"Can't Be Tamed"
It's hard to know where, exactly, to begin with "Can't Be Tamed," the first single from Miley Cyrus' forthcoming album of the same name.
So I'll start with a blunt summary: This song and its accompanying video are everything Hannah Montana isn't. And that means the latest whiplash-inducing s-curve in Miley's career leaves no question about her post-Disney trajectory.
Miley has traded Hannah's innocuously superficial odes to girl power for a conspicuously superficial ode to girl sexiness. Or sleaziness. Take your pick. The result is a frantic, techno-pop celebration of Miley's infatuation with herself and the hold she believes she has over guys.
So maybe this is still about girl power.
"For those who don't know me," Miley informs fans, "I can get a bit crazy/Have to get my way/24 hours a day/'Cause I'm hot like that/Every guy, everywhere/Just gives me mad attention/Like I'm under inspection/I always get a 10/'Cause I'm built like that/ … About my intentions/I'll tell ya I'm not here to sell ya/Or tell ya to go to h‑‑‑/I'm like a puzzle but all of my pieces are jagged/If you can understand this/We can make some magic/I'm on like that."
Miley wants people to know that life and love are all on her terms. And any man who's interested in her should heed that warning: "I go through guys like money/ … They try to change me/But they realize they can't/ … If you're gonna be my man/Understand/I can't be tamed."
And then there's the video.
Merging Britney Spears and Lady Gaga, the video elevates the sensual and the bizarre in equal measures. The premise: Miley is an extraordinarily rare bird with huge digital wings ("Avis Cyrus" a circus-like announcer says) intended to be displayed before rapt audiences.
But Miley, as we've seen, will not be tamed … or caged. Breaking free from her confines, she and a retinue of dancers clad in black leather S&M-style outfits menace fleeing spectators and, more frequently, writhe sensually with each other. Miley, who throughout the song reveals a great deal of herself, seems equally at home striking sexualized poses with male and female dancers.
Washington Post celebrity-culture blogger Liz Kelly put it this way: "'Can't Be Tamed' … should perhaps be called 'I Am Some Kind of Sexually Predatory Bird Woman (And Please Ignore the Fact That I'm Still Underage While I Grind Against This Guy).' A mouthful, but it would be more accurate."
Amazingly, Miley seems to think her song is more about empowerment and vision than overt sexuality. "I wanted it to be something different for a female artist," she told Ryan Seacrest in an interview aired on cable's E! channel. "That it's not just about, 'Oh, I have to stand here and do the whole sex thing the whole time and that be what it's about. That's not what this video is about at all. It's about the creativity. … It's about the core of, you know, I don't want to be to be in a cage. I want to be free and do what I love."
So now we know what she loves. And what she'd like her flock of fans to love, too.
Asked whether trumpeting her reckless flight from circumspect adolescence into no-holds-barred "adulthood" is appropriate for the millions of tweens and teens who have become so fond of her, Miley thinks it's a ride they'll connect with. "It's not like I'm going to do anything that I wouldn't be proud of my family to see," she told Seacrest. "Or the fact that my little sister, who's 10, can still go to school and her friends aren't going to be like, 'Oh my god, your sister's video!' You know what I mean? I think they could all watch it. … Because I think people can relate to it, even if you're just going to high school."
Allow me to pause for moment.
I have no doubt that many if not most of Miley's fans can relate to the idea of feeling caged in some way. After all, adolescence is a season in which you begin testing boundaries and spreading wings, metaphorically speaking, on the way to adulthood.
But stepping into adulthood is in many ways defined by coming to terms with the reality that life doesn't revolve around you. Miley, in contrast, seems delightedly fixated on herself and doing exactly what she feels like doing. And she's convinced that her friends and fans will not only understand her, but agree with her choices. At the very least she knows she has the power to lead some of them anywhere she wants to.
"You just have to say, 'This is what I want to do as an artist,'" she told Seacrest. "And hopefully your fans, who are your true fans, will follow along."