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Introduction

In September of 2013, Josh Eells of Rolling Stone write an article, innocuously titled, “Miley Cyrus on Why She Loves Weed, Went Wild at the VMAs and Much More.” The article tripped into a world reeling from some level of confusion at a “New Miley,” but enamored by her hit song Wrecking Ball, released on August 25. In the article, Cyrus describes herself as performing “a creepy, sexy baby” for the VMAs, delivers some hot takes on racism in the music industry, and then veers aside to pay tribute to Sinéad O’Connor’s music video for Nothing Compares 2 U (Eells, 2013).

It’s like the Sinead O’Connor video [for “Nothing Compares 2 U”], but, like, the most modern version. I wanted it to be tough but really pretty – that’s what Sinead did with her hair and everything. The trick is getting the camera up above you, so it almost looks like you’re looking up at someone and crying… I think it will be one of those iconic videos, too. I think it’s something that people are not gonna forget. (Eells, 2013)

The comparison between the two videos may not have been completely obvious until that moment. An initial watch of Wrecking Ball was more a moment of presque vu, lacking in extremely explicit calls to remember Sinéad O’Connor upon the sight of Cyrus hanging from a wrecking ball. When connected, however, it is apparent just how much Cyrus borrowed, or in her words modernized, from O’Connor’s 1990 hit song. Sinéad O’Connor and Miley Cyrus employ similar bel canto techniques, physical presentations, and minimalistic aesthetic expression to arrive at different spaces on opposite ends of the feminist spectrum.

The comments Cyrus made were initially quite flattering to O’Connor, who would respond with tepid thanks, immediately followed by a forceful (and now deleted) condemnation of the young artist’s behavior.

The message you keep sending is that it’s somehow cool to be prostituted . . . it’s so not cool Miley . . . it’s dangerous. (Blistein, 2013)

A full-out online war began between the two, replete with ad hominem attacks and skeletons being ripped out of dusty Twitter accounts. There was bad blood everywhere, along with a stream of academic inquiry and comparisons of the two artists and songs. Whether or not she resented her impact on Cyrus, it was clear that O’Connor had left telling remarks on the music industry blueprint for wild child reinventions. Cyrus closely mirrored O’Connor’s early works in terms of her combative vocals, aesthetic minimalism, unpacking presentation through bodily exhibition and gaze, reworking of classic instrumentation, and driving home a message of authenticity.

When it was all said and done, with Wrecking Ball retiring from constant airplay, and Nothing Compares 2 U sliding back into the shadows until Prince’s death, the two artists were in irreconcilable places. O’Connor and Cyrus are unique in that they are constantly on an open and forthright quest for personal truth. The two songs have come to represent eras in this search, yet the societal understanding of these two songs have held their images back until more recent creative interventions.

Image from Entertainment Weekly online article, published October 2, 2013.
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