My name’s Freddy the Teddy and I’m a professional dancer. You might remember me from Miley Cyrus’s music video? I’m the teddy bear strapped to Miley’s back. You probably didn’t pay much attention to me. My exemplary dancing was overshadowed by Miley’s lip balm. The first thing my mother asked after she saw the video was, “Where can I buy some of that pink eos balm?!”
You might be wondering how a teddy bear becomes a professional dancer. Growing up, my parents always wanted me to do something realistic and practical, which naturally meant working as a stuffed animal for the Build-a-Bear Workshop. My parents emphasized it was a financially secure and stable job because some little children will always have parents willing to spend hundreds of dollars on aviator sunglasses and pom-poms and professional sport jerseys for a teddy bear.
But I always knew I wanted to be a dancer. I didn’t want to work for Build-a-Bear, didn’t want to be used and controlled by some rich twelve-year-old girl in pigtails wearing an unidentifiable cartoon animal on her leotard.
So I danced for Miley Cyrus instead.
Did you guys see it on TV? That was me! I performed at the VMAs. A lot of people ask me what it was like working with Miley and Robin Thicke. You might be surprised to know that Robin was actually quite the gentleman and more progressive than many would assume. I remember how he would make it a point never to open the door for a woman; instead, he would cut her off, shove her with his shoulder, and swing the door open and forcibly close it before she could recover her stability.
He’s truly a one-man feminist movement.
But, of course, the spotlight and pressure was always on Miley. The dancers spent a lot of time talking with her between rehearsals and I remember a conversation between her and Neddy the Teddy, a fellow back-up teddy bear dancer. Neddy was asking Miley what she thought of all the criticism going around that her music video was offensive and racist. Miley, with a dismissive wave of her hand, said “People are over-thinking it.”
And Neddy was like, “Um, Miley? I’m pretty sure I don’t even have a brain on account of, you know, the fact that I’m a stuffed animal and my head is mostly filled with synthetic cotton, but even I think you may be appropriating the image of an oppressed race for your own success and monetary gain.”
Miley glanced up from her phone, where she was posing for a selfie, and said, “Nah, that’s not it. I’m just making history.”
But Neddy still wasn’t convinced and continued, “Actually, I don’t think there’s anything inherently new about privileged white people exploiting, demeaning, sexualizing black bodies — and consequently ignoring the implications of their actions. So what kind of ‘history’ are we talking about here, Miley?”
At which point a far more imminent issue came up: Miley couldn’t decide on an Instagram filter. She asked, “Does the X-Pro II or Sierra make me look more ghetto? Be honest.”
And then the actual performances happened. I was at my personal best that night. I was focused, passionate, and dramatic. I mean, did you see my two-step shuffle into a shimmy?
But all anyone talked about the next day was WTF MILEY?!
I thought she was truly spectacular that night, so I want to come out and defend my girl: Miley is the true victim here.
Because what Miley did was art, you guys. And if you don’t recognize art when it’s twerking in front of your face, that shows your palette isn’t sophisticated enough to understand art. The dull senses will always reject new artistic innovations. Not everyone liked it when Picasso drew an ear on someone’s nose! Or when Stravinsky composed a high, dissonant oboe solo that sounded like an ostrich having a difficult bowel movement. But both are now recognized as two of the most important works produced in the 20th century.
Miley’s work has been misunderstood precisely because it is art and because it is important art. Her music and performances have been causing controversy — not because they’re inherently problematic, but because all great art must suffer. Miley Cyrus is what innovative art looks like in the 21st century: art as produced by a young, vibrant, female artist daring to break existing molds. Most importantly, Miley serves as the emblem of a female artist embracing and incorporating her sexually awakened self into her art. How liberating it is to watch her shake her thang! How liberating it is to see a sexually awakened woman instigate her own autonomy, because it’s her mouth and she can say what she wants to and if what she says offends you then you are just listening too closely. Listen a little less, because art is not meant to be thought about. It’s meant to make you feel something.
But if what you feel is racism, then that is a reflection of you, not Miley. Because art reflects the individual viewer and society. Miley acts as a mirror showing us a true and accurate portrayal of ourselves. If we are offended by Miley, it’s because we see ourselves in Miley and are forced to confront the uncomfortable question: Is that really what I look like in leggings?
In her work, Miley strives to shows us the truth we are all too afraid to admit: that we live in a world of sensory overload and it’s up to us to choose what to decipher, and how. That we live in a world where context is spontaneous and, often, a mystery. That we live in a world without reason. How else are we to explain the existence of things such as veiled beanies?
Do we live in a racist world? Possibly. Who’s really to say?
Only the future will tell. Only in the future will we have a clear sense of Miley’s contribution to 21st century art. Until we let her into the party of respected artists, attended by such luminaries as Twain and Pollock and Dali, clearly she will continue partying at the party she put on and only invited herself to and that only she enjoys.
Because it’s her party and she does what she wants.