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What's Cyrus Really Selling in VMA Performance?

Updated on September 27, 2013

I'm not very cool. A week after the event, I just now watched Miley Cyrus' performance at the Video Music Awards. I'm not proud but I YouTubed it. I had to know what all the fuss was about. I have to say, I really could have done without that. It was vulgar, ridiculous and utterly senseless.

Am I getting old? Maybe I am. I remember my grandmother saying she wouldn't pay a penny to see the New Kids on the Block, my teenage heartthrobs. I thought she was insane. I look back now and think maybe she was pretty smart after all. I waited in line for hours before dawn to get nosebleed tickets to see those guys sing "Hangin' Tough" live. So I'm not saying my standards are all that high.


To each his own, especially when it comes to entertainment. But I'm not quite sure what happened when Cyrus came out on stage. Dancers dressed as stuffed animals, Cyrus rubbing her face in one's, well, bum, then spanking it. Then there was the incessant grabbing her crotch, twerking against Robin Thicke (who might want to rethink his artistic direction before he wakes up one morning and sees Snoop Dogg in the mirror) and rubbing a foam finger against herself while grimacing and sticking out her tongue. Despite my hatred of internet slang, the only response I can come up with is WTF!?

She said she wanted to make history. I get it. She researched past VMA performances that made a splash - Madonna rolling around stage in a wedding dress, Madonna kissing Britney Spears - and she wanted to get her name added to the list. Artists break boundaries to make a statement. But I don't think this was an artistic statement so much as an attempt to be as sexually provocative as possible - for those who find crotch grabbing sexy - to get attention.

Now, artists also break boundaries for publicity, let's be honest. Cyrus isn't the first and she won't be the last, so it's unfair to only pick on her. I recently saw a similar "performance" by Lil Wayne and Nikki Minaj, aired in prime time. Minaj gave him a lap dance that was pretty much all thrust, very little dance. Pretty soon, these awards shows are going to have to move to HBO.

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"I don't pay attention to the negative because I've seen this play out so many times … Madonna's done it. Britney's done it. Every VMA performance, that's what you're looking for; you're wanting to make history." - Miley Cyrus

Sex sells. It used to be that the illusion of sex - a glimpse of skin here, a tantalizing dance move there - sold. Now, we've apparently become numb to subtleties - why else are performers resorting to half-naked grinding and simulating masturbation onstage? And what about these things, exactly, is sexy? Watching Cyrus, I didn't see a young woman expressing or even exploiting her sexuality. I saw some kind of savage anger, a bitter f-you to the world, playing out. It wasn't about sex so much as about sex and violence, anger, connected somehow. And that's not cool. Be angry, but can you leave your private parts out of it?

I'm not offended so much as I'm disturbed. There's enough lies and propaganda out there about sex as it is. (Ever wonder why teenage characters on popular TV shows never get STDs even though they have a new partner every week?) Let's not add some sort of notion that sex and anger and hatred somehow go hand in hand. I know Cyrus doesn't want to be a role model, and she surely doesn't want to be a Disney princess, but it would be nice if more young women in the spotlight could model respect for their bodies and themselves. I'm not suggesting she don a dress down to her ankles and stick to side stepping onstage or anything. It's just an unfortunate reality that kids absorb the messages they see in the media, whether in movies, music or commercials, and they'll act on them even if they don't fully understand them.


Despite my grumblings about the sex/anger connection, I have to say my biggest complaint is simply that this performance by Cyrus was absolute trash. Not as in vulgar because it was sexually explicit. Trash as in, she sounded like crap, she danced like crap, there was no artistic merit to any of it. I know, I know, artistic merit is subjective. But come on. Anybody can do what she did. It doesn't take skill or talent.

Cyrus figured out what she needed to do to stand out from the other performers, and she did it. And it worked. Maybe that's the problem; a society that rewards people with fame and fortune for simply taking off their clothes and behaving like wild animals. That's really not fair to wild animals, who in fact possess a great deal of order and good sense, but I couldn't think of any other comparison. Have we really devolved to this point? Are we really so bored with legitimate art that we need our base instincts pandered to in such a depraved way?

Cyrus is the scapegoat here. Look around. This kind of pandering is everywhere. In movies. In reality TV, where a man makes out with one girl the night before he asks another to marry him. In commercials advertising products that unclog sinks, for crying out loud. Sex sells. But is it becoming the only thing that sells? And if so, why?

By the way, the kind of sex that sells is a fantasy. They can't market the real stuff, because it's too complicated and there are consequences and all that gets icky, so it's got to be well-lit and glittery and consequence-free and quadruple orgasmic on a bed of roses. Either that or just really gross, apparently. Sorry, Cyrus, I don't know what else to call your brand of sexuality.

