Friday, August 30, 2013

A Brief History Of Twerking & Miley's VMA Disaster

(By Joe Lynch, Fuse, August 28, 2013)
Two decades after its birth, Miley Cyrus discovered the booty-shaking craze and shoved it down our throats. Now it's in the dictionary. Here's what happened.

It started in the 1990s, got name-checked by Beyonce and Justin Timberlake over the years and then exploded into the stratosphere this week when Miley Cyrus did it all over Robin Thicke's crotch at the 2013 VMAs. Yep, we're talking about twerking.  Thanks to Ms. Cyrus, that particular dance move—squatting down, sticking your ass out and shaking it up and down—has officially super-saturated our culture. But while twerking might be new to many, it's actually been around since 1993 and has a storied history. So from its birth in New Orleans (as a combination of the words "twist," "twitch," "work" and "jerk") to its recent inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary, here's the Definitive History of Twerking.

1993: Twerking was born out of New Orleans' bounce music scene, a hip hop sub-genre centered around call-and-response vocals and the endlessly sampled Triggaman beat. The first reference to twerking in a song is DJ Jubilee's "Do the Jubilee All" in 1993, which features him telling the crowd to, "Twerk baby, twerk baby, twerk, twerk, twerk." Much like twerking, the bounce music scene has been getting more national attention over the last few years. No small thanks due to bounce music's Queen Diva Big Freedia, whose reality show Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce debuts October 2 on Fuse.

1995: New Orleans femcee Cheeky Blakk dropped the track "Twerk Something," another bounce music track centered around the Triggaman beat.

1997: DJ Jubilee returns to the world of twerking with "Get Ready, Ready," which finds him commanding the listener to "twerk it!"

2000: Atlanta rap duo Ying Yang Twins' debut single "Whistle While You Twurk" described the act of twerking in (far too much) detail in its NSFW chorus: "Whistle while you twurk / Go head and start and make that p—sy fart / And whistle while you twurk."

2001: Bubba Sparxxx's debut album features a Timbaland collabo called "Twerk a Little."

2003: The first definition of twerking is submitted to Urban Dictionary: "To work one's body, as in dancing, especially the rear end."

2005: Beyonce's No. 1 hit "Check On It" features the line "Dip it, pop it, twerk it, stop it, check on me tonight" in the chorus.

2006: Justin Timberlake's No. 1 hit "SexyBack" features the line, "Let me see what ya twerkin' with."

2009: The Twerk Team—three teenage girls from Atlanta—upload a video of themselves twerking to Soulja Boy's "Donk." It receives over a million views in one week.

2010: Miley Cyrus goes to New Orleans to film the direct-to-video movie So Undercover and learns how to twerk.

2011: Waka Flocka Flame and Drake's "Round of Applause" references YouTube stars the Twerk Team: "Bounce that ass, shake that ass like the Twerk Team."

March 2012: Diplo & Nicky Da B's "Express Yourself" video helps the dance continue its ascent to ubiquity by featuring a seemingly endless parade of dancers twerking, including people facing a wall and twerking upside down.

June 2012: French Montana's "Pop That" with Lil Wayne, Drake and Rick Ross features the hook, "What you twerkin' with / Work, work, work, work, bounce."

September 2012: Juicy J's "Bandz A Make Her Dance" features the line, "Start twerking when she hear her song / Stripper pole her income."

March 2013: Video of Miley Cyrus twerking in a unicorn onesie to J. Dash & Flo Rida's "Wop" goes viral.

May 2013: 33 San Diego high school students are suspended for filming themselves twerking with school camcorders.

June 2013: Miley Cyrus twerks at Juicy J's L.A. concert. Video of her first public twerk session goes viral.

July 2013: Jay Z's Magna Carta…Holy Grail track "Somewhereinamerica" features the line, "Feds still lurking / They see I'm still putting work in / Cause somewhere in America / Miley Cyrus is still twerkin.'"

