It’s not officially summer until a former tween star does something that sparks outrage across the world. This summer, Miley Cyrus is making a major comeback as the source of that anger with her new single “We Can’t Stop,” the Mike WiLL produced, beach-friendly jam that sounds more like a slowed down and inferior version of “Party in the U.S.A.” than something strikingly new from the former Disney star. While the song’s sound itself is tame, it’s the lyrical references that have been cause for some concern, namely the hints at poppin’ Molly (“So la da da di we like to party / Dancing with Molly / Doing whatever we want”) and snorting cocaine (“And everyone in line in the bathroom / Trying to get a line in the bathroom”).
But Molly and coke references aren’t unusual in Top 40 songs, and Molly in particular has made many an appearance in hip-hop, becoming so mainstream. Danny Brown even talked with Kathy Griffin about it once on her talk show. Yet there’s something particularly off when Hannah Montana appropriates this trend into the freshly “adult” phase of her career, especially when just a few years ago she had never heard a Jay-Z song. Maybe Kendrick Lamar was right – the trend needs to die.
Miley Cyrus referring to being at a party where these drugs are in use is much like seeing a kid you used to babysit chugging a 40 at a high school party as you scroll through your Facebook feed. You knew it was going to happen one day, but you’d rather not hear about it or see evidence of it. Naturally, her inferences to the drugs feels a little awkward, as she still struggles to fully gain the type of rebellious and mature pop star status she’s been trying to achieve since she became legal. Now she hangs with rappers! She chopped off her hair! She takes half-naked pictures without her father’s presence! She also no longer sends those pictures to Nick Jonas! Cyrus has been less blatantly self-destructive than Justin Bieber as he tries to catapult his way into “manhood,” but that doesn’t mean it feels any less forced.
Of course, it’s pretty appropriate that this song, the controversy surrounding it, and the sudden lack of ‘coolness‘ the references now hold comes on the heels of Kendrick Lamar openly wishing we would collectively move on from the trend of making Molly references in hip-hop. (Tyler, the Creator, a collaborator with Cyrus, has also bemoaned how tired/lazy it’s become, the sameness of it all.) It’s like Lamar predicted the non-Miley Cyrus penned Miley Cyrus single‘s controversy when he told MTV’s Sway “You may have certain artists portraying these trends and don’t really have that lifestyle and then it gives off the wrong thing. And it becomes kinda corny after a while.” While Lamar spoke very specifically about hip-hop and preserving originality and authenticity in the genre, it’s safe to say that his smart commentary on the trend’s affect in hip-hop can translate to much of music and pop culture. Especially when so many elements of rap/hip-hop culture end up getting appropriated by pop music at some point, preserving originality becomes of the utmost importancc.
What Cyrus is doing is latching onto a trend that is already unhealthy for a genre she’s trying to assimilate into. Her growing pains as an artist and public figure are transparent as she uses these “cool” drug lyrics to give herself some cred and make herself seem more mature. But there’s a good chance the audience purchasing and most enthusiastically listening to her new music are probably still not ready to make the same type of transition into adulthood she is, which raises a million more questions and concerns that Fox News pundits will surely be chomping at the bit to provide for us.
In the song, Cyrus very clearly asserts her freedom and ability to say and do what she wants, which, hey, more power to her. While she’s shown success in translating her look into a new phase of her life, it’s unfortunate to see her music take the route of bratty teen who takes 2 Chainz lyrics 2 Seriously rather than bringing her newfound edgy fearlessness to her sound. She likes drugs and we can’t blame her, but maybe this is a sign of the end o’ times to a trend that’s already gotten too popular for its own good. By stepping out to be different, she’s instead turned into everyone else.