Cultural appropriation isn’t anything new in hip-hop, unfortunately. Yet, no one causes it to be as aggravating as Miley Cyrus. Infamously wrangling herself loose from her ‘safe’ country-girl image to transition into a hip-hop aesthetic with the gracefulness of an obese bull, Miley embraced the ‘ratchet’ qualities of early 2010s rap and forced mainstream’s spotlight on her.
“But I also love that new Kendrick [Lamar] song [‘Humble’]: ‘Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretch marks.’ I love that because it’s not ‘Come sit on my dick, suck on my cock.’ I can’t listen to that anymore,” she said. “That’s what pushed me out of the hip-hop scene a little. It was too much ‘Lamborghini, got my Rolex, got a girl on my cock’ — I am so not that.”
– Miley Cyrus in an interview with Billboard in 2017
4 years since her Bangerz era, Miley chose to distance herself from rap after she had reaped its rewards. Gaining commercially viable notoriety and a triple-platinum album later, she had the gall to criticize the very aspects of hip-hop that she used to profit from. Her points on the moral depravity of rap’s content may be valid but her comments just reek of a tone-deaf culture vulture. It’s disgusting behavior that saw her hopping onto a trend that she had no business of being involved in, then dipping out as soon as she was able to, but the populous ate it up anyway.
Her shift away from hip-hop meant a return to rootsy country music. Her outfits, her language, and even her personality reverted back to the Miley that her old fans clamored for. The absolute 180 that she did made it feel like the Bangerz era didn’t even exist, that she’d always been this ‘good girl’ that America once fell in love with. Then, her following album Younger Now sold 45,000 in the first week compared to Bangerz‘ 245,000. To date, Younger has failed to even go gold.
So what does Miley do when her career shows signs of tanking? She casts her net far and wide, dipping her fingers in a multitude of genres to find a sound that would stick on the charts. In an interview with 95.5 PLJ, she revealed that she’s once again with rap superproducer Mike Will Made-It – executive producer of Bangerz – on her next record. There are also going to be contributions from pop-rock oriented Mark Ronson and alt-pop producer Andrew Wyatt.
Unable to settle in on a single musical identity, Miley’s constant flirting with multiple genres only serves to hurt her career. Plus, returning to a genre that’s all but abandoned her sounds misguided at best.
Borrowing (or appropriating) from a culture on a whim is both insulting and demeaning to the history and traditions that preceded the era of rap that Miley so gratefully invades. Selective pickings of the more favorable aspect of hip-hop is also a move that isn’t unfamiliar to fellow controversial country-rap hybrid star Post Malone. Openly accepting the slang and aesthetic of the culture, he still adamantly rejects the label of being a rapper; admitting that ‘I rap, but I don’t make rap songs’
It’s a problematic point-of-view to have and one that goes hand-in-hand with Miley’s opinions on the genre. Choosing to profit off a culture that they don’t want to have a stake in, yet still brazenly rewarded by fans for doing so (Post Malone had both the #3 and #8 top-selling album of 2018), clear proof that it’s a trend that won’t die anytime soon.
If such a safety net exists, then regardless of backlash, Miley Cyrus can pull herself up by the bootstraps and walk head first into dangerously murky territory once more.