Monday, November 9, 2009

"Adventures in (in)authenticity" starring Miley Cyrus

It's time to jam. Just push play ...

Come on, admit it. You started bobbing your head -- and perhaps even singing along -- the second you hit "play" on that video. At the very least, you recognized that song and would probably admit -- even if begrudgingly -- that it's really darn catchy.

But, sadly, "Party in the USA" is a fraud. And the party's over now that someone's turned on the lights and cleared out the room.

Over the weekend, the folks over at Best Week Ever informed us that Miley Cyrus admitted she's never heard a Jay-Z song, invalidating a lyric of the song that made Miss Cyrus a relatable, even -- gasp -- cool teenager who digs all sorts of music and gives props to other artists.

First of all ... WHAT?! What planet are you from, girl? I mean, I know your dad is famous for "Achy Breaky Heart" and all, but you're a popular music star. Jay-Z is a popular music star. You've probably been at -- and even performed at -- the same awards show at least once. There's no excuse for you to have never heard any of his work.

That bit of "Captain Obvious" commentary aside ...

You're probably thinking, "It's a song. A silly little pop song. It's not supposed to be an autobiography."

And you know what? I would agree with that argument approximately 99% of the time. Matt Nathanson, for example, is a singer/songwriter who spins vivid, brilliant stories in his songs. Are they autobiographical? Perhaps in parts; I really don't know ... but that's because they're written in a way that they could be about anyone, for anyone. And his music doesn't contain shout-outs -- contrived or otherwise -- to other artists, which means there's no related sincerity/authenticity issue inherent in his work.

As soon as you start singing songs that sound like autobiographies -- or like they're at least "loosely based on actual events," as they say -- you cross over into different territory. And when you start singing lyrics that offer shout-outs to fellow artists, you really start treading on special ground. Shout-outs -- especially in today's highly competitive, beef-filled music industry -- are rare and usually considered sacred, for lack of a better term. So to waste one of your two shout-outs in a song that is a huge hit (and was bound to become one from the start; let's face it) on an artist whose music you've never heard is both foolish and inauthentic.

In the communications world, we stress authenticity and hold each other accountable for it (or the lack of it). What Miley Cyrus did by not changing the Jay-Z lyric in "Party in the USA" to the name of an artist with whom she's familiar -- and preferably one she even likes -- is akin to, say, retweeting an article you haven't read, gushing about a book you haven't read, or raving about a product you haven't tried, all in an effort to earn favor with peers or to give the appearance that you're up on the latest trends.

A friend of mine has a daughter around 10 years old who, upon hearing the information about "Party in the USA" and its phony Jay-Z mention, proclaimed, "I'm MAD at her! She lied on her song!" Kids say the darndest -- and truest -- things, no?

(And if you want to dive into the conspiracy theories, what if the shout-outs were paid placements? I have no reason to believe that they were, but hey, there are product placements pretty much everywhere else these days.)

The bottom line: Authenticity is key. And, in any context, if you're going to give someone a shout-out, mean it ... because it's awfully embarrassing when the world finds out the truth.


  1. This post actually made me like the damn song. Thanks a lot Lindsay! :-P

  2. Ugh. She is so fake.

    Taylor Swift referred to Tim McGraw in her song....because she listened to him. I feel that Taylor Swift is very authentic and that is key in country music. I know this because I've spent the last 20+ years listening to it!!

    It goes to show that some people can become popular even if they have no talent. They just use "daddy's money."

  3. Rockin' post, lady. :) And yes, I bobbed my head...then shamed myself for even remotely liking the song.

    You make an important point about relating to people in an authentic and REAL way. Gaining ground with your colleagues, customers and fans is impossible when you fake them into connecting with you -- and it ruins your chances of ever gaining trust from them.

    Good lesson for all of us to remember!

  4. I bobbed my head so much that I threw up. Stupid, self-declared, pop icons.