September 25, 1066: The European Viking Age draws to a close with Harald Hardrada’s defeat at Stamford Bridge, thereby paving the way for a united England under William the Conqueror.
September 25, 1555: the Schmalkaldic League of Holy Roman princes signs the Peace of Augsburg, a first step towards religious coexistence and German peace.
September 25, 1997: The WNBA adds two franchises: the Detroit Shock and the Washington Mystics.
Fascinating stuff, really. Where would the Western World be without the repeated earth-shattering changes that, throughout history, have unfolded, almost predictably, on each September 25? Could the annals of any other day have held your wholehearted interest so convincingly? I didn’t think so.
September 25, 2009, was no disappointment to its lengthy meta-historical tradition. On an otherwise unassuming Friday (was that the night of the school girl party at Harvey Mudd?!), Hollywood Records, the Burbank-born child of the Walt Disney Company responsible for beaming the voices of aging Disney Channel stars onto as many laptops and iPods and Bar Mitzvah playlists as possible, released Miley Cyrus’s “Party In The U.S.A.” music video to YouTube.
As of this writing, 25 days post-release, the HD version has ticked off over 13 million views. That’s almost twice as many hits as the Beatles’ most viewed YouTube video, a black and white Paul McCartney “Yesterday“ solo, has received in three years.
Why have Americans, mostly aged between two and 21, spent 727,286 hours watching this particular Miley Cyrus video? How has the 16-year-old so effectively captured and titillated the American imagination?As a hardworking journalist, I decided to investigate. Okay, I have a confession. Even before the idea of my esteemed muckraking task blossomed, I too had fallen victim to (Can I say that? How about “had been fortunate enough to join”) the “Party In The U.S.A.” trend.
Once or twice (if it were more than that, I’ll never tell) I may have shut my blinds, locked the door, dimmed the lights, and succumbed to that tender desire only satiable by dancing alone, unabashedly, volume turned to the max, to PITUSA.
Only after an embarrassing amount of time spent staring at a dancing Hannah Montana (I only know that because my nine-year-old cousin made me watch with her last Thanksgiving; I swear), could I have come to a number of answers on that most pressing of questions: Why do people really listen to Miley Cyrus?
1. No matter how manly or emo or anti-corporate you are or purport to be, PITUSA isn’t all that bad. The tune is catchy. Miley’s digitally enhanced voice doesn’t compare to Janis Joplin’s, but she’s certainly not William Hung.
People here know a lot about music and tend to blast playlists filled with songs that maybe 500 other people have ever heard of. That’s fine, sometimes the music is kind of good, but it brings with it a certain type of snobbery–snobbery that mandates a reluctance to listen to anything in common with your sixth grade sister. Maybe, just maybe, we were onto something in middle school. Sure, handjobs and dodgeball didn’t stand the test of time, but who’s to say that Disney Channel sing-alongs won’t?
2. The lyrics are asinine. Try speaking the chorus out loud in plain prose:
“So I put my hands up, they’re playing my song, and the butterflys [sic] fly away. Noddin’ my head like yea. Movin my hips like yea. I got my hands up, they’re playin my song. I know I’m gonna be OK. Yea, it’s a party in the U.S.A.”
Allowing that lyrics are not speeches or academic essays, shouldn’t they still say something—anything? Where did the butterflies come from? How do you nod a head like yea? Is there a deep-seated moral flying over my hollow mind?
Of course not. My over-analysis completely missed the point. The lyrics don’t say anything because they’re not supposed to say anything. And why is that so terrible? Isn’t it nice, for once, to hear words picked for their sound and cadence, and no other bullshitty purpose? The words aren’t, on their own, trying to sell you anything or project a deeply divisive moral or political belief through your vulnerable ears. They’re just language, pure and simple. Isn’t that soothing?
3. The music video itself is perplexing in its complexities. The setting is a desert filled with a fleet of expensive-looking vintage muscle cars. The owners of the cars, a few hundred teenage boppers, dance wildly as Miley sings from the top of a pickup truck. A normal day in her life, or so I’d like to believe.
In one particularly cheesy scene, a bearded, Ray-Ban wearing 20-something, clearly far too old to hang out legally on set, points at Miley. She winks and waves back, self-consciously, before continuing to sing and dance and march forward with her ethnically diverse four-girl entourage (Miley, centered, is without a doubt the Vince. The lone Asian in the entire video, who stands behind the others and dances in by far the most awkward manner of them all, is an oblivious Johnny Drama). What could any of this signify?Try as I might to apply my expensive and hard-earned education to this abstruse conundrum, I just couldn’t decipher any meaning. I felt like I was back in my high school calculus midterm, rocking back and forth uncomfortably as I looked down at a sheet of paper that may as well have been Sumerian cuneiform. My forgiving teacher, through some act of timely grace, bestowed upon me an undeserved 52, but the truth was that I understood nothing; the test had defeated me. That’s the only time I had ever felt so intellectually little and universally insignificant, until, that is, I watched the PITUSA music video, which put me in my rightful place.
If a video that all of us initially wrote off as less useful than the five-second “dramatic chipmunk” clip can shake the very foundations of my educated mind, calm my body, and lead to honest reflection on the forgotten dog-eat-dog world of middle school sexuality, then what can’t it do? More importantly, why was it ever written off? I’ll admit it first: A short while ago I thought myself too cool for Miley Cyrus. But if you can manage, for just a short three and half minutes, to get over entrenched upper-middle-class adult notions of superiority to all things commercial or common, then maybe Miley can do something special for you, too.