OK Go Delight and Offend at the Independent

Ok Go’s catalog is the sonic equivalent of Fruit Loops. Bright, fun, tasty, and far from satisfying or substantive. They are also one of our generation’s greatest bands. What Ok Go lacks in musical imagination and originality, they make up for tenfold with the way they have revolutionized and thoroughly dominated the art of the music video. Harnessing the power of internet culture and viral videos, Ok Go burst onto the music scene and the blogosphere in 2006 with their now-famous treadmill dance video for “Here it Goes Again.”
Now, a century later in internet years, Ok Go continues to churn out pleasant power pop and a steady stream of mind-blowing film pieces (“music videos” almost seems condescending for these painstaking projects—while most bands go on set for six hours to two days, singer Damian Kulash pointed out, Ok Go works on theirs for six weeks to six months).
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Somehow, the band has managed to continuously outdo itself with each new video, spending incredible amounts of time and energy on stunningly creative videos featuring stop-motion, Rube Goldberg machines, optical illusions, and the pure power of great choreography.
Perhaps fittingly, playing music seems to be a more of a side effect than a focus of Ok Go’s live show, which more prominently features bright video displays, interactive apps, and truly mind-blowing amounts of confetti (although, unfortunately, no dance routines). And, as with most technology-based things, a certain amount of troubleshooting was required.
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However, despite a lot of technical difficulties, stalls, and spotty sound quality at their sold out Wednesday show at the Independent, the audience’s enthusiasm was not dampened in the slightest. A large part of Ok Go’s charm comes from their youthful excitement, curiosity, and energy, all aspects that translate beautifully to a live setting.
During glitches, while guitarist/keyboardist and “genuine, bona-fide nerd” Andy Ross worked on fixing technology failures, frontmen Damian Kulash and Tim Nordwind entertained the audience with Q&A sessions, and even (in what may have been the highlight of the show) a full run-through of Les Miserables’ “Confrontation,” with Kulash as Javert and Nordwind as Jean Valjean.
Ok Go are truly great performers. Their energy is high, their spectacles spectacular, and their banter playful and plentiful. I was taken aback, however, when Kulash casually called San Francisco a city “known for having a lot of faggots.” Even though Kulash is public about his support for gay rights and he followed this statement up with a lame “I say that with love in my heart,” it felt inappropriate and offensive. And all this was even before he called SF “Boston with Disneyland attached.”
But clearly not everyone in the audience took issue with Kulash’s faux pas, and there was an air of excitement and appreciation in the intimate venue from the first song to the last flurries of confetti. When the show had ended, leaving behind deep drifts of the colorful paper, fans didn’t want the fun to end. When I departed, half an hour after the show’s finish, people were still laughing, shrieking, and throwing confetti to the sky.
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Originally published in the San Francisco Bay Guardian:  http://48hills.org/sfbgarchive/2014/07/19/live-shots-ok-go-power-through-technical-difficulties-independent/?_sft_writer=haley-zaremba

Best of Burger Boogaloo

This weekend Oakland’s Mosswood Park was transformed into a mini music festival of adorable proportions. Fullerton’s Burger Records returned to the venue for its fifth annual Burger Boogaloo with lots of DIY charm and a stellar lineup featuring local legends Thee Oh Sees and capital-L Legend Ronnie Spector. After two days of PBR, sunburns, and a heap of eclectic and altogether awesome music, the results are in: here is the best of Burger Boogaloo 2014.

Best mosh pit: OFF!
Keith Morris’ newest hardcore punk outfit stirred up a lot of energy and even more dust on Saturday. Playing after the relatively tame Milk N’ Cookies, OFF! turned it up to eleven (really, I think my ears are still ringing) for a rager of a set that resulted in some serious headbanging, slam-dancing, and stage diving. Just what the doctor ordered to keep morale high as the sun went down.

