In a post on the Vice music blog Noisey, Dan Ozzi has proclaimed Miley Cyrus “the most punk musician” performing today.* In case you suspect that he intends the honorific as faint praise, the kind given to the only hurdler to reach the finish line, Ozzi assures us that it is not. Cyrus is—pardon my blush—“as punk as fuck.” She’s a “punk icon.” The reason? “Miley just does not give a fuck, plain and simple.”
Is it that simple? Not being an authority on either punk or indifference, I attempted last night to get a better understanding of both by entering into a conversation with the nearest living thing I could find which gave about as much of a fuck as Miley Cyrus. My ficus.
Slate: Ficus, as a flowering plant of the Moraceae family, you couldn’t care less about pretty much anything. So I guess the question I’m hoping you can answer is, is Miley Cyrus really punk?
Slate: Obviously I jumped the gun. I’m sorry. I guess I don’t even know what punk is. I’d been under the vague impression that punk was counterculturish—you know, wary and defiant of the establishment? The nasal whine of alienation at high RPM, a personal scream with a political shade. No?
Ficus: [Tilts away, aided by small breeze.]
Slate: Shows what I know! You’re the weeping fig. So look, if I were to go by what Ozzi writes, Miley is punk because by the time an “überliberal dork at Slate” (gulp!) catches up to her, she’s “already on to the next video where she’s riding a wrecking ball naked, fellating a sledgehammer.” Point taken. But does the music factor in here? I guess what I expect from someone as punk as Miley Cyrus is a little more friction. “We Can’t Stop,” as both song and lyric, goes into the ear as easily as laudanum, and has a similar effect. “Wrecking Ball,” the Billboard No. 1 that recently left a Cyrus-sized hole in the Internet?* If you bother to unmute the video what you hear is another reasonably catchy, decidedly croony, and utterly cheesy ballad. Is it punk if your performances are so outrageous that no one even talks about the material anymore?
Ficus: [Turns half a millimeter toward the sunlight.]
Slate: I guess what I’m getting at—and stop me if I’m wrong, ficus—is that if Miley is indeed punk, has she then managed to so denature the designation that it now simply refers to an extended theater of the raised middle finger? A foam finger to the haters? All it takes is a pixie cut, a scowl, and a few easy, queasy provocations, and suddenly an icon is born? Are you really a rebel these days not for what you create, but for how you react to critics? Is this really what has become of one of the most influential and urgent artistic movements to be grounded out of the mortar and pestle of the 1970s? A simulacrum, all flash and no bang, catering to the basest of appeals? Am I wrong, ficus? Am I?
And that’s where we left it. In agreement, I’d like to think. Miley Cyrus is not punk. My house plant, though—I’m beginning to suspect it might be.
* Correction, 2:43 pm.: This post originally misstated the title of a Miley Cyrus song. It is “We Can’t Stop,” not “We Won’t Stop.” Either way, there will be no stopping. The post also misspelled the surname of Dan Ozzi. We regret the errors.