Three things I realized while watching SNL's 40th anniversary special last night:
1. Eddie Murphy really, really, really, really did not want to be there.
2. We (writer-people) will continue to attempt to do this, but it's becoming near impossible to verbalize whatever the hell Kanye West is doing whenever Kanye West is on stage.
3. I don't really dislike Miley Cyrus.
Now, someone not disliking something — what happens when you don't really like something, but don't really dislike it either — isn't particularly newsworthy or meaningful. I don't really dislike a ton of things. Almond milk. Hondas. My neighbors. Turkey lunchmeat. The WNBA. But, Miley Cyrus is different for me. Because, a year and a half ago, I spent 1,000 words articulating why Miley Cyrus is worthy of being disliked.
"If there are 40 million Black Americans" says Henry Louis Gates Jr. "then there are 40 million ways to be Black." To Cyrus, though, Blackness seems to correlate with ratchetness. The fact that she's become music's Most Very Relevant Important Person At The Moment by doing this doesn't add insult to injury as much as it reinforces the idea that Blackness is an accessory. A prop. The clown hats, lenseless glasses, and plastic machine guns available at wedding photo booths. It's post-racial the same way the GOP is feminist.
She wakes up every morning as Miley Cyrus, the daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus, and one of the few mega famous child stars to successfully make a post-childhood transition to continued stardom. The costume she dons—the ratchetness, the minstrelsy, the hood language so over the top it borders on parody—is her idea of what it means to be more Black. Miley Cyrus is Clark Kent, and Miley Cyrus' Clark Kent is a funhouse mirror of Black America.
But, seeing her on SNL last night just reinforced a thought I've had for some time. Although her foray into Black culture in 2013 was — and still is — side-eye worthy, it never really bothered me that much. Perhaps because she does have legitimate talent. Maybe because her appropriation always felt less fraudulent and unscrupulous and more just irresponsible and confused. And maybe because in interviews and on camera she actually seems like a decent person.
Basically, she's not Iggy Azalea.
And this reminded me of The Wire. (Stay with me.)
The dominant storyline of the first three seasons of The Wire was the cat and mouse game between the major crimes unit and the Barksdale crime family. They ruled West Baltimore, and much of the show's goings-on revolved around the steps the police took to bring them down. The Wire is called The Wire because of the wiretaps on the Barksdale crew. By the end of season three, Avon Barksdale (the head of the crew) was headed back to prison and Stringer Bell (the second in command) was dead; effectively ending the Barksdale's reign. Mission accomplished, right?
Well, sort of.
The Barksdale's fall left a void at the top of the West Baltimore drug trade. That position was quickly filled by Marlo Stanfield and his crew; a gang more ruthless, more violent, and less concerned with things like "codes" and "rules of the game" than the Barksdale crew ever was. None of the begrudging respect that existed between the Barksdales and the police existed between the Stanfield crew and the police. It was like getting rid of all the termites in your house, only to have them replaced by a family of velociraptors.
Or, like writing, tweeting, and speaking about how problematic Miley Cyrus was, only to have Iggy Azelea emerge from the swamps of Australia a year later.
Yet, as bad as Azalea is — as shitty as her songs are, how hilariously offensive her attempts to copy Mia X's cadence and delivery happen to be, how awful and bizarre the words that escape her mouth during interviews continue to be — I want her to stick around. Because, if this trend continues, I do not want to see what would replace her. A trap rapping Martian in permanent Blackface? Duchess Kate recording an album of Big L covers? James Earl Ray returning from the dead to co-host a DJ Khaled mixtape?
I know that all seems ridiculous, but a fake-bootied Australian with a Fisher-Price Gangsta Boo starter kit and a boyfriend who calls himself "Swaggy P" just earned a Grammy nomination for best rap album. The cap on ridiculousness no longer exists.