Best posse: Shannon and the Clams
Hometown heroes Shannon and the Clams played a killer set on Sunday. While their setlist crushed it, the backup singers brought it, and the tiki-and-vegetable themed balloons thrown into the crowd were a lot of fun, the main attraction was to the right of the stage, parked on top of an amp. The fan who lipsynched and shimmied his way into all of our hearts was later revealed by Shannon herself to be her “creepy little brother,” making his devotion to the Clams even more aww-worthy.

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Best battlecry: The Meatbodies
Midway through the day, a port-a-potty crisis became apparent as lines grew longer and tanks grew fuller. Taking the stage at the end of the Meatbodies’ set, a brave Burger employee announced that due to all of the delicious food and drink provided by their sponsors, the toilets were at critical mass and no number 2 deposits would be accepted at that time. From the middle to the end of this moving speech, the Meatbodies’ guitarist began the rousing and inspirational cry of, “Poop yo pants! Poop yo pants!” Words to live by.

Best bouffant: Ronnie Spector
Everywhere you looked at Burger Boogaloo, stunning feats of follicle engineering were peeking out of the crowd. Beehives and bouffants of all sizes and colors came out for the show. I overheard one couple saying they had made a game of tallying beehives and had found 16 midway through Sunday alone. Unfortunately I missed the memo that big and bulbous is the vogue look for garage rock, but Ronnie Spector did not. With the biggest hair and the best attitude of the day, Ronnie stole all our hearts.

Longest distance traveled: Thunderroads
Japan’s Thunderroads were the wildcard of the festival. With all the raw power of every generic rock band to follow in ACDC’s footsteps, Thunderroads won us over not with originality or musicality but with pure earnestness and excitement to be playing for us. The magic of the moment is best captured by the words of Thunderroads’ bassist: “Thank you America, USA! I can’t English, but I love you!” We love you too. More than you know.

Best Striptease: Nobunny
Nobunny killed it with a high-energy set and truly great punk performance on Saturday (although someone should break it to frontperson Justin Champlin that Thunderroads had the harebrained-rock-star idea to climb the precariously-stacked amps hours before he did). Nobunny came to the stage in his trademarked and road-weary bunny mask and a red onesie, which impressively concealed a leather jacket and a pair of briefs, which yes, did eventually come off to reveal…another pair of briefs. Finally, a striptease for the whole family.

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Best ‘90s throwback: The Muffs
How ‘90s are The Muffs? Featured on the Clueless soundtrack ‘90s. 23 years into their existence, the Muffs were the perfect addition to the lineup, falling squarely between the untouchable status of Ronnie Spector and the hyper-contemporary blog buzz around bands like Nobunny and Shannon and the clams. Still rocking a mini-dress, blunt bangs, and one of the best grunge growls in the biz, Kim Shattuck reminded us just how much we owe to and miss our fellow flannel-wearers of yesteryear.

Originally published in the San Francisco Bay Guardian:  http://48hills.org/sfbgarchive/2014/07/09/best-burger-boogaloo/?_sft_writer=haley-zaremba

Middle fingers to the sky, Lady Gaga’s artRAVE stands and delivers

There are a lot of critiques that I can make about Lady Gaga’s Tuesday night performance in San Jose–the sports arena acoustics, the horrifically boring opening acts, the focus on her new and less popular album Artpop, $80 sweatshirts, the fact that she performed some of her most popular tunes in truncated versions and neglected to play “LoveGame” altogether—but the fact is, none of these shortcomings made a dent in the incredible energy and impassioned performance that Gaga dished out. The show was fucking incredible.

Lady Gaga doesn’t do concerts. She does productions. With a full band, an elaborate set, a dozen or so backup dancers and as many costume changes, her artRAVE tour is a feast for the eyes and ears alike. The set, bulbous, white, and otherworldly, looked straight out of Tattooine and the dancers’ eye-catching array of outfits reflected this extra-terrestrial theme.

