"We Can't Stop" is a 2013 song by pop singer Miley Cyrus. Although Miley Cyrus comes from a country background, the song a pop song with what might be called urban influences. The song generated controversy due to its lyrics, the video for the song, and because of the new image that Miley Cyrus showed in the video. The lyrics to the song are mostly about the party scene, and why that is so controversial will be explained below.
Miley Cyrus has been pretty hard to escape this summer, try as I might. I had heard about this song and the controversy surrounding it long before I actually heard it. When I did hear it, I was rather surprised: for a song that is attempting to be a party anthem, its not very danceable or infectious, and actually seems to be sung as almost a dirge. But then, this song might not have been intended to be actually listened to as much as to be discussed. The lyrics and imagery in the video are about partying, along with claims of personal self-direction.
A lot of this is standard teenage stuff, and I really don't care and can't fault Miley if she wants to get a different haircut or dress sexy. In 2013 I can't really get that worked up about a 20 year old singer releasing a song that is sexually suggestive. The two lyrics that I do find troublesome are a reference to "lines" (presumably of cocaine or MDMA) and the line about "dancing with Molly" (a reference to MDMA). And what is troublesome about them is not so much that they are about drugs or that they are in popular music, but that Miley Cyrus was a product that was marketed to children for many years.
And much of the public's reaction to this song, and the new image of Miley Cyrus, is even more problematic. Much of the discussion seems to be about how Miley Cyrus has suddenly and inexplicably changed her image. Its hard for me to believe that Miley Cyrus has spontaneously done this, in the same way that it is hard for me to believe that professional wrestling is real, and that anyone can believe that professional wrestling is real. Miley Cyrus comes from a show business family. Her father was already famous when she was born, and she was a professional actor and singer at the age of 13. She has spent her life surrounded by people who have groomed her to present a public persona. She is a product of Disney, probably the world's best company at producing and tailoring images, and is currently signed to RCA Records, also one of the world's largest record companies. And of course, she came to fame in Hannah Montana, as someone who portrayed someone portraying someone else.
I am not putting blame on any specific person, but given Miley Cyrus' pedigree as a product of an image machine, is it more likely that her adoption of sexy and edgy imagery is a spontaneous decision by someone seeking artistic freedom, while all the image makers at RCA wring their hands that she isn't singing dewy eyed ballads for the tween set; or is it more likely that a host of marketers who are paying for her album, video and tours got together and tailored her new appearance for a new demographic, and also decided what would be just sexy and controversial enough to raise interest while keeping her friendly to radio? Again, I don't know exactly how deliberate it was, but I am thinking that the answer is something closer to the second scenario.
The issue about "We Can't Stop" isn't that it is a fairly generic and bad song (I would say it is both). The issue isn't even that it is about kids, sex and drugs, which is problematic but is hardly a new thing. The issue with this song is that it is marketing "edginess", and in doing so exposing children to sexual and drug references that are inappropriate, and doing it all under the guise of a young woman being "independent". And what is most surprising to me, it is a ploy that actually seems to be working.