When I’m on Twitter, I feel like I’m working for the NSA, reading people’s email. These days I follow 139 feeds, some as windows into subcultures I know little about. Take @NiceGuyBeats, who seems to be a hip hop producer in Hollywood. On September 10, Nice Guy Beats tweeted:
Miley Cyrus new Wrecking Ball video breaks the most-watched Vevo record in 24 hours with 12.3m viewers…this chic won. No pub is bad pub.
By the time I watched it that afternoon, it was up to 14,751,378 views. “Wrecking Ball” has since crashed past 70 million. Meanwhile, @MileyCyrus—“california face. with a down south rump.”—has 13.8 million followers. Some of them have binged on the video, of course, but even so I’m guessing that millions of viewers have restrained themselves from pushing her Follow bar.
I know I did (restrained myself). But I find power publicity fascinating. It’s hard to take your eyes off this kind of multi-car pileup, in slow motion yet: the video for “We Can’t Stop” in June, the twerk-formance at the MTV Music Awards in August (said to have gotten Miley axed from the December cover of Vogue), the “Wrecking Ball” video this month, and, days before the release of her album BANGERZ on October 8, an MTV documentary and Saturday Night Live.
Team Miley’s approach is perfectly symbolized by the wrecking ball the short-cropped singer swings on—in her skivvies and then entirely without them—and the sledgehammer she licks. (Shall we pause here, while you Vevo it up?) It is not hard to think of personal and professional motives for Billy Ray’s daughter, who turns 21 on November 23, to murder her good-girl alias, Hannah Montana. She has been moving to an adult image for several years, but as soon as she left Disney’s Hollywood Records for RCA this year…Bang! Bang! Miley’s silver hammer made sure that she was dead.
Thanks to Miley-mania, BANGERZ will probably sell like hotcakes. In Miley’s case, the answer to the question “Is Exhibitionism Right for You?” (see my post of that title) is: Ef yeah!*
“I’m Naked!” is like “It’s Free!” (the first Sidelong Scrawl post). It’s a way to catch a lot of fish that wouldn’t ordinarily come near your net. And those that object to your bait will thrash around, drawing further attention in the fine banned-in-Boston, you-couldn’t-get-this-much-publicity-if-you-paid-for-it tradition.
Is Miley alienating her core audience with these appearances? Well, the former fans of Hannah Montana (neatly, a teenage girl with a double life) are exploring their sexuality now too. And today’s rising tweens can still watch Hannah reruns, barring a boycott.
The netting of millions outside the target audience is somewhat wasteful, but Team Miley doesn’t care if we’re turned off. Are the oldsters offended? All the better to attract semi-rebellious youth, such as our offspring. As for younger, hipper music fans giving Miley the thumbs-down, she probably wasn’t going to win them over anyway (though being a distinctive performer of innovative music might have been worth a shot).
In the end, Miley has traded one corporate image for another. She is riding a phenomenal wave, but it’s in a waterpark (just not owned by Disney this time).
As an alternative to power publicity more suitable to the nonprofit cultural sector, I’d like to start sketching out what might be called surfer publicity. Making one’s own waves is too expensive and risky for most culturals, though there are times when it’s called for. So what say we try to catch green ones (waves, that is)?
My delivery, by C-section, took place the day Hawaii joined the Union. But I’ve yet to visit the Aloha State and I’ve never surfed. I’m not even far enough along to be labeled a barney. I’m a haole. I’m sharkbait, brah.
Therefore, let us consult Leucadia Surf School, “licensed and fully insured for the beaches of Encinitas, Leucadia & Oceanside in North San Diego, California.” According to their website: “To catch green waves you must understand the speed of the wave, your positioning on the wave and when the wave will peak and start to break.” Timing is everything, just as in judo and the Battle of Bunker Hill. As Leucadia cautions: “if you stand up too early the wave will leave you behind.”
Ideally, a cultural organization (the surfboard, sometimes several surfboards) provides a platform for programming (surfers) attuned to its audience (green waves) and winning nationwide (beach-wide) acclaim. No run-ins with the lifeguard. An occasional wipeout’s okay, but you don’t want to get ragdolled.
Hang loose, then, till next week’s post, when we’ll try to separate the hellmen from the crumbeaters.
* As Harold Ross would say, The Sidelong Scrawl is a family publication, dammit!