Anyone still concerned that Miley Cyrus might be reverting back to her squeaky-clean Southern roots can stop right now, because it's clear that Miley isn't going back to white dresses and fields of wildflowers anytime soon.
Her newest video, "Mother's Daughter," finds her celebrating feminism, freedom of choice, queerness, and gender fluidity. She spends most of the video rolling around in a skin-tight red leather bodysuit and calling herself nasty, evil, and a witch—all words traditionally used to denounce women who don't comply with patriarchal norms. "Don't f**k with my freedom," goes the refrain, and it's clear that Cyrus is deadly serious: She has a fanged genitals to prove it.
Miley Cyrus - Mother's Daughter (Official Video) www.youtube.com
Though her performance comes off as slightly trite and exaggerated, the video's strongest point is its lineup of diverse bodies, all in flattering and powerful positions. That's a refreshing change from the legions of slim, mostly white, heteronormative-looking backup dancers that have been constants in music videos since the dawn of MTV. Guest features include 11-year-old philanthropist Mari Copley, body-positive actress and model Angelina Duplisea, dancer and activist Mela Murder, non-binary professional skateboarder Lacey Baker, trans models Aaron Phillip and Casil McArthur, and Cyrus's own mother, Tish Cyrus.
Overall, the video is decidedly intersectional, not exclusively fixated on race, gender, or sexuality but rather concerned with tearing down the boundaries between them. Along with its diverse cast, it features an array of feminist messages, including "virginity is a social construct" and "my body my choice" flashing between clips, alongside "images of breastfeeding, C-sections, menstruation pads—everything [about the female body] that's supposed to carry some taboo, but we should be beyond that," in the words of the video's director, Alexandre Moors. This imagery and the video's overall concept were modeled after the punk aesthetics of pioneering feminist groups like Riot Grrrl and Guerrilla Girls.
Image via YouTube
"The video is about the woman's body—the right to own your own body and make it free from the male gaze, in any way shape and form," said Moors in an interview with the New York Times. "It's a broad message, and we're not trying to be dogmatic. But we're living in difficult times in America, and what I get from this video is that it injects a lot of energy and determination and the right fuel for the struggle."
Still, in an era where social justice equals profit, it's likely that we'll be seeing more and more pop stars (or rather, their marketing teams) cashing in on diversity and social awareness. Sometimes, that will lead to painfully manufactured flops like Taylor Swift's ill-advised "You Need to Calm Down," which used a demographic Swift was not a part of as an accessory, so that she could place herself at the helm of a phony brand of allyship.
On the other hand, Cyrus—who is actually bisexual and who has a long history of supporting LGBTQ+ causes—comes off as a bit more genuine in this video than Swift did, as she's not trying to speak out for groups that she doesn't belong to. She also puts her own body on the line, drawing "mixed reactions" for its "intense imagery," according to Fox, and seemingly promising that her commitment to radical feminism is not just an act.
However, what really needs to happen in this era of social-justice-as-branding is the elevation of voices who actually belong to marginalized demographics. After all, Miley Cyrus has done performed her fair share of cultural appropriation, picking up and dropping identities at will; perhaps she's found her niche in intersectional feminism, but time will tell.
In the end, it's great when stars support intersectionality and representation, but that doesn't make up for actually recognizing artists who don't belong to dominant identities (or who aren't backed up by massive corporate record deals).
On the other hand, in a nation that seems closer to Handmaid's Tale-levels of dystopia each day, any protest is better than nothing, right?