Part of artRAVE’s spectacle is simply witnessing Gaga’s amazing ability to dance in five-inch pumps and a leotard with shiny black tentacles sticking out in all directions. These theatrics, however, are in no way a crutch or a form of compensation. Lady Gaga’s talent is stunning.

From the moment that she rose out of the stage floor in angel wings and a rhinestone bodice, it was impossible to tear your eyes from Lady Gaga. An incredible and magnetic presence, impressive dancer, and truly powerful singer, it’s easy to see why she’s made such a lasting impression on pop culture.

Mixing her set with dance anthems and ballads, Gaga was able to show off her surprising versatility as a singer; her voice is unbelievable—its clarity and power are not adequately represented by her highly-processed recorded material. Live, it soars between roaring rock growls and deep, rich vibrato, all in perfect pitch.

Though the surface of Gaga’s persona is all rhinestones and superstardom, the show was peppered with heartfelt moments and breaks from the highly organized and choreographed show. Some of her fortune cookie-wisdom lines (“Welcome to a place where we judge no one tonight. We criticize no one. We hate no one.”) are clearly pre-planned, but clearly strike a chord with her fans, who roared appreciatively with every mic break. In the best moment of the show, Gaga pulled two fans out of the audience to sit on the piano bench with her as she sang an impassioned ballad version of “Born this Way,” as each of the girls she pulled up sang along, weeping openly.

Lady Gaga embraces and uses her status as a queer icon to spread a gospel of love and acceptance that feels incredibly urgent and genuine and clearly impacts her fans deeply. At one point between songs, she paused to read aloud a letter that a fan had thrown on stage. In a deeply emotional note, the fan credited “Born This Way” for getting him through high school and allowing him to survive being bullied for his sexuality.

In one of her most impassioned moments, pointing out how many people had come out for her show despite warnings early in her career that she was too queer or warnings from her label that Artpop (which was indeed a comparative flop) was too artsy, Gaga roared, “just because we’re gay or like art doesn’t mean we’re fucking invisible, ok?” with both middle fingers to the sky.

In addition to her dedication to supporting her LGBT fans, I found myself extremely inspired by Lady Gaga’s unapologetic sex-positivity and her disregard for gender roles. Her dancers wore unisex outfits that drew heavily from the gender-bending Club Kids of the early ‘90s, and Gaga herself sang openly about masturbating and even deconstructed her own typically flawless image by doing her last costume change onstage, topless and wigless, with a crew of people to help her undress and redress into a truly awesome Derelicte-Harijuku-raver outfit. Before she disrobed, Gaga joked, “Just in case we didn’t make any of you uncomfortable tonight, we’re about to.”

While the production of artRAVE is an airtight spectacle of impressive choreography and stunning visuals, it’s the candid moments that make Lady Gaga’s stage show something special. Underneath the glitter, tentacles, and rainbow dreadlocks, there is something very real and emotionally raw.

Her messages of equality and universality are both genuine and revolutionary in an artist as mainstream and financially successful as she is. Artpop may not have been a huge success, and the Haus of Gaga certainly doesn’t hold the same untouchable status as it did in 2010, but Lady Gaga’s refusal to compromise and willingness to stay strange are truly inspirational.

Originally published in the San Francisco Bay Guardian:  http://48hills.org/sfbgarchive/2014/06/06/middle-fingers-sky-lady-gaga-takes-san-jose-artravey-ride/?_sft_writer=haley-zaremba

Wanda Jackson Keeps the Party Going at the Chapel

“Well hello, San Fran!” shouted Wanda Jackson to an almost-full Chapel on Thursday night. “You already know I love you. You should know that by now.”

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Jackson, still touring at age 76, looks to be about five feet tall — if you include her carefully teased hair. She needs help getting on and off the stage. She talks openly about her “senior moments.” And she’s an absolute rock star. Her age and petite stature seem merely to add to her massive stage presence. After finishing her rollicking first song, “Riot in Cell Block Number 9,” she beamed at the crowd, asking, “Isn’t it wonderful, the energy?”

