Wednesday, May 7, 2014

'Miley Cyrus: Bangerz' at the o2 Arena

Miley Cyrus is honest in the way that a millions of earnestly gloomy guitar twiddlers can never be.  Her primary pleasures in life are smoking weed, MDMA, masturbation, smoking more weed and wiggling her ass, and she's on an evangelical crusade to drag us into her hedonistic world.  And fuck it, why not?  There's a sense of the last days of Rome in Bangerz; the show a drug-frazzled, psycho orgy trying desperately to drown out the sound of reality of the world outside.

Bangerz is an escape into a fucked-on-amphetamines candy-world.  Kaleidoscopes of epileptic animated cat gifs blur into PS2 graphics Mileys on jet skis blur into a neon Nintendo LSD Mushroom Kingdom blur into buttfucking furry-costumed pervs blur into a 30 foot dog shooting lasers out of its eyes blur into a multiheaded Miley-hydra thrashing a hundred jammed out tongues at us. Somewhere on stage a little woman dressed as a joint is furiously twerking at a man dressed as a zippo lighter.  All this while an insistent ultra-trashy dubstep meets line-dancing 4/4 beat wobbles through the guts of the crwod. 

She's grasped the high voltage cable of internet culture, transforming herself from a slightly dippy, balladeering popstar into the offspring of 4chan and FYAD, a style stitched together from viral internet videos that millions of people watch and immediately forget. Sure there's no substance here, but there's a difference between 'yer regular Bieberish vapidity and the aggressively nihilistic meaninglessness of Miley Cyrus. In a touch of zen, the whole point of Bangerz is that there is no point, the songs, visuals and flashing lights all aiming to drag us down, to make us dirtily writhe in the sweatiest, goopiest, candy-flavoured pop culture detritus.

Despite the near constant crotch-rubbing, revealing outfits and omni-gyrating, none of this is sexy. Bangerz works from some crazy fractured abstraction of sexuality; the purpose of masturbation no longer to make yourself cum but to define yourself as an individual devoted to their own pleasure.  The swipe of fingers through a moist gusset is the Miley salute, the calling card of an army of bangerz banging away at themselves to the cold glow of laptop light. 

Importantly, Bangerz isn't designed to make the audience want to fuck Miley. Throughout the show there's repeated attempts to uglify her; giving her deformed hillbilly teeth, videos slicing her into disconnected ribbons, her flesh blasted away by to reveal a screaming skull underneath - perhaps most obviously in introducing her through through a John K. cartoon - a spindly pop music gorgon with a slatheringmprehensile tongue.  Even live, with a flesh and blood person on stage, it's difficult to imagine this strobe-lit, besequined creature as a real girl, more a walking personification of panicky, exploding libido.

So, for me the low point of the show was when she actually tried to be human.  There's a lengthy acoustic bit in the middle where the action relocates to the centre of the auditorium and the band dutifully picks up wooden, stringed instruments.  Miley even wears a flannel shirt - albeit one studded with diamonds and rubies - but a flannel shirt nonetheless.  She ends up covering Dylan's You're Going to Make Me Lonesome - a choice which largely baffles the  teenage audience.  Dammit Miley, if I wanted soulful folk music I would have gone to a soulful folk music gig.  Things pick up a bit when she moves onto a foul-mouthed cover of Dolly Parton's Jolene, gleefully re-writing the song: "Jolene, Jolene, that cunt Jolene!".  

John K's Miley Cyrus from the stage show.
Adding insult to injury there's a painfully waffly segment where she talks at length about a magic Chinese man who fixed her in hospital, interspersed with explanations of how great weed is, how she'd really like us to be smoking weed and how much she's looking forward to smoking a big fat bifta after the show.  Even across a stadium you can pretty much see her band members glancing furtively at each other and rolling their eyes, wondering just how long she's going to rabbit on for.  On the whole Miley Cyrus works far better as a bundle of interesting ideas, imagery and sounds than she does as a human being - and the closer she strays to personhood the less engaged I am.

So, when the synths wail up again it's a relief to return to the bad trip nightmare Miley Cyrus that I know and love.  A giant seizure-inducing dancing animated cat gif swirls on the background behind her as men in fursuits frot up against each other.  Miley climbs atop a giant fibreglass hotdog (which is actually a banger, though I doubt she had this in mind) and climbs into the stratosphere. The whole thing gets off to a climax with glitter cannons, pyrotechnics, Siamese twins women connected by foamy Mt Rushmores and that little person clanging about the stage waving the crack of her Liberty Bell in our faces.

This is pretty much the epitome of pop, a chaotic cocktail of new ideas - some intelligent, some ridiculous - all interesting.  Interspersed are the old; underground graphic art of the 1990s, early 2000s videogame graphics and black velvet acid art.  But is this ultra-hip psychedelic soup all Miley? Isn't she merely the calculated product of some besuited exec? Is this all a money-making exercise to wring money from gullible teenage girls (and me)?  

Who really gives a shit?  The end product is what matters, and Bangerz is a superlative, outstanding bit of pop-theatre-music-performance art, a hedonistic microcosm where taste, self-respect and dignity are largely forgotten. At the final curtain, Miley Cyrus emerges as the real voice of a generation; a tongue-waggling, pussy-banging pop-Charon ferrying us across her digital River Styx.  It's one hell of a show.

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