Two Tribes

The music industry loves a controversy. Why wouldn’t it? Conflict usually equals column inches, social and other media coverage. They positively (or negatively) encourage it.

There’s probably a simple equation to be struck. Artist + average song + over-sexualised-video = meh, whereas Artist + average/bad song + stupid, exploitative soft-porn video x outrage from other acts/celebs = gold. We’re all so wise to these games that it probably gets harder and harder to manufacture such outrage. Rihanna tries it so often that it’s become a bore and Miley Cyrus really had to work hard – over a prolonged period - to generate her coverage. The master-stroke of course was to drag Sinead O’Connor into it.

Sinead is a character more often known these days for her forthright opinions rather than her incredible vocal talent. It’s sad that the focus is usually on the reaction she provokes rather than the content of what she has to say because – as in this instance – she has an intelligent and informed viewpoint, clear, concise and brilliant – we should want for more like her instead of the seemingly vacuous tabloid eye-candy we’re force-fed.

As for Miley you could say that it’s been a well-orchestrated campaign: a pantomime performance at the MTV Awards followed by interviews and videos to reinforce the impression that she’s ‘grown-up’. Then there’s this spat where she has ill-advisedly taken on someone older and wiser. There’s no question that it has inflated her profile, reaching areas of the world and newspapers/commentators that really shouldn’t give a damn about her.

I also add ‘ill-advised’ with some degree of caution. As I’ve noted before it’s unlikely that successful artists get (or pay attention to) much advice, particularly advice that runs contrary to their opinions. There are so many sycophants surrounding the successful that negative thoughts tend to be suppressed.

In Miley’s case she’s successful and young – at an age where she probably thinks she knows everything. The fact that she felt comfortable making offensive remarks about mental illness to reinforce her superiority is a clear sign of this. Twitter has a lot to answer for, not only does it encourage comment without clear thought but it also bolsters unstable/pliant egos to the point of omnipotence. Miley knew she would be backed-up by those around her but also most of her 14,568,921 Twitter devotees.

It’s all about the numbers, no-one stops to worry that these videos appeal to the very lowest common-denominator, randy men – of all ages. It’s a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, if a video has very attractive women wearing very little then naturally heterosexual men are probably going to want to look at it. Some of them might feel a bit grubby and guilty afterwards but they’re still another stat on the viewing figures, something for the artist and their associates to feel reassured by.

 The industry will always play that game – it has to get to the widest possible audience and won’t have much conscience about how it’s done. Exploitative videos are nothing new and Sinead O’Connor (and others) have made a vital point that this has gone on for far too long, regardless of whether the protagonists feel that they are victims or emancipators.

It’s always difficult to comment on cross-generational issues, there is a fear of being ‘out-of-touch’ but this seems a clear issue of exploitation and profiteering on the sexualisation of young women. Even if the artists are complicit, believing it to be sexy or funny – or because they’ve been told it’ll give them column inches/more views (which sadly seems still to be the case), it’s still pretty sordid.
As for those who’ve suggested Sinead has entered the fray only to bolster her own profile it’s a pretty weak argument. She did it because she had something vital to say, she took the time to say it with great thought and intelligence. Sinead spoke with passion about an issue she has personal experience and knowledge of. One day Miley may be able to do the same, when she finds the time and humility.

In the meantime it might remind us how great a talent Sinead O’Connor actually is. Great enough that she was one of the few artists I felt compelled to see play live twice in one week, having been so moved by her Birmingham performance that I travelled to Nottingham two days later to witness it again. Controversy blows over, sex appeal diminishes, fame fades but true talent never dies.