Wonderful is exactly the word I would use to describe it. The audience responded to Jackson’s razor-sharp wit, fascinating anecdotes, and serious vocal chops (she can yodel!) with fever-pitch enthusiasm. After a 60-year career, Jackson has an incredible body of work under her belt, and the set list, which bounced around from era to era of her career, didn’t have a single low point. But people weren’t really there for the songs.

We were there for Wanda. The Queen of Rockabilly truly is royalty — just being in her presence is a joyful experience. Though she can’t hit all the high notes anymore, Jackson’s talent hasn’t faded a bit since her heyday in the 1950s and ‘60s. Her voice is still incredible, her stamina is inspiring, and her humbleness is astonishing. Few people could name-drop Elvis Presley and Jack White in the same sentence and seem all the more charming for it.

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Jackson, who is inevitably paired with Elvis in any description of her life or music, didn’t shy away from the topic on stage as she often does in interviews. In what felt like a very intimate moment, the crowd was enraptured as they watched her reminisce about her old friend. “Elvis was a true gentleman,” she told us. “He truly was.” She spoke about how her father would only let her go out with Elvis, “nobody else.” He would take her out for lunches and matinees — whatever he could afford. “He was a poor boy then.” After waxing about her short-lived romance, Jackson transitioned into one of the night’s highlights — a soulful rendition of “Heartbreak Hotel.”

Most of the songs Jackson played were preceded by a mini history lesson — the year they were recorded, what she was up to at the time, who was involved. Speaking about her evolution from a country singer touring with her father to a rockabilly singer touring with Elvis (who encouraged her to play this “new music”) Jackson paused for clarity — “We call it rockabilly now, but it was actually rock and roll.”

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Jackson is still rock and roll. She playfully threw water on her fans, splashing the monitors (“I could have been electrocuted…you too!”) and played through a setlist of almost 20 songs without stopping for breath. “Whatever!” she shouted in response to her jet lag. “Isn’t that what they say today? Whatever?” By the time the night ended with “Let’s Have a Party,” no song could have been more appropriate.

Originally published in the San Francisco Bay Guardian:  http://48hills.org/sfbgarchive/2013/11/11/live-shots-wanda-jackson-chapel/?_sft_writer=haley-zaremba

Live Review: Savages at the Independent

Walking into the Independent on Friday night, the first thing audience members saw were signs titled “A Note From Savages.” These postings read, “Our goal is to discover better ways of living and experiencing music. We believe that the use of phones to film and take pictures during a gig prevents all of us from totally immersing ourselves. Let’s make this evening special. Silence your phones.” It was just the first indication that this was going to be an exceptional night.

Just before Savages took the stage for the first of two sold-out shows, the energy in the room vibrated with a palpable hum, resonating above the droning ambient music pulsing from the speakers.

In nearly complete darkness, Savages quietly took their places on stage before launching into “I Am Here,” the killer second track off of their debut record Silence Yourself.

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Dressed in all black and barely lit by dim white lights, the four women of the London post-punk outfit bobbed and thrashed with a spectral intensity through the first three songs (also the first three songs off Silence Yourself) without saying a word or pausing for breath. Singer Jehnny Beth, howling like a deliciously demonic cross-pollination of Siouxsie Sioux and Nick Cave, dominated the stage in gold slingback stilettos, looking fiercely feminine bouncing around in a power stance.

The band’s performance style was stark and understated, but with a searing intensity that was breathtaking in its relentlessness. Beth spoke fewer than five times throughout the entire show, but the lack of filler just added to the force of the band’s immense presence. Savages have no weak links. Each woman is an incredible musician and performer. Even drummer Fay Milton, at the rear of the stage, demanded attention through her focused talent and tangible joy.

