Why Miley, Lady Gaga and Victoria’s Secret are pivoting country right now
Earlier this month, Victoria’s Secret unveiled the theme of its 2017 holiday shoot.
This year it’s sexy cowboy, with all the angels wearing assless chaps, cowboy hats and shearling coats.
Immediately I thought to myself, “what an interesting marketing strategy that’s bound to appeal to middle America,” which got me thinking about just how many pivots toward a classic Americana-esque identity we’ve seen across the pop culture spectrum over the past year.
Beyonce sang with the Dixie Chicks at the Grammys. Lady Gaga recorded a country album. And Miley Cyrus has gone back to her roots, exchanging her nipple pasties and face jewels for a cowboy hat and lots of denim.
Sure, you could shrug your shoulders and say this is all a big coincidence that doesn’t mean anything, but pop stars don’t do anything accidentally. Pop stars are smart and in tune with the changing sensibilities of the time. After all, they have to be if they want to stay relevant.
While none of these pop stars endorse Donald Trump — in fact they have all publicly opposed him on multiple occasions — they’re still making it a priority to market themselves in a way that appeals to the values, and in many cases, the people who helped enable Trump’s rise to the presidency.
Can it really be accidental that some of the biggest public faces of American culture are at least temporarily experimenting with a country identity just as conservative values and government have come back to power in America for the first time in eight years?
I don’t think so.
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There are a lot of parallels between Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus’s parallel career pivots.
In their own words, both women went country in order to be taken seriously and to reach more people with their work.
In an interview with The Sunday Times in 2016 Lady Gaga said:
“I would just say I’m older and in a strong state of reality; trying with statements about positivity and love to speak in a way that is not too naive, perhaps, [and] in a way that where people who live in this world can relate to what I’m saying as opposed to feeling it’s la-di-da.”
Which sounds a lot like what Miley told Billboard in 2017.
“I have to ask myself, ‘How am I going to create real change?’” she asked herself, “and not just fucking preach to the choir anymore.” She then went on to explain that with this new record, “I’m giving the world a hug and saying, ‘Hey, look. We’re good — I love you.’ And I hope you can say you love me back.”
Both women felt they needed a country makeover to reach people who weren’t, like them, cosmopolitan (read “elite”), weird, and way too sexually provocative. People who previously might have dismissed anything they were saying as liberal “la-di-da.”
And both women also felt it was necessary to change what they were wearing to be taken seriously by the public, including men, who coincidentally hold the power in conservative culture.
In that same 2016 interview Lady Gaga said:
“I started vehemently saying, ‘Get these clothes out! I’m not wearing this! I’m not wearing heels!’ And some of that too is because I’ve been in the studio with boys. You can’t make music with a bunch of boys who are staring at a lobster on your head. They are going to get distracted.”
Which mirrors what Miley succinctly told Billboard:
“I don’t think those people are going to listen to me when I’m sitting there in nipple pasties, you know?”
While Miley went on to insist that she didn’t make these changes to herself “because I want to sell records!” it’s hard to believe her.
After all, she did say she wanted to reach more people and have them take her seriously, and there’s no way that wouldn’t result in selling more records. That’s how artists grow audiences for themselves.
Plus it’s impossible to ignore that both women’s identity shifts coincided with their return to prime time TV, a staple in conservative American homes.
Miley’s back for her second season of The Voice and of course, Lady Gaga performed at the last Super Bowl.
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Which isn’t to say that politically either woman has abandoned her liberal beliefs. They haven’t. Mostly they’ve just changed the way they’re presenting themselves.
Interestingly enough, the last time liberal pop culture figures so frequently wore cowboy chic clothing was in the early 2000s. You know, when our last conservative president George W. Bush first came into office.
In 2000, Coyote Ugly came out, with bartenders stomping around in thotty cowgirl ensembles and cowboy boots. In 2000, Madonna wore a cowboy hat in her music video for “Music,” otherwise known as the hey Mr. DJ song. And in 2010 *NSYNC released their biggest album, No Strings Attached, which featured the song “Space Cowboy.”
Cowboy hats and boots were cool. Rhinestoned denim was everywhere. Hell, there was even a 2003 novelty song called “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” that everybody thought was the funniest thing they’d ever heard for a second. And it was recorded by a duo whose name could be applied to any conservative man in power: Big & Rich.
This all makes perfect sense when you think about it.
America had just shifted in favor of conservatism, so of course popular culture was reflecting that. That’s what pop culture does. It reflects society and launches men and women who best exemplify or subvert those values to superstardom.
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So for the next couple of years, get ready to see a lot more nods to country fashion.
People will say it’s just because of 2000s nostalgia, and while yes, trends are cyclical, there’s always a deeper reason behind why certain trends come back into fashion when they do.
The truth is kind of sinister but hey, relevance always comes at a cost.