Tags: art/music, culture, media, race/ethnicity, bell hooks, cultural appropriation, othering, popular culture, racism, representation, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: The music video for Miley Cyrus’ hit 2013 song “We Can’t Stop” is full of hip-hop tropes, from beats and backtracks to the twerk dance move for which Cyrus became infamous. Instructors can use this clip as a touchstone for classroom discussions about cultural appropriation and representations of otherness in popular media. Instructors can direct students to watch the video while keeping an eye out for how Black women are represented. Black women appear in the video, but only as a backdrop for Cyrus’ twerking along to the line “all my homegirls here with the big butts.” Cyrus' performance at the MTV Video Music Awards also featured Cyrus performing on stage with all Black female dancers around her. Although the use of hip-hop and Black culture by white musicians isn’t anything new, Cyrus’ performance functions as the appropriative practice bell hooks calls “eating the other.” In hooks’ terms, ethnicity serves as a spice or seasoning to give more flavor to an otherwise bland and mainstream/white performance. In the context of mainstream consumer culture, otherness is commodified and used as a way of adding value to a product. For example, when Cyrus was asked about the song, she said, "I want urban, I just want something that just feels Black.” Instructors can have students consider: What does it mean for something to “feel Black” in the context of popular culture? Is Cyrus’ appropriation of twerking problematic? Why or why not?
Submitted By: Anya M. Galli
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