I tuned into the 2013 VMAs with eager anticipating, a feeling in my gut that Miley Cyrus would somehow manage to steal the spotlight and start a conversation. She didn't disappoint. Emerging from a giant teddy bear, trademark tongue wagging, Cyrus put on perhaps the most shameless display of uninhibited female sexuality seen on a televised awards show to date as she turned "We Can't Stop" into an all-out stage party.
After stripping off her already revealing outerwear and defiling everything in sight with a giant glove, the Twitterverse had a collective meltdown. The rate of tweets broke all records for the awards show, with Cyrus even outpacing the tweet rate for the Superbowl.
For her frank display, Miley has been branded everything from a racist to, according to some particularly ugly commentary from MSNBC, a "deeply disturbed" individual. While the racism claims relating to cultural appropriation are too misguided to warrant serious discussion here, this notion of female sexuality as a pathological problem to be tamed is frightening.
To mainstream consumer culture, female sex is supposed to be a pretty spectacle situated comfortably within the male gaze, a la Katy Perry. Even when transgressing typical societal norms, the display will also be excused assuming total male control of the situation, such as Robin Thicke's racy video for the rape-flirting "Blurred Lines." What sex isn't supposed to be is apology-free fun for women. This is the golden rule Cyrus defied with obvious glee.
Bizarre hair, spastic twerk-inspired club dancing, and ugly sexual gesturing with a giant glove were the order of Miley's performance. She even managed to subvert the misogyny of Thicke's "Blurred Lines" by stealing a verse from him, croaking out his controversial line, "I know you want it." Miley was on a mission to express her own sexuality, whether or not it was considered juvenile and dirty.
While the media throws their hands in the air and pine for the decency of America, everyday Americans seem to be responding differently. There's a curiosity about her openness because it's such a bizarre sight in the current cultural landscape. Cyrus' new single "Wrecking Ball" is currently outselling both "Applause" by Lady Gaga and, more notably, "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke on iTunes.
Cyrus may not be the role model parents love. But Taylor Swift seems to elicit little criticism for her never-ending cattiness. And Thicke's subtle foray into rape culture have netted him the biggest hit of his career. Even Justin Timberlake has gotten in on female body ownership without so much as a blink.
Shouldn't we take a little comfort that in the midst of some genuinely disturbing trends around female sexuality, Cyrus is denying the sleek, sexual coming out routine defined by men and using the experience for her own pleasure?
Miley Cyrus promised us at 17 that she wasn't going to be tamed. Thankfully, she was right. America is better for having her around, tackiness and bad twerking be damned.