If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Generally, those in my age group anticipating high-school graduation do so in hopes of escaping superficial social cliques, liberal amounts of homework, and early morning roll call. My first thought upon leaving, however, was, thank goodness I don't have to ride that damn school bus again. Apart from the aggravatingly political seating choices* that needed to be made either in the morning or afternoon--both times when you're too tired to make them--my bus experience was further tainted by the Top 40s radio that blared through the cheap, staticky speakers in my aged driver's effort to appeal to our younger generation. To her credit, it worked, as many of them were either singing over the music, even and especially those who didn't know any of the lyrics; but it only served to remind me that I was en route to or from a place I dreaded, much like that disturbing tunnel scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Luckily, school was over in just enough time where I could avoid hearing Justin Beiber's divisive single, "Baby," on the bus.
I've still managed to dodge it and most of the other Top 40 crap since, though I, like most, am still subjected to the artists that get commercial play. Then came Rebecca Black's viral train wreck, "Friday," which was destined to suck me back into the shallow void. I thought the country's reaction to trash like this was improving after Kim Kardashian's failed foray into the music world was thankfully ignored, barely riding on enough backlash to last a week. Perhaps it's due to Black coming completely out of left field rather than a familiar source of pop culture poison, but that hardly excuses every media outlet and personality, from news to late-night, feeding into the frenzy and rewarding bad art... and for its badness no less.
Yet, at the same time, the reaction to "Friday" restores some of my faith in humanity. For one, the consensus recognizes the song as merely a progression for where the music industry was headed with its tween demographic-hounding and frequent use of auto-tune as a crutch. Also, instead of the reaction ending with the usual ironic enjoyment and unfunny Youtube parodies that result from such trash as Jersey Shore and Ke$ha, the majority of Americans have embraced the song's inevitable popularity in a non-cynical fashion, with the latest representation of this being Stephen Colbert and The Roots performing it on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to raise Japanese earthquake relief funds. Part of me envies Black, for my artistic ambitions would be complete once my song was far-reaching enough to be performed by Colbert or The Roots; but another part supports her because, regardless of whether Fallon and Colbert could have come up with an equally brilliant fundraising exploit, her song's profits did eventually go somewhere besides she and her producers' pocketbooks.
But, someone who refuses to comply with said optimism is Miley Cyrus, which is hardly surprising considering her brand has spoiled every party I've reluctantly attended as of late. It seems that no one is, at least looking at the comments on the various articles, buying into Cyrus's bashing of Black (saying that, "It should be harder to be an artist") as anything more than hypocrisy on her part, due to her dad's fame. Though, I'm not quite sure this is the case either. I'm not gullible enough to think Billy Ray Cyrus didn't have any hand in his daughter's career, but I think that now, with Miley's music taking the front seat from her acting, people are mistakingly linking Billy Ray's past music success with Miley's. Miley got her part as Hannah Montana through acting auditions, with her pop stardom being a Frankenstein created by Disney to promote the show. You could argue that Billy Ray's status and experience may have helped her to the front of that casting call--which makes sense because his acting credentials in Mulholland Dr. and Doc probably do more for him than his one-hit wonder status as a musician--but it was still Miley's own talent and marketability that earned her the title role.
What simultaneously intrigues and irks me about Cyrus's commentary is the latter part of the quote, "You shouldn't just be able to put a song on YouTube and go out on tour," where she dictates the strategy Black took to earn her fame. Her tone reeks of the same arrogance that latter-day politicians utilize when referring to any person or opinion they perceive as threatening to their campaign/administration. I'm sure that Cyrus celebrated when her first single hit #1 on the charts just as, say, George Bush did when he was voted into the White House. However, with as much emotional strain that may have gone into making it to that career milestone, in reality, they're celebrating the efforts of everyone around them. Sure, Cyrus and Bush dressed as they were told, showed up to the events they were supposed to, and performed what was written down for them; but they're really just faces. When they raise their glasses of wine (or apple juice in Cyrus's case) on that day of celebration, they raise it to the marketers, writers and engineers whom all manufactured them and placed them in our collective lap.
Cyrus's absolute confidence in such a parasitic system shows that she has no authority to decree what goes into a real artist because, according to her own attitude, she doesn't respect their individual merits. In fact, as far as I can see, she doesn't respect you either. Certainly Youtube is no stranger to talent marketing, but Black's popularity came before she was signed as an official partner, thus making her success as democratic as it gets nowadays. Because of Cyrus's dismissal of such an avenue, whether she realizes it or not, she's discrediting the public's ability to choose its own successes and failures, saying that they are only legitimate if sold to the public by means of the aforementioned corporate engineers.
This may sound like a personal attack on Cyrus, but she's really not alone in this school of thought, and I don't just mean amongst synthetic celebrities of her ilk. Amateur artists, such as the aspiring writers that I aim my Unrequested Writing Tips series toward, have been taught by the media that their only cause for celebration is when they're represented by an agency or funded by a production/publishing studio. The thing they should realize is that, the people who write the writing manuals on the bookstore shelves are generally people like Cyrus who were groomed from childhood to think that there's only one ladder and, once they've climbed it, it's solely their responsibility to help others up it or knock it down. But, with user-based innovations like the internet, it's people like Cyrus who will be obsolete by time new media reaches its full potential, so fuck them. Rebecca Black's unlikely success is proof that the revolution has come far enough where talent isn't even a necessary factor, so, for now, I'm going with that part of me that supports Black and all the attention she's getting. Maybe once she reaches Miley Cyrus's age, she'll be be telling us what really goes into making a legitimate artist... though, frankly, I hope not.
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* For example, each time I chose a seat, I had to simultaneously avoid sitting near two students who smelled, one who never showered and the other who smoked right before getting on; a few who kicked the seat behind me, preventing me from sleeping on the way to and from school; a kid who slept so hard that he drooled on my shoulder once; and the rowdy kids in the back who threw themselves from seat to seat, often colliding into me and laughing it off with a half-hearted apology.