When Miley Cyrus played the Smoothie King Center, there were too many smart touches to write her off.
Going into Miley Cyrus’ show Tuesday night at the Smoothie King Center, I expected the show to be faux-outrageous - self-consciously transgressive, but in terms too tame to mean anything more than she’s not Hannah Montana anymore. There was some of that, with F-bombs dotting her sentences so routinely that they were almost grammatical imperatives along with a noun and verb. By midway through the show, the message was also clear - Miley Likes Weed - and the naysayer in me remembers her apology for being caught on video smoking salvia in 2010. But there were too many epically absurd details in her show to dismiss her, and too many of them were well executed. Having a video of a sad cat lip sync “Wrecking Ball” while Cyrus sang it took some of the ponderousness out of the moment, and the animation by Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi to accompany “Bangerz” had the irreverent, mad energy of his best work. Less signature but equally odd was an animated segment with a zombie Cyrus riding a jet ski, and it was one of countless silly/weird, dope-inspired “wouldn’t it be funny …?” moments from throughout the show. The black and white op art projections on the inflatable husky was another.
I came away more ambivalent about how commonly African Americans showed up in stereotyped forms, and the segment when she rocked a bedazzled Chicago Bulls T and knit cap like an elfin gangsta leading a posse of black male dancers. In a show where meaning was tough to nail down all night long and all the imagery was broad and candy-colored, I’m uncomfortable seizing on this one element of the show and taking it at face value. Still, after the controversy about racial appropriation that followed her (sad in my book) attempt to twerk on the MTV VMA Awards, you’d think she’d know better.
[This video's of the opening of Cyrus' set including Miley entering the stage on a tongue slide. You can see a fair amount of John K.'s animation starting around 2:28.]
The show came days after Lady Gaga spoke and performed at SXSW. She had been the face of female pop outrageousness, but The Los Angeles Times’ Randall Roberts wrote in his SXSW wrap-up:
On Friday, Gaga actually said with a straight face, "The truth is, without sponsorships, without these companies coming together to help us, we won't have any more artists in Austin. We won't have any festivals, because record labels don't have any ... money."
Jon Pareles called her out in The New York Times because attendees at the show sponsored by a snack food had to agree to use their social media to hype the snack as a condition of admittance. “I know that many musicians, famous and not so famous, have been reduced to this sort of sponsorship deal to make a living, but a million-selling, arena-filling performer like Lady Gaga should have been above this,” he wrote. Huffington Post went so far as to post a timeline of the rise and fall of Lady Gaga, and while all of that was interesting, Miley Cyrus is the singer courting controversy now. She’s the person whose name prompts automatic hostility in some corners - see the vitriol in the gutter that is Nola.com’s comments section for Alison Fensterstock’s review of the show - and Cyrus is the one of the two who’s plugged into the moment. Lyrics showed up on the rear screen as text messages at one point during the show, and countless Internet memes crossed the stage or screen Tuesday night. The show’s schitzy nature mimicked the ADD-like sensation the Internet can foster.
My review of the show is up now at The New Orleans Advocate, and there are two tweaks to my copy that I’ll add here. After I filed my story, I learned that Wayne Coyne and Stephen Drozd of The Flaming Lips did not only perform with her in Los Angeles but in Tulsa as well. She first spoke of the debt she owed The Flaming Lips in Los Angeles. Their relationship goes further than that, though. Earlier this week, Coyne tweeted a photo from a recording studio of Cyrus rolling a joint in “Bangerz” papers - evidently a down moment in their collaboration on a cover of The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Let the talk of sacrilege and desecration begin.