August 2013: Miley Cyrus twerks at the VMAs during her duet with Robin Thicke. It's the most talked about moment of the night, although many decry it as an appropriation of black culture and/or morally offensive. 

- The Oxford English Dictionary adds twerking to its vocabulary. 

- Lil Twist teases his Miley/Justin Bieber collabo, "Twerk."

- Diplo announces his intention to set the "world record of having the most people twerking at the same time." The DJ will line up a human wall of twerkers (i.e., the Great Wall of 'Gina) at New York's Electric Zoo fest over Labor Day Weekend.

And that brings us up to present day. If you're sick to death of twerking, Fuse News' Elaine Moran hears you and has crafted the perfect anti-twerk anthem. And to see what legitimate twerking looks like from a dancer who knows what they're doing, read our Miley-slamming interview with the Queen of Bounce Big Freedia and watch her upcoming reality show, Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce, when it debuts October 2 at 11/10c on Fuse.

Richard's comments:

The thing I don't get about the Miley Cyrus VMA controversy/disaster is how everyone is making it about race instead of offensive behavior.  Much of the racial comments are pointed at Miley Cyrus's appropriation of black culture and black dance moves.  Commentators and notable black culture icons are saying that it was wrong of her to utilize dance moves that are associated with black culture.  That sounds to me like they are saying that white people should not adopt and integrate things that originated within black culture, that the two should be mutually exclusive and completely separate. 

You can see what this argument implies if you take it to the logical conclusion.  You cannot claim that there are still racial barriers and also get upset when other races  integrate your culture and behaviors.  What everyone should be condemning is twerking itself.  The dance move is basically a barely disguised sexual act being perpetrated in public and should not be accepted as proper social behavior.  Dancing should be a metaphor for sex, not a demonstration of it.

Miley Cyrus Matters
(By Brandon Soderberg,, August 29 2013)

Even if you're suffering from think-piece fatigue, the post-racial nightmare that was "We Can't Stop" at the MTV Video Music Awards deserves your attention

The Miley Cyrus twerktastrophe is important shit, man. Yes, it's important even at this exact moment, when it looks like we're about to start another war with another country, and your Facebook feed is full of condescending suggestions that we've got bigger problems than Billy Ray Cyrus' daughter (dressed in flesh-colored underpants) grinding up against Alan Thicke's son (dressed like Beetlejuice). We do have bigger problems, it's true. But we can compartmentalize, and not entirely ignore this one.

This is a knotty, vital issue, spanning from racial appropriation to feminist concerns over the ugly, casual rhetoric of slut-shaming. And however you feel about Miley's wildly problematic MTV VMA's performance — a symphony of twerking, tongue-wagging, crotch-rubbing, and butt-slapping — it has already inspired a lot of great writing, including New York Magazine critic Jody Rosen's charge (and subsequent Twitter defense of that charge) that at its worst, the debacle tilted over into minstrelsy, as when Miley slapped the ass of a black dancer, reducing the woman to a symbol — something a provocative (and white) pop star can stand near and fondle and strip-mine for authenticity.
But it's worth noting also that the Artist Formerly Known as Hannah Montana's uncomfortable relationship with black culture has been fermenting for a while. Miley's rollout as a hip-hop-skewing pop star began in March, when she uploaded a video of her twerking to J. Dash's "Wop," sending a two-year-old song to the Billboard Hot 100). In June came future VMA showstopper "We Can't Stop" itself, an appropriately Disney-esque party song with just enough daring to make it seem mature, its video replete with American Apparel-style decadence (and a number of black women). Since then, Miley has stepped in it multiple times in interviews, explaining that she was taking more of a "black" approach (which to her is synonymous with strip-club anthems), further boasting that while she may be "a hillbilly," she can still "twerk." She even showed up in the clip for Big Sean's "Fire," trying on the video-girl persona for a few minutes. Her new album, Bangerz, is out in October. 

