Miley Cyrus Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz

[Smiley Miley; 2015]

Styles: psychedelic pop, art pop, gummy skull
Others: The Flaming Lips, BP Helium, Kevin Barnes, The Apples in Stereo, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

As the “happy hippie” stumbles across the vacant lots of pop and non-pop, we’re left to wonder what psychedelia has and will mean for a generation practicing transcendence through its parallax lineage to 1960s resistance, one currently in media res with millennial nihilism. 20th-century psychedelia was a means to transform core values and belief systems through an experience defined by alterity, the trip being an escape from a world where ideology prevented vision. The trip could yield a potentially permanent transformation to the subject. That ideology still very much exists, but what happens when there were no core beliefs in the first place? What occurs when the already nebulous, fluid identity (one that Miley has recently embodied in fashion and in her own subversion of gender norms) liquifies further? If drugs and the iconography that often comes with it describe an unmistakable cartoon-ness, a psychological elasticity (defined as such only in opposition to the solidity of reality), what happens when disassociation, imperceptibility, and psychological alteration occur implicitly within culture?

Miley Cyrus serves as a perfect icon of study regarding the illegibility of culture at large due to the rampant trail of political amnesia that seems to occur in her wake, an evolution based in the progression from country dad daughter, to Disney star, to wild starlet — a familiar narrative. Currently, there has been a variety of key anchoring-points that has positioned her in both the positive and negative regarding the acceptability of her “politics,” from the “appropriation” of twerking, to her founding of The Happy Hippie Foundation supporting homeless LGBTQ youth, to her dismissal of Nicki Minaj as “unpolite” and “angry.” There are many think-pieces that attempt to dissect the political ramifications of these decisions, yet perhaps even more interesting is the inherent psychedelia within her performance of pop and politics, where her own rendered representation as an icon is not immediately associated with her physical and historical progression. She is able to exist as a capitalized force inherently dissolved by the trippy alteration occurring inherently in media by way of familiar shock-tactics and flighty ethics. The American pop mind can’t automatically conflate her as rendered representation, because that pop-star already exists, perhaps in Taylor Swift, and has existed forever. Thus, the market has morphed her to reflect the indecipherable, fluid desire reflective of the millennial market.

She and psycho-auteur Wayne Coyne serve as each-others’ ideal co-muse in the manner in which Coyne has been able to achieve a global stage through the spectacle of his personal performance, whereas Miley has reversed that spectacular transendo-indie impulse to derive personhood from the market of desire. From Coyne’s gummy skull/heady nug approach to album dissemination to his oddly similar adornment of radical politics mixed with his treatment of Erykah Badu, the two seem meant for each other. Somehow, I can envision many a stoned conversation between the two where unfortunate political views are birthed at the hands of psychedelic optimism and good intentions.

In this way, the blending of the two orientations, covalently intersecting at this moment in time in 2015, in all of its pomp and circumstance, has produced an object that essentially replicates the illegible and glorious pop made by Athens’s psychedelic institution, The Elephant Six collective, found in works by The Olivia Tremor Control, of Montreal, and The Apples in Stereo. Or perhaps more obviously, and less successfully, it’s found in the insatiable pop of Yoshimi-era Flaming Lips and the hauntology of Ariel Pink co-mingling with the glitter-bounce of MGMT. Miley’s record is a long, illegible piece-of-whatever in almost the same manner Kevin Barnes’s next wild-titled of Montreal “performance-spectaculaire” will be.

Bowie is rolling in his grave. Oh, he’s still alive. Oh, history is totally fragmented into the anti-spirit of a non-god performed by money. And that spirit lives in the “Crowdsourced Chaos of MTV’s Vaporwave VMAs.” Somehow, in my own musical upbringing, I’ve managed to be a huge E6 fan, but ambivalent toward the Lips; entranced by Pink, but a consistent downplayer of Syd Barrett. As such, I’m mildly fascinated by Miley’s capital-performance. In fact, I even tried to stream the VMAs, but the only stream available was a “back-stage pass.” Not only did I totally miss Kanye’s speech, but the only thing I saw was the dressing room area where bouncers and interns were discussing ordering chicken quesadillas. I got the speech transcript and Miley’s new album 10 minutes after the show had ended.

“Dooo It!” is a weird song, partially due to the fact that it is utterly disgusting. It’s scuzzed hip-hop style isn’t anywhere to be found in the rest of the album, save for maybe in the write-off track “Fuckin Fucked Up” or kind of in the deadpan, slippery emotionalism of “Tangerine” featuring Big Sean. Hilariously, the skit-like “BB Talk” has Cyrus waxing like Doc Sportello in PTA’s Inherent Vice, a kind of effervescent, creepy psychedelia, a vibe that describes Dead Petz at its best and rarest. That vibe culminates in the bump of “Bang Me Box” or the slightly dark, almost Gorillaz-like melancholia of Ariel Pink feature “Tiger Dreams.” The album makes tons of mistakes, rather freely. Its stupidity is somehow implicit and suspended across the course of the album in a manner very much like the disassociation of quality that occurs during compromised drug-states. There are gross aspects, but some moments are oddly beautiful, like the latter half of “Milky Milky Milk” or even the ridiculous ambience of “Miley Tibetan Bowlzz.” After the initial jolt, it becomes clear that the buzz is emanating from a mutant pop-culture looking at itself with hazed, stoned eyes — a process familiar to the treatment of rock in most Lips albums. Maybe it’s Coyne’s knack put on the grandest stage?

The playful experimentalism and inherently subversive nature of Dead Petz is enjoyable (in a sickly-sweet way) throughout, yet it’s experimentation is akin to playing absent-mindedly with a shitty synthesizer iPhone app (something I’ve seen the Lips do live, to ill-affect). The brokenness seems apt — Mike WiLL Made-It’s tag calls out in rompy synthwork with an attitude that seems to consistently ruin its own attempts to embody the mainstream’s current allegiance to the weird by being, well, actually weird. The album’s weirdness has a lot of references that are constantly flying by in gross breadth, but it’s rooted in escape, an escape similar to the “psychedelic state” manifesting as resistance in the 20th century, or perhaps most recently in the late 2000s as independent bands and labels took up freely and weirdly against the grain. Somehow, Dead Petz seems to recall that energy — summertime, cars, drugs, nihilism — with effects on lovelorn teenagers everywhere, with images of robbing independent record stores and “David Bowie appearing as Gumby.” Perhaps this is the mutation necessary to appease the already mutated nature of that “authentic” 20th-century counterculture dream and its recapitulated microcosm that happened in music once again at the end of the last decade in Athens, forever in L.A., or in the psychedelic leanings of college radio throughout America. Maybe it’s dead forever, and this is the dead performance of those ghosts resurrected, walking hallow around the petting zoo of late capitalism.

“We all walk around
And waste life
It’s just gonna go on forever
Like there’s some eternal endless supply
Of what it takes to keep us alive
There might be a day
When everything goes away
To remind us how ungrateful our culture is
We need to take time
To replace what’s stolen from mother nature.”
– Miley Cyrus on “1 Sun.”

Links: Miley Cyrus

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