Asian Girl Problem #26: The Problem with Miley

It’s impossible to look away from the train wreck. I don’t follow a lot of celebrity news or pop music, but after I saw a clip of her VMA performance, I just wanted to talk about it. Not that I expect to come to any conclusive way to wrap up my feelings and make a final judgment call. But, as it’s my nature, I’ll give it a shot.

I don’t feel like putting up a picture of Miley because I’m tired of seeing her tongue. So here is someone else slightly relevant to this whole brouhaha.

What about appropriated Japanese women appropriating gangsta fashion?

When Gwen focused a whole album and tour around her Harajuku girls, the peanut gallery didn’t make a huge fuss. I found a couple articles of outrage, and Margaret Cho had her choice words, but that was the extent. The whole thing was quiet enough to go under my less-than-acute radar, and I found out years after the fact. I do remember enjoying a few songs from that album.

A few differences between the singers, in ascending order of importance:

1. Gwen is of my generation, and I loved her with and without No Doubt. I don’t follow her extensively, but if a Gwen music video is on I’ll be mesmerized until the end. I love her face, fashion and perfect arms and I feel like sometimes Madonna prays to look more like her. I don’t know or worship Miley’s body, making it easier to criticize her.
2. Gwen was sane, and not treading a precarious line between child and adulthood. She had a reputable image and she didn’t change the way she acted, she just added Japanese(-American) dancers and appropriated Asian aesthetics. Miley continues to embarrass herself and offend both white and black people (as well as any others who may associate) with her exaggerated interpretations. Acting possessed and looking like child porn star is at least half the reason she’s getting so much flak.

3. Different targets of appropriation. The level of gravity depends on who is appropriating and who it’s done to. Miley chose the worst culture to appropriate for her situation, background and generation. Appropriating a European, Asian, etc… culture just isn’t as volatile. Now, if a wealthy person in Hong Kong was appropriating the communities of Filipino migrant workers there, you might be getting closer to an equivalent.

I know there are more important things in the world that deserve our attention, but I’m grateful for these discussions, and that this event has sparked as much buzz as it did. There’s a thin line between respect and appropriation that I’m constantly trying to manage as well. And it often makes me uncomfortable, and it will always be worth discussing.

I listen to hip hop, say “fsho” and have asked a black friend to teach me how to twerk. (btw whatever Miley’s doing isn’t it.) But then on the other side of the line are things I won’t do, like wear a bandanna around my head, glorify drugs or say “ratchet”. That line gets pushed around by culture and context. But it’s naive, even for a 20-year-old, to think you can ignore it in the name of entertainment, and the world will praise your performance.