But this exchange works both ways: "Miley Cyrus" has also become a meme in hip-hop. The once-clever crack-rap trope where rappers would refer to cocaine as "white girl" has shifted to naming all white drugs after specific white female celebs: Atlanta trap trio Migos, for example, have a song called  "Hannah Montana." ("I got molly / I got white / I've been trapping, trapping, trapping all damn night.") Meek Mill: "Got a bad bitch in my Chevy / She's selling Miley Cyrus." Lil Wayne: "I wish we were single, like a couple of dollars / And when we get together, she be on that Miley Cyrus." Jay Z, even: "Somewhere in America / Miley Cyrus is still twerking." 
That's a funny, mock-poetic Jay line, actually. It exists to get people talking, of course, but there's a biting edge to it, a bemusement with the racial politics of 2013 even as it perpetuates this sense of a "post-racial America" — enabled in part, Jay believes, by his own rise to superstardom. It's also part of a song about how "you can't teach racism when your child is connected to the culture," as he told Elliott Wilson. That betrays a deeply na├»ve understanding of how racism is internalized, and/or the twists and turns racists' brains make to accept blackness while also rejecting it. But it's also instructive: Jay's perpetuation of the post-racial myth is integral to the marketing of mainstream music now. Even Mylie's.

This is all part of our current egregious pop moment, when the removal of black voices seems persistent and calculated. So much of the criticism of this year's VMA's has centered on the relentless whiteness, from Macklemore's filibuster of an acceptance speech to Justin Timberlake's epic victory lap. And for me, it recalled another terrible awards show: the 2011 Grammys. Remember that? Gang Starr's Guru left out of the "In Memoriam" montage; the Best Rap Album nod going to past-his-prime Eminem's Recovery; Lady Antebellum paying tribute to Teddy Pendergrass; Mick Jagger singing Solomon Burke songs; and Cee-Lo singing "Fuck You" (or "Forget You," or whatever) with Gwyneth Paltrow, who also sang it on Glee
At the time, I called the show a "great whitewash"; The Fader's Naomi Zeichner just said the very same thing about the 2013 VMA's. (Perhaps the shock here is that we assumed MTV to be a bit hipper than the Grammys.) That 2011 disaster sure felt like a terrible and significant event: At the precise moment when hip-hop was fully integrated into pop (not hip-hop as pop, but rapping as but one more signifier in every pop-music song), blackness was shoved into the background. Since then, the charts have grown yet whiter, and hip-hop too is suffering a whitewash: Mac Miller is being given a great deal of credit for aping the bugged-out qualities of MF Doom and other eccentric underground hip-hop, while Macklemore is not only presented as a valid rapper, but as a socially aware alternative to mainstream rap's excess. This is how Miley Cyrus happened.

As for this week's raging Miley debate, it often has the odd effect of pitting feminism (combating the clowns whose primary reaction to the VMA's was to make fun of Miley's ass) against racism; Jezebel wisely addressed this issue, offering a woman's perspective that didn't ignore the "incredible racist nature" of her performance. (There's been lots of great writing this week about the way white people objectify black bodies, too.) You can't govern what people — even clueless white people like Miley Cyrus (and the machine behind her, which by the way, knows exactly what it is doing) — get out of hip-hop. She deserves criticism for reducing rap culture to its basest, most sexually depraved instincts, but those who merely slut-shame her in response should invite ridicule, too.
It's outrageous, by the way, that Robin Thicke has shouldered none of the responsibility for the VMA's performance; he didn't exactly comport himself with any more dignity. And don't forget that Miley's father, Billy Ray, gained wider success by objectifying himself, too — within the world of country music, at least, shaking his butt in tight jeans and courting a roughneck, working-class appeal.  Cyrus' story in and of itself is unimpressive and boilerplate: Young white artist looking for edge and controversy, ill-informed about the world bigger than her dumb little Los-Angeles-by-way-of-Nashville privileged bubble, grafts elements of hip-hop culture onto herself in an attempt to appear "down," and winds up talking about "hood" culture and serving up "black is an attitude" nonsense as a result. What's shocking about this is that she's getting away with it, that people are indulging her, and that the interplay between white artists and black artists seems like it is actually growing more one-sided.


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