with Icona Pop
Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
Monday, March 10, 2014
Miley Cyrus is a brat. Or is she? The better question to ask may be whether her bad behavior makes her spoiled or proves she can't be tamed. (It also has a lot to do with your feelings on getting turnt.) As the Hannah Montana-star-gone-bad rolled into St. Paul for a stop on her Bangerz tour at Xcel Energy Center last night, she pulled out the stops to make sure the experience was as over-the-top as possible.
There was the giant, phallus-like tongue Cyrus slid down to make her entrance. The sequined suit with the marijuana leaf pattern. The humping. The midget. The hot dog that she flew around the room on. All of which made for a night that wasn't so much controversial as it was cheeky and even a little whimsical, like a wink (or a flash of the tongue) to those who are in on the joke.
What couldn't be denied about the night was that, even if musically uneven, this was a top-notch production. As far as arena shows go, the Bangerz set-up played to the strengths of the form; it was all maximalism and no subtlety. Yet there was very little wasted along the way: even the stage in the back of the arena that Cyrus did her country interlude from was an opportunity to put her in the middle of the crowd, and to make everyone in the enormous room feel included. She was committed to every step along the way, too -- and after all, how could she not be having fun?
On the occasions that the spectacle took a back seat to the music, one thing was clear: girl can sing. Even as she admitted to feeling under the weather, Cyrus sang without any noticeable aid of autotune or even a backing track. Amidst all the distractions, it was her voice that provided the emotional grounding, as she bent and hunched her body to squeeze extra nuance from songs otherwise intended to be blunt objects.
The two undoubted highlights both focused on Cyrus with as little fuss as possible. One was "Wrecking Ball," the finale for the first of two encores, which wisely put her onstage all by herself. The song felt every bit as big as it was supposed to, and not just because the entire room was singing along to it. (When she held the mic out to them, the crowd was as loud as a backing track.) The other was her cover of her godmother Dolly Parton's classic, "Jolene," which she belted out like the country singer she might have been.
That Cyrus passed up the chance to take up her role as country music royalty in favor of being a pop star makes sense for various reasons, and not just because of the higher ceiling on the latter. For one, going the country route would be too restrictive. As a true (gasp!) millennial, Cyrus is equally inspired by hip hop and club culture as she is by her country roots. Not exactly a genius nor a visionary, she nonetheless is an expert aggregator, capable of pulling together various cultural threads -- from urban to rural, chic to rustic -- and melding them into one patchwork aesthetic. It's Air Jordan meets Kenny Chesney.
The other thing is that, even as she plays pop music, Cyrus capitalizes on her image as a would-be country star. From the cowboy boots and cowboy hats to the flag-waving on "Party in the U.S.A." and even her penchant for swearing, her stage show is catered to build her up as a budding maverick -- a rebel who plays by her own rules and don't take shit from nobody. For a person pushing all the provocateur buttons as a pop singer, grounding herself in a musical style with such widespread, working-class appeal as country music is a clever coup on her (and/or her marketing team's) part.
Not that the controversial aspects of the show felt all that controversial. There was far less of her tongue sticking out than might've been predicted, and even the lewd sexual acts felt slapstick more than eroticized. They were too outrageous to be anything other than, well, tongue-in-cheek. When she humped the windshield of the car she rode onto stage, or feigned masturbation, it was more a nod to the younger audience members -- as though to say, "Yeah, we know what that means." If it riles up Mom and Dad, all the better.
In fact, Cyrus' role as a sexual agent is more complicated than her simply whoring herself out to the public, or objectifying her body. After all, she may be cute, but she isn't conventionally beautiful, and certainly not in the way that a pop star is expected to be. Her body is too boyish, not at all curvy, a fact further blurred by her short, androgynous haircut. Yet Cyrus chooses instead to flaunt her body, preferring to stay half-nude for most of her show. It's not hard to see young, teenage girls identifying with, and even being inspired by, her confidence and sense of self-possession. She may be more relatable to them than most other celebrities, juvenile antics and all.
Not everything about the show could be given a positive spin, of course. There remains the problematic issue of Cyrus' use of minorities, and specifically black women, in her performances. Her dancers at times did feel like props, objects used to grind on or to be the butt of a joke, a concern brought into even sharper relief given the lack of minorities in her band. (Never mind that accusations of privilege and appropriation seem to come so much more quickly for young, white females than to their male counterparts.)
Yet there's a further wrinkle here, too: on "#GETITRIGHT," Cyrus dressed up in a nightgown and laid out on a huge bed, surrounded by a handful of her female dancers, all of whom happened to be Asian. As they snuggled with each other, a group of male dancers -- all of whom were black -- joined them, and began feigning caresses and making out. The interracial (and bisexual) implications of the scene shouldn't be overlooked; especially as a child of the South, Cyrus no doubt appreciates how taboo such things remain, especially outside of the privileged bubble that we in the Twin Cities inhabit.
To their credit, her fans would see no problem with such a scenario. The overarching message of the show was emphatically one of inclusion. Never was this more apparent than during "Adore You," when Cyrus introduced a kiss cam and encouraged audience members to make out with the person next to them -- male or female, friend or stranger. It didn't really matter. Afterwards, Cyrus congratulated the folks standing up front along the stage: "You made out the whole time, even though you weren't on screen," she said with a laugh.
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Summertime Sadness (Lana Del Rey)
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Jolene (Dolly Parton)
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