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Written by Damon Young (@verysmartbros)
Miley Cyrus is not Superman.
Yet, the Man of Steel—well, Bill's droll speech about the Man of Steel near the end of Kill Bill Volume 2—is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about her.
If you recall, moments before Beatrix Kiddo causes his heart to explode into a million little pieces, Bill explains why he knew her attempt to create a new identity for herself wasn't going to last. To make his point, he shares a story explaining what separates Superman from other superheros.
"Superman didn't become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he's Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red "S" – that's the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that's the costume. That's the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He's weak… He's unsure of himself… He's a coward. Clark Kent is Superman's critique on the whole human race."
Miley Cyrus is not Superman. She is not even Beatrix Kiddo. She is, however, the current owner of music's Most Very Relevant Important Person At The Moment crown—a status at least partially due to her awkward and unfathomably lucrative attempts to infuse "Blackness" into her identity. We can't stop reading, writing, and talking about Miley Cyrus because of what she thinks it means to be more Black.
Miley Cyrus is Clark Kent.
In the past two weeks, I've read somewhere between 13 and 5,882 different pieces about Kanye West saying Kanyeish things in a Kanyeish interview and reacting in a Kanyeish manner when jabbed by Jimmy Kimmel. I also read many of the comments attached to these pieces. And, true to whenever a discussion involving anything having do to with rap or hip-hip occurs at Slate or Gawker or The Guardian or insert digital magazine 24 year old White men matter-of-factly namedrop in conversation to attempt to impress dates, subthreads form questioning rap's status as a viable art form.
This does not bother me. It used to, but it doesn't any more. To them and people like them, hip-hop is simplistic, pathological, and (most importantly) Black. Too Black. Inescapably, undeniably Black. And, anything that Black cannot possibly be artistic. I no longer feel the need to remind them that that hip-hop is a Harvard fellowship, a movie score, and a quarter billion dollar tour deal negotiated in a throwaway verse. Although hip-hop remains inherently iconoclastic, it has a stout enough resume to be genuinely iconic. It is no longer the music your parents just don't understand. Your 52 year old dad was 18 when "Rapper's Delight" dropped; your 72 year old grandmother listens to "Umi Says" when she crochets. [Ed. note: Or the new Danny Brown album.]
Miley Cyrus was not alive when "Rapper's Delight" dropped. She was three when Tupac died. Four when Wu-Tang Forever made fatigues and fishermen's caps high fashion. She is very, very, very young. And while youth isn't an excuse to culturally appropriate without any discernible sense of context, I just can not get too upset at any act done by any post-teen that doesn't involve murder or my Chipotle burrito. Somewhere in America, Miley Cyrus is still twerking, and I don't give a fuck.
The fact that she's become music's Most Very Relevant Important Person At The Moment by doing this doesn't add insult to injury as much as it reinforces the idea that Blackness is an accessory. A prop.
Actually, let me rephrase that. I wouldn't give a fuck about her twerking, her use of Black dancers as seesaws, her tongue, or her unauthorized use of "homie" if they existed in a vacuum. Context matters, though. It does not seem to be a coincidence that Cyrus' very public shift in behavior occurred soon after asking Timothy and Theron Thomas to create a "Blacker" sound for her; a request that that eventually led to the ubiquitous "We Can't Stop"—a track whose video became a national Rorschach test for feelings about race, class, and ass.
"If there are 40 million Black Americans" says Henry Louis Gates Jr. "then there are 40 million ways to be Black." To Cyrus, though, Blackness seems to correlate with ratchetness. The fact that she's become music's Most Very Relevant Important Person At The Moment by doing this doesn't add insult to injury as much as it reinforces the idea that Blackness is an accessory. A prop. The clown hats, lenseless glasses, and plastic machine guns available at wedding photo booths. It's post-racial the same way the GOP is feminist.
She wakes up every morning as Miley Cyrus, the daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus, and one of the few mega famous child stars to successfully make a post-childhood transition to continued stardom. The costume she dons—the ratchetness, the minstrelsy, the hood language so over the top it borders on parody—is her idea of what it means to be more Black. Miley Cyrus is Clark Kent, and Miley Cyrus' Clark Kent is a funhouse mirror of Black America.
After hearing Kanye's full interview with Zane Lowe, and listening to him blame his racially-tinged lyrics for "Black Skinhead" not being a bigger radio hit, you can't help but see the irony in his (rumored) decision to feature Cyrus on that song's remix. Perhaps Kanye sees the irony too, and hopes her inclusion will create some sort of post-racial vortex that'll transcend race, subvert racism, and lead to universal acceptance of rap as art.
But that's unlikely to happen. Kanye West isn't superman. And neither is Miley Cyrus.