 

The audience stood in quiet reverence through the first half of the set, standing stationary and gaping with open mouths at the tour de force on stage. Finally, around the time that Savages played a cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” people began to move around toward the front of the crowd, bouncing off of each other to the scorching rendition. Beth looked down upon the opening pit with glee, speaking for the first time in her thick French accent, “Here we are! I was waiting for you! Fucking awesome.”

Savages are a welcome reminder of the importance and potency of female bands. Just by virtue of their kicking-ass-and-taking-names existence, they stand for so much more. Rock and roll is still a boys’ club. There is a huge difference between bands that have a female singer or a female guitarist and bands that are fully female. Savages offer an empowering and much-needed message that women can rock, and not just in supporting roles.

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Of course they are not the only women in rock, but seeing them dominating the stage and selling out performances is truly exciting. Just by being silently and consistently amazing at what they do, these four women are bringing a feminist lens to post-punk, and for that, my female-identifying compatriots and I are extremely grateful. Nothing is more affirming than seeing your own identity reflected in a sphere that it is usually shut out of.

“San Francisco, you deserve more” Beth wailed before bringing out an extra guitarist and a saxophone player. “We’re gonna play a song called ‘Fuckers.’ We’re gonna use it as a mantra. Some words do heal.” As the band began to churn out the opening chords, Beth continued, “these were words given to me by a friend. I’m gonna give it back to you and you’re gonna give it to a friend. Don’t let the fuckers get you down!”

After the final song, Silence Yourself sendoff “Marshal Dear,” the crowd was left speechless. The weight of the performance was a physical, tangible entity as people regrouped and began, reluctantly, to exit. Though starkly different than the crackling energy in the moments before the show, the moments after the show were just as dynamic, basking in the afterglow of an amazing performance and the discovery of an exceptional band.

Originally published in the San Francisco Bay Guardian:  http://48hills.org/sfbgarchive/2013/09/30/live-shots-savages-independent/?_sft_writer=haley-zaremba

Review: Grouplove at the Independent

The last thing I expected to hear at a Grouplove concert was Skrillex and ASAP Rocky’s “Wild for the Night” but for some reason it seemed to be the perfect soundtrack to the band’s entrance. Dancing wildly and hyping the crowd to the beats and bleats of the track, the five musicians had whipped the sold-out Independent crowd into a high-energy frenzy before they played a single note.

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After touring more or less constantly since its inception in 2009, Grouplove is a well-oiled machine on stage. Every member bounces around with frenetic energy, never standing still for a moment. Vocalist and keyboardist Hannah Hooper was all hair, headbanging, whipping around, and running in place in a leopard print unitard as frontperson Christian Zucconi (clad in a bathrobe and Grateful Dead tee) furiously strummed, jumped, and bumped into everyone around him. By comparison, bassist Sean Gadd, guitarist Andrew Wessen, and drummer Ryan Rabin almost seemed demure, despite their own dancing and roaming around the stage.

Even at its most energetic, however, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Grouplove was phoning it in. Being this well-oiled touring machine has detracted from the raw electricity of its early performances. Even the new material, which the band played much of, fell flat. No amount of jumping screaming, and running could hide the fact that the group, frankly, seemed tired.

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Though Grouplove has a handful of really great, catchy tunes (especially 2011 single “Tongue Tied”) its strength has always been in its live presence. It’s not that its Saturday show at the Independent was bad — Grouplove has just set the bar incredibly high with its previous tours. Even in this slightly watered down form, however, one thing reads clear — the amorous bond that Grouplove is named for. The group is constantly interacting with each other, lighting up with smiles, leaning into each other, and feeding off of each other’s presence.

Grouplove has a miraculous and fateful backstory, starting with the chance meeting of Hooper and Zucconi in New York. Hooper, feeling an immediate bond, invited Zucconi to drop everything and join her on an artists’ residency later that week in Crete, where the pair met the three musicians who would ultimately make up the rest of Grouplove. Since that serendipitous meeting, the five relocated to LA and have rarely left each other’s sides. It is this genuine group love that makes the band’s joyful noise so infectious and endearing. Despite the flat, forced feeling of their set, it was clear that the band was happy to be there, and happy to be with each other.

