Hey, Miley Cyrus: Want to Shock Me? Put Some Effort Into the Job

In 1970, a band called the Bouys released a song called “Timothy,” a song with catchy music – a feature that helped this song reach a respectable level of success. Once listeners paid attention to the lyrics, it became obvious that this song about three guys who were trapped in a mine collapse, but only two were rescued, was a song about cannibalism.

The seemingly-hidden, yet obvious meaning of “Timothy” helped the song’s writer Rupert Holmes accomplish his goal: write a song that would help a new band reach success rather quickly, while generating extra publicity.

The backlash from this song resulted in a new version being recorded – one that implied that Timothy was a mule. Hearing the original version of “Timothy” isn’t quite the same as actually reading the original lyrics, since the music gives the song a happy tone. Unfortunately for the Bouys, matching the success of “Timothy” proved an impossible task.

As with all controversies that the entertainment industry had generated, this one has been all but forgotten over time.
The most recent publicity stunt at the MTV Video Music Awards – the one involving what’s-her-name and the guy who dresses, acts and sings like a George Michael/Justin Timberlake hybrid will soon find itself, as well as the careers of the participants, buried in the graveyard of unoriginal blips in the entertainment world.

Shock value, if it is practiced with restraint and creativity, such as in the “Timothy Experiment” could help sell music and generate valuable, free publicity. However, solely indulging in overkill, such as wearing uber-revealing clothes, pushing overly-vulgar lyrics and/or engaging in unusual behavior both on and off-stage as though they are crutches, may provide a bump in popularity, but in the end, the price could range from the premature end to a career, to the undermining of true talent, or much worse.

If anyone has had an ability to jump from publicity stunt to shameless publicity stunt, it would have to be Madonna Ciccone. In this case, the above-mentioned “crutches” were combined with having handlers who had the ability to know when to jump from fad to fad; leeching-on at the start of one, and then moving on just before the then-current fad peaked in popularity.

In an early-nineties interview on WLUP AM, Spin Magazine founder Bob Guccione, Jr. discussed the faddish nature of her career. Although sometimes credited as a major influence in pop music, the absence of her songs on compilation albums, in addition to a constant need to “reinvent” her image, history may prove the opposite as true, since the music is an afterthought within a career that was intended to publicize a person, not musical products.

Perhaps these words which had been used to describe the 1999 Detroit Lions, best summarize a career that had been built on shock, sex and insults: “not since Madonna has so much been done, with so little talent.”

Around 2002, Christina Aguilera tried to shake her Disney-era image by utilizing a game plan similar to that of Miley Cyrus, another Disney product: minimal clothes, as well as song lyrics and a demeanor that suggested promiscuous behavior. Somehow, her amazing voice wasn’t factored into this attempt to expand her audience.

And just how did this career move work? I offer my very unscientific findings.

While stationed in Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009, I’d spent quite a bit of free-time in the Electronics section of the base Post Exchange, looking through the CD bins. MTV Europe was piped into the store’s PA system, while the video feed played on a TV in Electronics. Whenever one of Pink’s or Katy Perry’s videos played, it seemed as though every male in the store would almost instantly cram into the tiny Electronics section. As for Aguilera, the store remained business as usual.

As entertainers age, the use of sex appeal to carry a career diminishes, and the need for true talent becomes a necessity. Therefore, the importance of depending upon talent is undeniable; after all, the belief in one’s talent is the original purpose of trying to start a career in the entertainment business.

Although Ciccone, Cyrus and Aguilera have engaged in behavior that may be described as a series of cheap publicity stunts, all have been “beaten to the bottom” by Wendy O. Williams.

As a solo performer and lead singer of the Plasmatics, Williams had a reputation for the usual shock behavior, plus blowing-up cars onstage, lifting her shirt on live TV, and being arrested for “obscene conduct” onstage –- as well as battery in public.

Williams’ antics may have occurred thirty years ago, and they may dwarf the crudeness of publicity stunts today, but everyone who has followed her is trying to force their acts into the mainstream with the blessing of some in the broadcast industry; Williams’ TV appearances were usually shown late at night.

Sadly, the only time that Williams showed any of her true feelings was in the suicide note that she had left behind. Had it not been for everything that she chose to be known as, had she been more honest about whom she really was, perhaps her life would not have ended so tragically.

Perhaps the best advice that anyone could give regarding the topic of disingenuous images comes from Stevie Nicks, a respected and sincere artist with a long career. This quote is a response to a shameless publicity stunt at an earlier MTV Video Music Awards presentation involving Aguilera, Ciccone, and Britney Spears: “wear more clothes and try writing some decent songs.”

After the passage of over fifty years, it seems as though Elvis Presley didn’t indulge in shocking antics as much as his critics perceived his act as shocking. If you are a struggling musician, having the media and high-profile individuals single you out among a large group of other musicians gives you publicity that is definitely welcomed, but usually short-lived, regardless if it happens as a result of gyrating onstage, or singing about eating your co-worker.

Image: Flickr; author: calmdownlove; Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

About the author: Chuck Gruenwald

Born in Chicago and raised in northwest suburban Cook County, Chuck Gruenwald developed an unfavorable opinion of machine politics quite early in life. In addition to cars, electronics, law enforcement, and politics, Chuck enjoys writing, and is also a horse racing fan. He has recently written op-eds for uncommonshow.com

View all articles by Chuck Gruenwald

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