If this is a new age of sexual freedom, maybe we'd better not be so quick to embrace it. Freedom means having control and viewing things as they are, not living without self-restraint in some kind of fantasy land. And if those living with self-restraint in the real world need a little fantasy land time, fine. But can I make one request? Artists of the world, unite. Be sexy. Just don't spank a dancer dressed as a freaking stuffed animal while attempting to sell it. You'll look like you're trying too hard. And you'll be worse than a pandering publicity wh..., ahem, seeker. You'll just be lame.

© 2013 Crystal Tatum

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    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 3 years ago from Texas

      I didn't watch it until after the fact. Like you, curiosity got the best of me. I must admit I could've done without seeing what pretty much amounts to a porn show. My daughter still wants to keep track of her, thanks to her role as Hannah Montana. My daughter doesn't understand why she can't warch anything Miley does these days. Where is the self respect in society?

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia

      There's not a lot of role models for young girls, at least not among the famous set, that's for sure. Thanks for stopping by shanmarie.

    • profile image

      anndango 3 years ago

      It seems the entertainers who do this type of thing are actually talentless. They can't really sing that well, etc, so they have to do this other rubbish to make a name for themselves. A true artist (Adele, for example) doesn't have to twerk and gyrate or dress provocatively. They let their singing (or whatever) speak for itself.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I saw bits and pieces of it online. Disgusted? No! Surprised? NO! I just don't see the need for rubbish like that in any venue.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia

      Anndango, I completely agree with you. If you've got the goods, you can stand there with nothing but a microphone and touch people where it really matters - their hearts.

      And billybuc, I agree with you too. Although I thought my capacity for shock at the kind of thing had been numbed, I was wrong.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      I see a very troubled young woman who is acting out on a worldwide stage. If she wanted shock value (just like with the sudden cutting of her hair), she certainly got it. On tv talk shows, she has joked about her drug use. She has also talked about not wanting to be a role model. Shame on the television executives who made the poor decision to put her on stage in the first place, allowing her to sexualize teddy bears in front of a mainstream audience. She is a loose cannon at this point in her life. Your perspective is very well written, and I agree with it. Nice job, Crystal.

    • Rosie writes profile image

      Rosie writes 3 years ago from Virginia

      I haven't even seen it, but it sounds just like Madonna singing "Like a Virgin", and the many stunts she pulled while performing. I think it is simply a money-maker and that is it. Miley has learned the business and knows that shocking performances make money - she probably wants to buy something very big, like a yacht and the audience that responds to her will help pay for it and not even realize it.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
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      Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia

      Thank you so much Flourish Anyway. I think we've reached a new low. There's provocative and then there's just disgusting.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
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      Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia

      Hi Rosie, thanks for stopping by. I definitely think it's about getting attention. But it's a shame that's what it takes to get attention these days. Someone like Adele can stand on stage with a microphone and blow you away, give you chills, touch your soul, with her voice. Isn't that what music is about?

    • BrightMeadow profile image

      BrightMeadow 3 years ago from a room of one's own

      Wow, so much to say about this whole thing.

      First of all, Miley was not the only one on stage. The way womankind was so blatantly objectified all the way through is just stunning.

      Yes, she has been trying to get attention through bad-girl behavior, but let's keep in mind that these performances are choreographed and rehearsed. There are costumers, directors, produces, lists and list of people who were involved in creating what we saw here. While I didn't care for the performance and am certainly not a fan of Miley Cyrus, she did not get up there and decide to "get nasty" all by herself. There were all kinds of people leading her there. She did agree to go along with it, but that doesn't absolve the grown man on the stage who was also there and part of this little party. Everyone seems to have forgotten about him. And then the third performer who came out to a whole chorus of women shaking what God gave them.

      And by the way, how about the music, itself. Mr. Thicke was not singing about going to Sunday School. Why are we surprised to see such a performance generated by that music?

      I think there are a lot more people who need to be held accountable for this performance.

      I agree, anyone with any real talent or anything worthwhile to say would not have to try so hard to be provocative.

      I also agree, these shows should probably be put on HBO in the future. But let's stop throwing Miley under the bus or at least lets throw a few more people under there with her.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia

      Very insightful comments BrightMeadow. I agree that there was an army of folks who consented to this. Cyrus claimed she did not put much thought into what she was going to do, but then again, she said she wanted to make history, so she definitely had to have a plan. I don't know how far she went in rehearsal, but it really doesn't matter. There was enough sexual objectification to go around. And you're absolutely right about Thicke. He's got talent, but he's taking the low road to get the kind of fame he wants. I really appreciate your insights on this.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      Since I do not keep up with Cyrus these days, I saw the reviews on the morning news. The critics were puzzled regarding the reasons for the tasteless performance. Your words, "Are we really so bored with legitimate art that we need our base instincts pandered to in such a depraved way?" is what hits the target. There seems to be a need for people to go beyond the extreme in order to satisfy inner wants and needs. Self-identity is lost in today's world. I agree that these types of shows must be aired only to those who seek this kind of entertainment.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
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      Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your insights, teaches 1234!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 3 years ago from Orlando, FL

      It was the VMAs, which are infamous for shocking the audience. They knew what they were doing. As did Miley. Unfortunately Miley will pay the price and the VMAs will rock on.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
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      Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting Sunshine 625

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      I am soooo happy to see a young person find Cyrus' performance disgusting. It was silly, infantile and showed how tacky she really is. If she thinks she is impressing anyone, young or older she is not. I prefer class and grace of say a Taylor Swift - although she has worn some short, shorts in her performances. Cyrus was right down vulgar in my opinion. Sex Sells - you said it and that is what she is 'selling'. Too bad she hasn't the confidence to be herself and sell her talent. Great article and I enjoyed reading this.

    • Alphadogg16 profile image

      Kevin W 3 years ago from Texas

      Ironically Jaime Foxx made a statement a few years back that Miley Cyrus would end up on a stripper pole and ended up apologizing for the comment. Maybe he knew something we didn't. Maybe its a Disney thing, a lot of young stars from Disney have "issues" similar to this. Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Jennifer Love Hewitt & Christina Aguilera all had "growing pains" so to speak, to name a few.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your viewpoint Suzettenaples!

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia

      That's true alphaedogg16. I wonder if fame and fortune and the license to do anything you want at such a young age isn't a recipe for disaster.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 3 years ago from Northern California, USA

      You said it! I agree with you wholeheartedly. I have only seen the bits and pieces that are shown on the talk shows. I thought about going to YouTube and watching the whole thing, but opted out because I was already too disgusted with what I had already seen. Thanks for watching and enduring it for me. I mean that lovingly. Since you watched the full video you have a more clear picture of what Miley was trying to communicate. One of the reasons I no longer watch award shows anymore is because "artists" are going farther and farther from decency. I am left feeling violated for watching artists go for the gold to shock the audience.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia

      I agree Marlene. I understand it to a point, because they are competing to get their names out there. It's a shame that this kind of tastelessness trumps talent.

    • MJennifer profile image

      Marcy J. Miller 3 years ago from Arizona

      Like you, Crystal, I felt a bit like I was slowing down to stare at a train wreck when I watched the performance after the fact on YouTube. I felt like washing me hands afterwards. I thought about it a lot afterwards -- why did it offend me so? I think you put your finger on it with recognizing the anger and "up yours" tone Miley displayed. She is a truly angry woman these days. I hope she finds her true north and reoriented herself. There's a difference between art and spectacle -- and society seems to be favoring the latter in the arts these days. Miley's stunt, for that's what it was, had no art -- just spectacle.

      Best -- MJ

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia

      MJ I think you hit the nail on the head when you said there's a difference between art and spectacle. You basically summed up my entire hub with that statement!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      What's Cyrus Really Selling in VMA Performance lots to hear and read about Miley Cyrus I was quite surprised by her new look she is really going overboard. I also heard that she doesn't like wearing clothes interesting t o know more about his singer though I think it far too much.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia

      DDE, I heard her say also that she does not like to wear clothes. Maybe she'll calm down in a few years.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      glad someone wrote a hub about this Crystal. I have only watched parts of the performance in clips etc since the awards which I didn't watch at the time. They say "any publicity is good publicity" , and it did get people like me who had no interest in watching the show, to still see the performance. So that worked...but....she made a fool of herself.

      I am not a prude, and appreciate 'sexiness'. Some people have it without even trying. Miley doesn't, and she tries too hard. I didn't find her performance sexy in any way, just sad that she, and the organisers of the performance would stoop so low.

      In some ways she is the female version of Justin Beaber. I guess she is trying to break as far away from her Hannah Montana persona as possible, but she's gone overboard. I do think she has some talent hidden in there someplace but she doesn't know how to use it. I didn't even mind 'Wrecking Ball' for God sake. I hope she wakes up and grows up before it's too late. Great hub, that sparked interesting comments.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia

      I think she knew what she was doing. Well, she has said as much. It's more a commentary on us, isn't it, that this type of performance would boost someone's career? How many parodies emerged from this performance and from the 'Wrecking Ball' video? Miley was everywhere after this. I didn't think she was provocative so much as just trashy. But maybe I'm not her target demographic anyway!

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 3 years ago

      Don't know what she was selling, but I am not having any. She seems to be one of those people who someone is screaming at me is attractive and I have always thought: ewwwwwwwwwww.

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