Adam, Miley and the Penalties of Edge

Hi. Yeah, still alive here.

Sunday night, Miley Ray Cyrus (with the wiling help of Robin Thicke) shocked the country by performing a highly sexualized dance to a highly sexualized song in a  latex bikini, doing so on the MTV Video Music Awards. That bastion of conservative values and modesty.

Disclosure. I did NOT see this. I didn’t avoid it or anything, I just wasn’t home when it happened and I seriously have no interest in watching it. I also have no problem with Miley, who is an adult and who has been in show business since she was nine years old and therefore knows exactly what she was doing, performing as she did. Anyway, this post isn’t about the performance.  It’s about the fallout.

Adam Lambert and his fans know all about fallout from an awards show appearance. When his raunchy performance on the 2009 AMAs concluded with a kiss with his male bassist, the penalties were immediate and appeared to be devastating for his brand-new career.  He was criticized all over the media, people demanded he apologize, and, most importantly, he lost several major TV gigs as he was banned from ABC.  Fans who’d followed him since his Idol audition declared they would no longer do so.

It also put him on top of the news, prompted a dialogue on double standards (more on that) and gay rights, GAINED him fans and I’m not sure if it hurt or helped his album sales.  I suspect it was a wash, but I don’t think we’ll ever know. One thing it did NOT do was kill sales for his first single “For Your Entertainment.” That had already been pulled and replaced with “Whaddya Want From Me” the previous week.

Meanwhile, he embarked on a tour of talk shows and interviews to show he stood by his performance but understood that some people were bothered.  And therefore showed himself to be charming and intelligent. But he had to endure people constantly bringing up a performance he actually disliked – his singing was off, he was nervous and to top things off, he fell.  While he recovered so well that many people thought it was part of the choreography, he wasn’t aware of that at the time. And so he messed up his national debut.

It’s also pretty obvious that Miley will not have any of that to deal with. No network will ban her, no one will cancel gigs, and it will all be forgotten by the end of the week instead of haunting her forever. Her career will continue as it has been. And that can be irritating to Adam fans.

Why is she so privileged? Is it the double standard? Yes.  And no.

Adam’s performance was on a traditional broadcast network, ABC. These have rules enforced by the FCC, including what can be shown at certain hours. Miley was on MTV, a cable network which has no such rules, and on a show  was already labeled as TV14.  Plus the VMAs have a long-standing reputation for sexually charged performances.  ABC could potentially be hurt by what Adam did; MTV could only be helped.

Then, as I mentioned above, they were in very different places in their careers. Miley has been acting since 2001, and singing since 2006. Her career is long established. Unless she destroys it herself with substance abuse such that she can no longer perform, she’s unlikely to lose it at this point. She’s pretty well bullet-proof.

Adam, on the other hand, was at the very beginnings of his. He was fresh off American Idol, with his first album due out that week. American Idol is associated with rather wholesome, all-American good boys and girls, but he was acknowledged as an exception to that rule. Even exceptions have limits, though, and going past them was costly. He had everything to risk, and if his album hadn’t debuted in the top three in a critical week, who knows what could have happened? The thought is terrifying.

But there really is a double standard – in this case, one of the extremely rare instances when it works in favor of the woman. Women are allowed to be more sexual both with men and with each other in performances. This is not a matter of female empowerment, although it can empower some. It’s because the people who make the decisions are males – heterosexual males. They LIKE seeing women be sexual and are not threatened by women with other women. They don’t like men being sexy – performing for the female eye – and they’re extremely bothered by male/male sex. Adam is very threatening because he’s both attractive to women AND gay, and he’s not being safe and asexual about it.

And those males consider their pov universal. “No one wants to see a man be all sexy.” Totally wrong. 🙂

Could a new female performer act as Miley did on network television? I don’t know, but I think so. Could Adam be sexual on MTV? I don’t know. At all. And it’s clear he doesn’t, either.


About mamadeb

I'm a devoted fan of Adam Lambert, but also of cooking, knitting, science fiction and pretty anything pop culture. I'm @_mamadeb on Twitter.
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4 Responses to Adam, Miley and the Penalties of Edge

  1. Bridget says:

    I always enjoy lurking at your twitter comments. Whole essays – even better.

  2. Barbara kleinschmidt says:

    Please write more! Your point of view is always right on and appreciated!! This needed to be said and I couldn’t agree more. The sad part being we will never know how much that AMA performance hurt him in the minds of those who could make a difference. Thanks to all that be he has moved on beautifully and I think he is happy with where he is. But, could it have been sooner? Could it have been better? We just don’t know!! I give him utmost credit for the way he has handled his career, including bringing incredible and important people into his circle with him and getting the attention he deserves!! I wish him well and only the best! He is so very far above the rest!!

    • mamadeb says:

      Here’s the thing – it also helped him. If he had not had a controversial performance, it would have been forgotten the next day. Many European fans only know about him because of the publicity, which caused them to look for this performance. He might have just been thought of as yet another bland Idol alum with a nice voice.

      We really have no idea how this affected his career and in which direction, but I am sure it helped at least as much as it hurt.

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