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During the encore, a few little miracles happened to turn the night’s energy around. First, a man proposed to his girlfriend onstage, prompting screams from the audience and a few tears, high fives, and a group hug from Grouplove. Second, members of Morning Benders (now POP ETC) and Waters joined Grouplove to play the POP ETC’s “I Woke Up Today.”

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By the time the band got to its last song, the slow-building, hyper-catchy “Colours” the entire room had exploded with dancing, signing, and the kind of energy that got Grouplove its reputation for being an unmissable live band.

As the show closed, the previously silent Wessen leaned into the microphone and said, with heartwarming earnestness, “San Francisco, we love you so, so much. You have no idea.”

Originally published in the Bay Guardian: http://48hills.org/sfbgarchive/2013/09/17/onstage-proposal-prompts-group-hug-grouplove-indy/?_sft_writer=haley-zaremba

Better Late than Never: My Take on Miley at the VMAs

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I had a hard time committing to this topic. Has it been written about too much? Is it old news? Is it a waste of brain cells? Does Miley really need any more attention? Even harder than bringing myself to settle on Miley’s Video Music Awards performance, however, was thinking of a more culturally relevant, more salient example of the construction of sexuality and American moral panic. I didn’t choose Miley. Miley chose me.

It’s no secret that sex sells. All of our media outlets are clogged with sexual objectification and scantily clad, segmented women. You would be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of advertisements that don’t cater directly to the male gaze, even for distinctly un-sexy products. American lives are filled with sexual imagery—billboards, television commercials, magazines and newspapers, product packaging, you name it. So why then is it so shocking when a teenage pop star named Miley Cyrus flaunts her sexuality at the MTV VMAs, a production more or less synonymous with mainstream, sexualized commercial culture? Cyrus’ performance of her single “We Can’t Stop” was a perfect storm of sexual archetypes that conflict with American narratives of what’s good, pure, and acceptable for Cyrus’ stereotyped identities—young, white, rich, and female. Cyrus’ behavior isn’t the reason that Twitter’s servers had the most intense workout of their lives, it’s our societal expectations, puritanical notions of sexuality, and patriarchy that are to blame.

One of the biggest factors involved in many moral panics is American society’s fear of childhood sexuality. Logically and scientifically, there’s neither reason nor evidence to show that children are asexual. In fact, anyone who spends time around kids knows that very young children masturbate, often publicly, because they do not yet understand our socially constructed shame around sexuality. Despite these facts, the cultural narrative about the purity of youth—especially young girls—persists.  Due to Cyrus’ history as a Disney channel superstar, she continues to be associated with children and youth culture despite her best efforts to push away from Hannah Montana and “childhood innocence”. Moral panic is built on the idea of one bad, horny apple spoiling the whole bunch. Thus, Cyrus’ “impurity” is not isolated nor is her sexuality her own. On primetime television, performed by someone who was once a children’s icon, Cyrus’ sexual agency is a threat to the socially constructed sanctity and purity of American (female) youth at large.

Due to her age (20 years) and her feminine identity, it is troubling to our social norms of sex, gender, and sexuality for Cyrus to be so unapologetic and assertive in her sexual agency. Cyrus is clearly not interested in representing her sexuality as private, adult, or procreative. She also is not interested in assuming the passive, feminine role expected of young women. In her VMA performance, she acted as the initiator and aggressor, gyrating on Robin Thicke, slapping black women’s asses (more on that later), and even suggesting that she is perfectly capable of autoeroticism, using a foam finger as a sexual object more often than other humans. In other words, she is shattering every aspect of the purity myth. Her performance left no doubts that Cyrus has a sex drive, is unashamed of her body, doesn’t want anyone’s “protection” from the big, bad, sexual world, and doesn’t care if you call her a slut.

