It’s time to pause for an appreciation of what I’ve heard described as “the song of the summer.” That would be “We Can’t Stop,” by Miley Cyrus.Cyrus is twenty years-old, the former star of the Disney Channel’s Hannah Montana, a show that continues in reruns and is most popular with pre-teenage girls. Miley Cyrus has been maturing at a rapid rate since leaving that show, if maturing is to be characterized as becoming more provocatively and publicly sexual with each passing month. (For former Disney child stars, at least, that seems to be what passes for maturing.) This new record, then, “We Can’t Stop,” along with its accompanying video (embedded at bottom), establishes a new apex of maturity for Miley. The video features Cyrus and a bevy of youthful friends alternately boogieing and lounging in various states of undress in what seems like an extremely plush house that they have to themselves. Some are portrayed as sprawled either in states of exhausted unconsciousness or death. The lyric features a variety of declarations like the following:
It’s our party we can do what we want to
It’s our house we can love who we want to
It’s our song we can sing if we want to
It’s my mouth I can say what I want to
And we can’t stop
And we won’t stop
We run things
Things don’t run we
We don’t take nothing from nobody
I don’t think you have to dig too deep or enlist a professor of poetry to get at the theme of the song, which is something like this: “Life is a party. We’ll do whatever we want, however we want, with whoever we want. No one can stop us. We can’t even stop ourselves. And screw you if you don’t like it.”
The tune features two drug references, one to ecstasy (“dancing with Molly”) and one to cocaine: “And everyone in line in the bathroom / Trying to get a line in the bathroom.”
All in all, and especially considering Miley Cyrus’s special status with young girls, most parents who are paying attention to what their kids are listening to must view this song as having come directly from hell. And indeed, it’s pretty hard to watch the video without detecting a strong whiff of brimstone. (And why does she stick her tongue out so much?)
But to give the Devil his due (and Miley too) I think one more thing should be acknowledged: “We Can’t Stop” is a pretty darned good pop record. I find it almost impossible not to sing along on the chorus, and I don’t even know what on earth it could possibly be that I “can’t stop” doing.
The truth is that the majority of music that is aimed at kids and teenagers these days is nihilistic garbage anyway. What makes “We Can’t Stop” stand out from the crowd is just how well done it is. And a key to how well it works on the ear is the fact that the tune is, underneath it all, a sad one. It’s a big, mournful ballad masquerading as a dance club track. The refrain kicks in with those earnest piano chords and suddenly it’s not so much a spiteful declaration as a poignant admission: “And we can’t stop / And we won’t stop …” There is an air of tragedy about it. It is this complexity, this sad counterpoint and irony, that makes the record something special, rather than just another straight-ahead “let’s party” song. It’s as if there is an awareness deep inside there that the song is expressing an attitude to living that is not going to end well, that is ultimately a kind of death-wish. And hard partying does incorporate a death-wish. It always has, and the corpses stretch further than the eye can see.
The multilayered and ironic nature of the song is not lost on those hearing it, even in the dance clubs, and even if they couldn’t explain it if asked. It gives “We Can’t Stop” some depth, some coolness, and some real power. That’s why it’s the song of the summer, rather than just another “here and gone” single.
Does Miley Cyrus know what she’s doing, or is she just happy to play along on a vehicle to greater stardom concocted by others? I have no idea. She’s not a bad singer at all, compared to what else is out there, and that’s another thing that makes “We Can’t Stop” a decent pop record. Whether she appreciates the dangers of the kind of total devotion to decadence that her current song and video celebrate will play a large role in whether she survives to have an actual adult career (and adulthood). And one can only hope that her young fans will somehow find ways of learning the same lesson for themselves.
Watch the video for “We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus