Miley Cyrus_twerk_VMAs

It began with a simple video.

Actually, let me go back a little further. In 2009, a girl who we knew best for being “Hannah Montana” and a country-pop princess in the making, made her first major song outside the context of her Disney character persona, “Party in the USA.” It was a smash single in the best way – it landed just before the summer, so it was guaranteed to get plenty of burn, and it was catchy as hell. But we remembered the song most because of its bridge. Just before Miley Cyrus wailed her way into the song’s hook, she says: “Then the Jay-Z song comes on/ Then the Jay-Z song comes on!” Interestingly enough, Miley would admit in a later interview that she’d never listened to a Jay-Z song in her life. Perhaps that was an early sign of what was to come.

Fast forward back to the present. Back in April, Miley posted on the internet a video where she was wearing a bunny suit and shaking her ass. We were captivated or, at least, our attention was caught. Why? Because in general, it was the first time that a “white girl” twerked something so publicly and put it on display. Those of us who had attended house parties, or had frequented bars down Austin, Texas’s (in)famous Sixth Street, had seen it firsthand. But it was as though the rest of America didn’t. The video went viral within hours of landing online and Miley soon made another one. In one fell swoop, Miley Cyrus absolutely obliterated any semblance to her “Hannah Montana” Disney persona and got “accepted” as the cool white girl at the same time.

Maybe I should go back again before I keep going forward. In 2009, the label-group Young Money recorded a self-titled compilation album, the lead single of which was called “Every Girl.” Mack Maine famously rapped on the track, “In about three years, holla at me, Miley Cyrus!” Perhaps that was the first time hip-hop acknowledged Miley.

Back to the present. In June, Miley Cyrus dropped “We Can’t Stop,” the first single from her upcoming album. Produced by Mike WiLL Made It, it was simply irresistible. In a way, it merged Miley’s dual sides: the country (a side Miley will never truly break free from given that her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, is immortalized in country music and music history period for his “Achy Breaky Heart”), popping up via dueling guitars; and you had the urban appeal coming from the song’s thumping bass. Suddenly, Miley was being embraced as hip-hop’s new white girl of the moment, like Iggy Azalea is still trying to be, like Gwen Stefani had been before both of them. Oh, AND there was “Somewhere in America,” Jay-Z’s song off his Magna Carta Holy Grail album released in July, which if it wasn’t in conversation with “Party in the USA” three years later, then certainly was memorable for its concluding lines, “’Cuz somewhere in America, Miley Cyrus is still twerkin’!” Arguably, Jay meant it in a slightly sarcastic way, but it was a shout-out nonetheless.

Which leads us to the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. I don’t have to tell you what appened. If you didn’t witness it for yourself firsthand, let me show you:

I’ll let you pick your jaw up off the ground and gather your thoughts for a moment.

In short, it was trashy, it was outlandish – and to raise a point Day & A Dream’s EIC Brandon Caldwell brought up, “You know something’s wrong when Lady Gaga’s performance isn’t the most shocking thing at the VMAs.” I get that Miley wanted to make her performance memorable. I get trying to distance yourself from the Disney image so people can take you seriously as a grown woman (something her peers like Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, and Lindsay Lohan, still haven’t quite been able to do). I get wanting to push the envelope. But there’s a difference between pushing the envelope (think Madonna kissing Britney Spears); setting the envelope on fire (Lady Gaga’s VMA performances not counting this year); and then plotting to burn down the whole gotdamn post office. Miley chose the latter. She traipsed around in a rubber bikini, threw up mock gang signs with her hands, and shook her lower back fat and upper thighs booty mercilessly. During her performance of “We Can’t Stop,” she started out grabbing at her crotch area and eventually the grabs started looking more and more like Mr. Chow in the first The Hangover movie. She even made sure to bend over and back that than’ (it doesn’t deserve a “g”) up against Robin Thicke during a duet of “Blurred Lines.”

Quietly, Miley dropped the second single from her album – now titled Bangerz. Yes, with a “z” – following the VMAs. Obviously, Miley’s show at the VMAs was intended to segue attention towards that. It didn’t quite work.

In the same way that overnight, Miley had become a white girl twerk sensation; overnight after the VMAs, Miley became a polarizing figure in America.

“Everybody wants to be a nigga… but nobody really wants to be a nigga.” – Paul Mooney

It’s honestly no secret that white women have always had a sort of interest in the Black female figure. Consider the late night infomercial workout series Flirty Girl Fitness, with mostly white women working out in them. Consider the as-seen-on-TV products Booty Pop and, to a lesser extent, Pajama Jeans, with mostly white women in the commercials. Consider Ice T’s wife CoCo and the “attention” she got. Hell, let’s even throw in the Sun Drop girl (We forgive Pharrell and Snoop Dogg. They couldn’t have predicted their song would be used for such a purpose). White women in recent years have been all about “developing” derrieres.

Before, twerking was something that exploded on youtube once mostly Black girls started using webcams to display their body movements to T-Pain and Ying Yang Twins songs. (Actually, the root of “twerking” goes as far back as African dance which emphasized movement of the hips and gluteus maximus, but I won’t make this a history lesson). It wasn’t new to Black America, but to white America, especially in light of Miley, it was branded as a “phenomenon.”

The only thing worse than watching Miley’s “performance,” was witnessing the aftermath in mainstream America.

Interestingly, while twerking had been chastised as “stripper dancing” when Black women did it, suddenly as more and more white girls were popping up on vine propping themselves upside down making their back rolls go to work, so came the justifications and defenses. Now, all of a sudden, twerking needed a scientific explanation. It needed how-to guides for the not-so-twerk-talented. Of course, not everybody was defending it. Some media outlets, like Fox News, took Miley’s antics as a way to say the women’s liberation movement was a fail (it may have failed Black women, but again, no history lessons). But there were more people in the majority in favor of it now.

The term “cultural appropriation” has been thrown around a lot in light of this year’s VMAs. Essentially, it means that a person from one culture steals or adapts a behavior or style of dress or language typically associated with another culture. In general, Black women have been averse to accusing Miley of “cultural appropriation” because of the negative connotation associated with twerking. “It’s not something ladies do.” “It’s something strippers do.” It wasn’t something we wanted to claim outright, but when white girls did it, we felt compelled to remind them where they got it from. And if there’s anything non-people of color don’t like, it’s being reminded that something they’re doing is usually associated with people of color. Just ask Miley herself.

In many ways, Miley’s VMAs performance prompted a conversation about what’s right and what’s wrong with American society. The standard we hold our women to and what’s “ladylike.” How something can be uncool when people of color do it, but when it is embraced by the majority, it’s welcomed, if only briefly. What’s considered proper. “Twerk, Miley, Twerk!” went from a jokingly encouraging phrase to an enabling one, like chanting “Chug, chug, chug” to someone who’d already had too much to drink. So the finger pointing began.

At the root of it at all is a young woman who may well just be being herself… not wanting to acknowledge that the “self” she created, she borrowed from someone else. Katt Williams once said, “White people, you need your Black friends… to tell you when shit is not appropriate.” Perhaps Miley needs new Black friends. She may need new white friends, too, because as quickly as MTV was willing to put her performance on display, it seemed it was less about putting the spotlight on Miley; and more about MTV saying, “Sooner or later, Miley, this isn’t going to look so cool anymore.”

Well, it was fun while it lasted, right?