Not only is Cyrus a young woman, she’s a young white woman. This aspect of her intersectional identity is absolutely vital to understanding why one 20-year-old girl can send the entire country into a morally outraged tizzy in under five minutes. In American culture, women of color have a long history of being hypersexualized and objectified. Cyrus herself perpetuates this when she uses black bodies as props in her “We Can’t Stop” music video as well as the VMA performance in question. In contrast, as the privileged and therefore normalized class, white sex is seen as more pure, more vanilla, and more natural. White girls are given the benefit of the doubt. They are presumed to be innocent. Therefore, when someone like Cyrus (read: rich, white) blatantly disregards that assumption, it is far more shocking than whatever Nicki Minaj or Azealia Banks may be doing to assert their sexualities because, as black women, they are already perceived as hypersexual. Cyrus’ gender performance has led many writers, musicians, and the tweeting masses to accuse her of “acting black.” This does not say anything about Cyrus’ racial identity or sexuality so much as it speaks volumes about the sexualized archetypes for black women in America.

One way to look at the socially constructed understandings of sexuality that led to the post-VMAs moral panic is to look at who did not cause a stir. For one thing, no one seemed remotely shocked, nor did they even seem to notice, the hypersexualized black women that danced in sync with Cyrus, often performing exactly the same moves, except when Cyrus was slapping them. Also, the man who was in almost all of the pictures and almost none of the commentary, the Hottest Misogynist of the Summer 2013, Robin Thicke. Looking at Thicke’s actions this summer and on stage at the VMAs is a prime example of the sexual double standard for men and women. Thicke’s smash hit single “Blurred Lines” is far more sexual in nature than Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop”. Where Cyrus sings about partying and dancing, Thicke sings about the “blurred lines” of consent and glorifies the domestication of women. Thicke unapologetically contributes to and justifies rape culture and no one bats an eye. In fact, we commend him on his catchy beats and savvy sampling. Miley Cyrus asserts her own sexual agency and CNN makes it its cover story. This, in a word, is patriarchy.

Though it takes two to tango, as the saying goes, sex and power belong to heterosexual men in American society. (Hetero)sexual aggression is as essential to hegemonic masculinity as passivity is to ideal femininity. Robin Thicke was not chastised for being hypersexual and predatory in his “Blurred Lines” video as Cyrus was in her “We Can’t Stop” video because these are traits that are expected of male gender performance. Cyrus came under fire for precisely the same behavior, but her gender performance was exactly the opposite of what is expected of a young woman. Masculinity, if performed successfully, is a role of dominance, power, and control. The same things that make masculinity so powerful, however, simultaneously make it precarious and in need of constant reinforcement. The reason that Cyrus’ VMA performance caused a widespread moral panic is not because of her own sexual agency or moral corruption. It is because in her assertion of her own sexual dominance and her disregard for set gender roles threaten to upset existing systems of dominance and oppression. By vigorously and publicly slut-shaming Cyrus, American media and the morally outraged citizens of Facebook and Twitter are reinforcing their patriarchal values and sending a warning to girls who might be tempted to follow Cyrus’ lead. The message is clear: step outside your box, and be ridiculed, shamed, and disrespected.

Miley Cyrus continues to be a hot topic of conversation, fueled in part by this week’s release of her music video for “Wrecking Ball” which features the starlet nude and licking a sledgehammer. She doesn’t have to do much—a couple music videos and one five-minute performance do not a movement make—to start an outright moral panic in our hair-trigger social climate. While “Wrecking Ball” is a far cry from feminism, Cyrus is challenging the constructed notions of gender roles and leaning into the snarling face of a slut-shaming culture. One has to wonder, is Cyrus’ post-feminist utilization of the male gaze and self-objectification progressive?  Is her apparent enjoyment of patriarchal moral outrage empowering? Her public persona has certainly gotten people talking, but until the dialogue of shock, horror, and slut-shaming is combined with and counteracted by a feminist curiosity, our rigid rules for gender and sexuality are not going to budge.