Aug. 25, 2013, may forever be known as the “twerk heard around the world.” Not that one can actually hear a twerk; mind you, but on that day, 20-year-old Miley Cyrus made headlines and introduced the nation to the twerking phenomenon.
What a sight it was for viewers at home tuning in to the show that has a history of outlandish and over-the-top performances. From the shared kiss and grinding between Madonna, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera’s shared kiss to Lady Gaga’s meat dress; the MTVs VMA shows are known for their shock value. Miley Cyrus did not disappoint.
The stage was dimly lit with tints of green and purple as a massive teddy bear with lights flashing across its eyes filled the platform. It appeared to have a covering over it’s mouth as the shoes lit up and gave way for an unfolding panel, sort of a drawbridge, upon which Cyrus descended.
Creeping down the platform stairs with her tongue wagging to the side, it was difficult to determine what Cyrus intended to do. The singer is recently seen with her tongue to the side; however, it isn’t an iconic symbol. It doesn’t appear that Cyrus’ tongue will be memorialized such as the infamous red-tongue logo associated with the Rolling Stones or the rapidly flicking tongue of Kiss singer and guitarist Gene Simmons. Cyrus’ tongue appears more as an extended orifice that doesn’t particularly move, but rather appears anchored to the side of her face as if attached by velcro to a fixed position by the corner of her mouth.
Keeping her tongue extended, Cyrus lifted one leg over the side of the enormous teddy bear and threw her head back while wearing a nude to pink colored bra and panties underneath a strapless gray leotard featuring two pink ears over the chest and a teddy bear face with it’s tongue extended, matching Cyrus. Her hair, which she keeps in a flat mohawk with the sides shaved, was adorned in two tiny, twisted knots on the top of her head. As more giant teddy bears came into view, Cyrus then began doing something with her hands. It was almost a cat-stretch like movement as if she were trying to scratch something in the air that was continually out of reach. All the while, Cyrus’ tongue remained permanently fixed to the side of her mouth.
Cyrus then took her position in center stage with a row of overstuffed teddy bears to the right and left. The symbolism of the teddy bears isn’t lost on a generation who saw Cyrus grow up in the character of Disney’s Hannah Montana. Like her image, these teddy bears were not child’s play. With her hands in the air in a seeming gesture to get the audience to rise to their feet and participate in her performance, Cyrus gyrated from side to side before dropping her head and hand, bobbing both simultaneously. Cyrus then proceeded to do several simultaneous head and hip rolls while the teddy bears moved in rhythm with an arm overhead and alternating leg kicks.
Behind Cyrus a row of women (the majority who appeared black) were seen wearing red pants and teddy bears propped on their backs. They moved forward until they formed a row behind Cyrus and began twerking movements (fast, rhythmic pulses of the hips, lower back and bottom, while pushing the chest forward), Cyrus then faced the audience, pointed at them while scrunching her face in a look that resembled painful straining, and again, positioned her tongue to the side of her mouth.
Cyrus then began her own series of slow, twerking movements while the dancers, still wearing their oversized, teddy bear back packs, joined her in their own slow twerks. Cyrus’s tongue retreated and instead she smiled at the dancers. She then leaned foward with her hands touching the floor, while twerking her bottom. A dancer simulated spanking movements behind her. The song “We Can’t Stop” had not finished its intro and the audience remained seated, though a number of cell-phone cameras were seen in the air filming the spectacle.
At times it appeared Cyrus was dazed, and might possibly topple over, but she continued her series of jerking movements, twerks and displayed a high-level of energy throughout her performance. One of the things that was most noticeable, was the contrast between Cyrus’ derriere and the derrieres of the backup dancers who were also twerking alongside her.
Twerking may have become popular in the United States in 1993 with the introduction of the dance move by DJ Jubilee, but the movement has far deeper roots. The dance Mapouka from the Ivory Coast is most likely the original source of twerking as a movement; however, since the dance consists of shaking ones pelvis rapidly, twerking has been around for ages. As the Mapouka originated in the Ivory Coast, it is clear that the women who historically performed this dance have larger backsides than Cyrus’. The contrast between the back-up dancers during Cyrus’ VMAs whose physiques are more in line with the traditional form of the dance, did not go unnoticed by many. It certainly did not escape attention when in the midst of singing “We Can’t Stop,” Cyrus stopped behind a black dancer with a well-endowed, backside and simulated “ringing.”
That move alone may have truly been the most controversial throughout all of Cyrus’ performance and dance moves during “We Can’t Stop” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” After doing the “ringing” movement, Cyrus proceeded to slap the woman’s bottom three times.
It was interesting to watch the reactions of fellow musicians and artists in the audience throughout Cyrus’ performance. Some sat with blank stares on their faces as if they couldn’t believe the display before their eyes. After the VMAs concluded, more musicians and celebrities would speak publicly about their views. Some defended Cyrus while others criticized her.
At the end of “We Can’t Stop,” Cyrus increased the shock value by stripping off her teddy-bear laced leotard and appeared solely in the underlying, peach-colored bra and panties costume. Robin Thicke appeared on the platform sauntering down the stage wearing a referee-themed suit in bold, black and white stripes. Meanwhile Cyrus retrieved an oversized, foam finger that she would use as a phallus prop during her twerking “Blurred Lines” performance.
Immediately, Cyrus dragged the foam finger across her body, using it as a symbolic phallus. She seemed in complete comfort while grinding herself on the foam finger while singing the lyrics to “Blurred Lines.” Robin Thicke, meanwhile, made no overtly sexual gestures, but sang into his microphone, with his gold chain swinging to the steady rhythm. Cyrus approached him like a sex-starved nympho and dragged the foam finger across his pants, more specifically his private area. Thicke continued singing while Cyrus began waving the foam finger in his face as if she were ready to physically beat him with it.
After waving the finger in the air and moving away from Thicke, she motioned with the finger as if for him to follow. When she bent down and began her twerking movements, Thicke had positioned himself behind her. This was the second most controversial display of the performance.
As Thicke began singing, Cyrus then walked ahead of him, still using the foam finger as if motioning for him to follow, then she put the finger between her legs, in another overtly, symbolic phallus gesture. This would be the third most controversial aspect of Miley Cyrus’ VMA 2013 performance.
Thicke continued singing into his microphone, when Cyrus approached him, simulated licking his neck, and grinding against him.
The Miley Cyrus VMA performance has caused incredible controversy, and resulted in numerous Cyrus Internet memes. Cyrus continues to be vocal on Twitter and stands behind her performance. She refers to herself on her Twitter account as a “california face. with a down south rump.” Exactly what a “down-south rump” is remains unclear. One might think that if claiming a ticket to fame through twerking, and as twerking is an African dance started by women with well-endowed, or "big booties," that a down-south rump, may in fact, not be what Cyrus possesses.
Cyrus’ claim to twerking has produced many outcries of prejudice and racism. Though some might find it hard to believe, there are many people voicing their opinion on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter, that Cyrus is taking a “black” or “African” dance and trying to make it commercial or "white," and degrading black women (her backup dancers) while doing so.
What are your views? Do you think there is truth to the argument that Cyrus is objectifying and degrading African-Americans through her twerking?
What did you think about Cyrus’ VMA performance? Do you think it was acceptable and the detractors are overreacting or do you think Cyrus is on a fast-track to rock bottom?