Half Naked Pop Stars (Continued)

Do you ever feel infinitely grateful for an article you read? Because that's how I'm feeling about Dodai Stewart's "The Problem With All These Half-Naked Pop-Stars" on Jezebel. Before you stop reading because you've heard enough about Miley Cyrus, I'll begin by saying: me too. I'm tired of reading about her.

But I think part of what was distressing me, was that while every article and comment I read in the post-VMA fallout made good points, none of them helped me process what I was thinking--they just made me more confused. I agreed Miley was commodifying Black Culture as white artists (and youth) are known to do to up their "coolness" factor; I agreed it was shockingly one-dimensional to consider "twerking" Black Culture; I agreed I never wanted to hear the word "twerking" again; I caught the Saarjtie (Sarah) Baartman references; I saw how per Justin and Janet at the Superbowl the female performer was the one with all the repercussions; I agreed that it was wrong Miley was getting ten times the coverage of possible military action in Syria...so why was I still reading?

Because I couldn't find the answer to my question: Why do I love watching Britney Spears and the Pussycat Dolls and Beyonce perform (no matter their level of undress) and why did Miley's performance make me feel icky?

There are two quotes from Stewart's article that I found particularly illuminating:

"What's worse: That's all there is. Just anatomy. There's no artistic intent or message. Madonna's nudity came with commentary about sex and power; Joséphine Baker parlayed a topless banana dance into liberation from Nazis and the civil rights movement. Miley's just… being Miley? Rebelling against being rich all her life? Is there any substance behind it?"

"Neither Miley, Rihanna, Ke$ha nor Gaga are using their chart-topping positions and rabid fan bases to draw attention to issues that plague today's woman — the wage gap, having it all, FOMO, yogurt mania. The problem with all these half-naked pop stars is that they fail, even as they succeed, because they are "artists" turning themselves into objects. Objects have no agency. Objects are disposable. Objects have no feelings. And although there is value in shock value — power in startling, provoking — the truth is, while the nightly news anchors may feign mild consternation, though talking heads may raise their brows, no one, no one is really surprised." "

There it is. There is the ah-ha moment I've been waiting for. If artists don't want to leave anything to the imagination I need to know WHY. If you're getting naked because you'd rather do so than wear fur, I can understand that. Alternatively, it didn't bother me when Lady Gaga wore the shell thong because it was an homage to Botticelli's Venus. (And I personally would not have lumped Gaga in with the others, given how vocal she's been about gay rights and encouraging her fan base to do the same).

To me, this idea of "what is the purpose behind your performance?" and that a deeper meaning is the difference between an artist who comes off as empowered and one who seems lost and therefore disenfranchised and objectified--this is the idea I needed to process my thoughts.

I know it's hypocritical that I support Britney dancing around in teeny outfits and the Victoria Secret Fashion Show and other examples of women nearly nude in the media for fashion or art, but I think the fact that Britney's work is so meticulously choreographed or that the VS models blow kisses all the way down the runway, I feel like these women have opted-in. They know why they are there and they work like hell to show off their bodies--it seems like it's something their proud to be a part of, and they've prepared this performance for you, the audience. 

I'm clearly augmenting Stewart's point. Her point, which I agree with is that if these women choose to strip down, they need to know why--they need to know what their statement is, they need to be educated. And while I do not believe she would endorse my point, Stewart helped me answer my burning question:

Why do I love watching Britney Spears and the Pussycat Dolls and Beyonce perform (no matter their level of undress) and why did Miley's performance make me feel icky? 

When I watch a performer, regardless of what she is (or isn't) wearing, I want to feel like she's having fun and she finds it entertaining.  Even in Slave 4 U Britney has a whole introduction about how she's ready and just loves to dance, and then is in the front of the room leading the choreography, and adds in "Now Watch Me" and at the end says, "Like that!" She owns it. In Toxic, along with writhing, she's the heroine of her own video game. As compared to the sledge-hammer licking, naked crying Miley in Wrecking Ball.

I want to dance like Britney**, but I don't want to do anything Miley does. I love that Taylor Swift seems so ladylike but moreover that seems to be her being true to herself, just like Katy Perry's wacky pin-up style seems to be something she enjoys. Which leads me to, I think we need our entertainers, when not making a statement, to be aspirational in some way. I need some level of I want to be like that--I want to sing like her, or dance like her, or hang out with her, or confidently express myself like her. I need to feel that the performer herself has a reason for being there (political or not) and expressing herself in that way to her audience.

**A note: I refer to and love and defend the Britney Spears I grew up with, I'm not as up to date on her music and videos after her Greatest Hits CD in 2004. I hear her latest video, which I haven't seen, I may not like.