Monday 19 February 2018

Hit tunes just don't twerk anymore

How Dublin-bound Miley has changed pop's rules

Miley Cyrus at 'Bangerz' launch party. Photo: Gettys Images
Miley Cyrus at 'Bangerz' launch party. Photo: Gettys Images
Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke. Photo: Reuters
Miley Cyrus in her 'Wrecking Ball' video
Younger Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus at MtV Awards with Robin Thicke. Photo: Gettys Images

Tanya Sweeney

Gird your loins, people. The Miley Cyrus juggernaut – covered with spangles, foam fingers and mayhem in general – rolls into Dublin on Tuesday. And if the recent reports from the road are anything to go by, fans/parents/the morbidly curious are in for a ... treat.

Giant inflatable penises, petitioning her (largely young) crowd to take pills, chatting on-stage about porn – never let it be said that the 21-year-old doesn't put on a show.

Is it a ploy to ditch her wholesome Disney image? Is she making a play for Lady Gaga's notoriety? Is she angling for gay-icon status? Is it (oh dear) art? Who know? All we can say is that the fine line between pop power-player and car-crash is gossamer thin. But hey, hers is the name on everyone's lips, so it's all okay.

You've no doubt already heard of Miley Cyrus by dint of a number of headlines – the twerking, the allergic reaction to antibiotics, the 'Wrecking Ball' video that spawned a thousand snarky parodies. Yet if you're like me, you'd be hard-pressed to name any other song on her album.

To be fair Miley's not alone in her penchant for . . . eh, overblown spectacle. On the first night of her Prismatic World Tour in Belfast last week, Katy Perry rocked no fewer than nine outfits on stage. Mastering Cleopatra on horseback and a pink feline jumpsuit in one fell swoop, Katy is also no stranger to some serious razzle-dazzle.

It wasn't always like this of course: once, popstars were the mere vessel that the musical alchemy, the anthems and the riffs flowed through.

Sure, they were easy on the eye, but they just facilitated the hits. You saved up your money to buy their single, not their fragrance. You held their albums in your hands: you didn't Tweet "follow and DM me plllzzz" at them. Did Adam Ant/Matt Goss/Gary Barlow have a girlfriend? We were none the wiser. Smash Hits were too busy asking them what their favourite colour was. Sure, our interest was piqued as we were thrown titbits about Michael Jackson's extra-curricular activities but he was a hit machine first and foremost.

These days however, in the vast job spec of Being A Popstar, the music comes way down the list. If you're hoping to stay relevant in the cruel and shallow money trench, you've got to have not just a fragrance, but a Twitter account that buzzes with activity and an intimate relationship with the paparazzi. A naughty streak is a distinct advantage. Ditto, a flirtation with controversy. Shaking your butt for dollars while being a bit dead behind the eyes a la Britney just doesn't cut it anymore. To keep ahead of the pack, your hunger for fame, excess and infamy has to burn with the heat of a thousand suns.

How did it come to pass? That being a popstar is no longer about the music? For decades, music has always been such an emotive, unifying force. Has it lost its potency? Its ability to move people? Is it because music has become so devalued as to mean very little to younger music fans? With every pop song in the world available via your smartphone it's probably quite hard to cherish music and give it due attention.

Popstars are fast realising, too, that the coffers aren't to be found from shifting albums and singles. There's money to be made, however, in them there touring/merch hills. Add a few extras into the mix – Kiss charge $1,250 a pop for a meet-and-greet gig package, for instance – and the numbers soon start to add up.

In a bizarre volte-face, the songs are now the vessels that facilitate popstars to tour and pretend to be musicians. There are exceptions of course: Pharrell Williams' 'Happy' single is a stone-cold hit. I've yet to see Pharrell in a raw meat dress, mind.

Ultimately, in the hunger games that we like to call Keeping Your Job As A Popstar, salience is the Holy Grail. The minute folks stop talking about them, these poor souls start to lose currency. If this means that putting on a live show that people talk about – often for all the wrong reasons – then so be it.

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