexual assault.
Lines like “I know you want it,” “I’m gonna take a good girl,” and “Do it like it hurt,” resemble classic justification for sexual assault. Thicke’s song promotes the destructive idea that consent itself is a blurred line.
Nowhere is the contrast between Thicke and Cyrus more apparent than in the music videos for their latest respective hits. The uncensored music video for “Blurred Lines” features Thicke fully dressed and in control as a trio of topless models clad only in nude G-strings strut around for his viewing pleasure. Cyrus similarly strips down in her “Wrecking Ball” video, but while Thicke and the models have taken relatively little abuse for their display, Cyrus has been mercilessly vilified for daring to show her body.
This huge difference in public reaction is telling. Our media-saturated generation has become numb to Thicke’s brand of misogyny. Objectification of women is nothing new to us. Cyrus’s exhibition in her “Wrecking Ball” video is an instance not of a woman being sexualized by the media, but choosing to place herself in a position of sexual power. Maybe this choice is unusual enough that the public rejected it offhand.
Whatever the underlying cause behind Thicke’s praise and Cyrus’s criticism is, it might be useful to take away this: Knee-jerk reactions often deserve a second look. The next catchy song could glorify something terrible, and the next wild pop star could just be growing up.