Time for Warning Labels on Miley Cyrus’s Licking and Twerking Concerts?
Miley Cyrus’s Bangerz tour kicked off in Vancouver on Valentine’s Day. While critical reviews have been mixed, there is universal consensus that the 21-year-old pop star’s biggest tour to date is pushing the boundaries of age appropriateness. Between skin-laden video montages, mocking oral sex on a man in a Bill Clinton mask, on-stage masturbation, and grinding with her back-up singers, it’s a tween parent’s worst nightmare.
In response to that bad trip, parents are walking out of the show, 9-year-olds in tow, flooding Cyrus’s record company with complaints and calling for the entire tour to be cancelled. While that is not likely to happen, her record label and tour staff have been discussing ways to tone the show down. If they’re not able to rein in Miley, it’s possible that the Bangerz tour could be the catalyst for a concert-rating system, similar to what exists for albums, movies and video games.
Part of the outcry of parental consternation is her seemingly overnight transformation from Disney too-shoes to tongue-licking sex pot. It was just a few years ago that Cyrus was entertaining pre-teens on the Disney channel as her alter-ego Hannah Montana. While she has been undergoing a gradual transformation over the last five years to appeal to an older audience, 2013 marked the biggest break from the Miley of old. In 2013, Cyrus hired Larry Rudolph, who had previously worked with Britney Spears, as her manager. Under his guidance, Miley’s evolution into adulthood shifted into sex-and-drug-infused overdrive.
While it’s fair to ask how any parent buying Miley Cyrus tickets wasn’t aware of the less-than-innocent headlines she’s been generating over the last six month, it’s clear that some did not. In the age of multimedia overexposure, such cluelessness makes clear that the burden of notification rest with the maker of media, not the consumer.
This has long been the case with other forms of media and movie ratings have been around in one form or another since 1930. Video games have had ratings since 1994. Those ratings, which are assigned by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, were a response to the first wave of extremely violent and sexually-charged console games like Mortal Kombat. In movies and video games, ratings are required while music’s ”Explicit” Parental Advisory Label is not required and is up to the label to affix. Otherwise know as PAL, the ‘Explicit’ designation was adopted in 1985, with Prince’s Purple Rain serving as the biggest selling album that year to receive the warning.
Any rating system in the concert world would likely work similarly to the record approach, with a binary designation as opposed to a graded model. In today’s age of high-production value shows, every step, beat and effect is pre-planned, and the unexpected mayhem that once accompanied concerts in the ‘70s and ‘80s is long gone. Acts like Ozzy Ozbourne’s impromptu bat-head biting just don’t happen any more. GG Allin may be the most infamous shock performer, and during his tumultuous career, he regularly practiced self-mutilation on stage and even promised fans for several years that he would commit suicide onstage. Allin died of a heroin overdose and never got to fulfill his promise. In Todd Phillips’s 1993 documentary on Allin, his brother and bass player Merle says that “with GG you never plan on finishing the tour…for two reasons: either prison or the hospital.” If some vocal parents get their way, Miley’s tour won’t make it for the entire run of 39 shows planned in North America. As it is, amidst mixed reviews and controversy, prices for the Bangerz tour on the secondary market continue to drop. The average price for the remaining dates is now $179, which is down from $225 just two months ago.
One of the unintended consequences of the introduction PAL on records was that demand for records with the label actually increased, precisely because of the label. While it’s unclear if issuing an ”explicit” warning for anyone buying tickets to see Bangerz would have a similar impact, it would certainly make clear that Miley Cyrus is not just a more mature version of Hannah Montana. For anyone isolated enough to have missed out on her very public transformation, it would also be fair warning.