Last Friday, Miley Cyrus dropped her new music video for the single ‘Prisoner’ featuring Dua Lipa. The video has been under severe scrutiny since the UK punk band Dream Wife posted on Instagram the side by side comparison of the video concept: ‘Mouth Cam’ from their music video for the song, ‘So when you gunna’ that was released on May 20th of this year.
I think the bad taste in people’s mouths is due to the fact that an established child star-turned adult pop icon is using a camera device already used by an underground feminist punk band before her – of which the members all met at art school. And there in lies the question of who is more respectable?
Is Miley less entitled to utilize inspiration from a a bygone era…due to famous parents and showbiz childhood.
is there something just a little uncomfortable about that?
Are Dream Wife fans valid in a belief that the elite is less entitled to imitation than those who work harder for notoriety?
Now, I haven’t yet written about the ethics of art inspiration or given my opinion on anything like this before. But, these are two artists that are close to my heart and it spurred a need to deep dive into imitative art and the age old issue of the elite’s plagiarism of the underground.
Firstly, have a watch of both videos ( or not – if you’re on a ‘side’ and don’t want to add to anyone’s views.
It’s undeniable that Miley is an artist who draws inspiration from a number of cultures and genre’s and aesthetics like so many talents before her. One of my cultural heroes; Bowie collected a vast amount of different sources of inspiration, sometimes truly on the cusp of cultural appropriation – but that is a topic for another post – anyway, what I mean is that Bowie was sponge. We see a similar ethos in Gaga now where she soaks up inspiration. Whether it’s singing in gobbledigook on a song like ‘Scheiße’ in a Germanic accent, or collaborating with artist like Jeff Coons incorporating the essence of his work onto her album artwork – should this enrage people? should it be seen as lazy and unoriginal? Or is art no longer owned once is publicly distributed?
These are the questions that have been circulating my brain this past weekend.
During my research on the video concept , I uncovered that the ‘Mouth Cam’ goes way back.
There is a fascinating YouTube Channel dedicated to sourcing clips of the ‘Mouth Cam’ device being used across animation and live action media. It currently lists 99 examples of the it.
This is my favourite by far!
When I watched a few of these examples, I wondered why something like The Simpsons and The Little Shop of Horrors, 1986 using the device didn’t make me uncomfortable, yet Miley’s Prisoner video does. I began researching the art of imitation, which fittingly goes way back – as does the ‘mouth cam’ – apparently. The theory surrounding imitation dates back to 5th century – so I’m talking Plato and Socrates, Mimetic Theory of Art stuff. Both dudes were mostly anti-imitation regarding it unimportant in the quality of something. Although, the distinction between the two philosopher’s opinion on imitation is what helped me define my own opinion on it.
Plato judged if a piece of art was good or not based on the content of what was being imitated, whereas Aristotle regarded the basis of good work as based on how well the imitation is done and the abilities to imitate and express emotions.
This is exactly how I feel about the ‘mouth cam’ situation. My discomfort in the device being used in the ‘Prisoner’ video lies in how it was executed.
The Simpsons example shows a P.O.V. shot from inside Lisa’s mouth scraping a carrot wit her teeth, viewers watch a a brunette Steve Martin sing crazily into the mouth of a his patient who’s mouth he is drilling and is the point P.O.V.
Dream Wife’s song ‘So When you Gunna’ explores the idea of waiting around for someone to make a move. ‘So, When you Gunna Kiss me?’ – you could say this is an ‘oral theme’. The band performs live in their typically energetic fashion out on stage throughout the video. In ‘Prisoner‘ ‘Miley rocks out on stage with Dua Lipa through the visuals of a mouth cam, which is exactly what happens in Dream Wife’s video. Had the execution not been directly the same – it would have been more palatable.
Both artists are obviously are big music lovers and therefore take sonic inspiration from a retro stance.
Dream Wife is still considered fairly underground (compared to Miley) even though they’ve had success with touring and the critical acclaim for their 2017 single Fire which was then made into an EP. The ‘come up’ in this sense has been underground and pretty punk rock -an aesthetic that Miley has dabbled in throughout her career so it wouldn’t be surprising if she was inspired by this up and coming all-female punk band.
The band’s aesthetic has often involved pastiche elements with nod to previous era’s in music videos such as the video for the song ‘Kids‘ which shows the band donning an 80’s fitness video get ups.
Miley’s first single off her upcoming album ‘Plastic Hearts’ (coming November 27th 2020) is called Midnight Sky. The song is sonically influenced by 80s synth pop rock such as the legendary band Fleetwood Mac. Miley’s single is reminiscent of the band’s song ‘Edge of Seventeen’, so much so – she wrote to Stevie Nicks to ask permission for one part in particular that is undeniably referencing the song.
Cyrus new bff, Stevie Nicks then agreed to a mash-up/remix of the two songs and it really is glorious and makes the connection clear.
Now, this to me is a perfect example of directly seeking inspiration from a previous era and such a hugely successfully band as Fleetwood Mac, Cyrus could not possible just put this work out without the reference and the credit. It’s also a modernized version of the legendary pre-chorus ‘ooh, baby, ooh‘ with the muted/paced guitar build.
Miley sings, ‘Ooh, you know its true’
The entire ‘Prisoner’ video is one big pastiche party, celebrating the iconic CBGB era of non stop touring in grime-y venues and dirty rock n roll hotel rooms. It’s not surprising to me that Miley is drawn to this way of life, as it’s gritty vibe is something she’s not really experienced. Miley’s perfectly ‘pearly white La teeth’ as described by themselves are seen in a Rocky Horror Picture Show-esque cutaway, miming the lyrics. This video is full of homages to The Runaways (film and band) CBGB era, female punk aesthetic and attitude etc..
Pop music is seeing a resurgence of nostalgia amongst its creators and it is going to incite a lot of debate similar to this one, where we ask one another who is more valid to imitate and how well do we have to imitate to not cross that line of purely ripping off what has come before. Of course, I haven’t’ even mentioned the biggest culprit of them all’ Andy Warhol – the clever sod, or the numerous classical painters who were inspired by others for some of the biggest works that exist.