I never realized how sad that Miley Cyrus song is until she sang an acoustic version on Saturday Night Live. (Yeah, I stay home on Saturday nights. What?)
Even though the recorded version of the song hits a lot of minor notes and the tempo is kind of slow, the video (concept: sexy rave-party with giant teddy bears) gives it a fun, sparkly feeling, like you’re a fresh 20-year-old who just jumped into a pool of Fresca.
But strip the song of its slick production and auto-tuned vocals, and plop that 20-year-old on a stool with her hair combed down, and we can’t stop turns from a fun lyric to admission of a problem; we won’t stop from a cry of rebellion to a mournful prediction of the future.
“Holy [super freaking bad word],” I said as we watched. “This song is depressing.”
“Yeah,” my wife said. “I told you.”*
As we watched the performance unfold, I realized how unlucky Miley Cyrus is. Because when I was twenty? I think I also had some idea in my head that I was going to live forever and always have that kind of ripple-less, creamy skin that, now that I’m older, I realize I did not spend enough time admiring in the mirror. But at the same time, I also had lots of adults telling me “No, you’re not invincible. You’re just twenty. And twenty-year-olds are idiots.”
I suspect Miley Cyrus doesn’t have the benefit of these types of adults in her circle. The wild grin on her face during her performance was the saddest part—she’s still clueless, has no idea what the song means to everyone else. She thinks it’s a party anthem, not a howling testament of the despondency and restlessness of American youth.
“I don’t think Miley has any [really freaking bad word] idea how depressing that was,” I said as we watched her high-five her guitarist and stick her tongue out triumphantly to the applauding audience.
“No,” said my wife wisely. “But Pharrell does.”
That’s when it hit me—this song works because it can go either way, which to me is the best kind of art. (Just like Animal Farm can be read as an allegory of the Russian Revolution, or a fun book about talking animals. Either way, it’s awesome.) So it’s okay for Miley to have fun up there, just as it’s okay for her producers to wink at the rest of us through the lyrics.
(Bear in mind that the witness I bring to this performance is in her thirties, wearing pajamas, and has one eye on the clock because it’s really late.)
But Miley? If you’re listening? You’re an idiot, sweetie. The very best kind.
*This is true. She figures things out before I do, including math problems, Trivial Pursuit answers, and other people’s genders.