Miley Madness in Milwaukee
One man's meditation on Bangerz, the Bucks, blacks and whites at the Bradley Center.
After a party a few Saturdays ago I was so far in the bag that I created a personal ad in the “men seeking women” – “casual encounters” subsection of Craigslist Milwaukee titled “Party in the USA.” I indicated I was looking for someone to go with me to the Miley Cyrus concert. I even included my picture.
Within minutes I had a couple sex offers from men, which is not uncommon for the “men seeking women” section. For the record, I used Craigslist last year to find a date to a Portland Timbers soccer game. (She turned out to be a real person and we had fun.) But by the time I awoke hungover as hell on Sunday I immediately regretted the ad and deleted it.
The following Saturday I was at a Bucks game with one of my best friends visiting from out of town. His girlfriend was with us and admitted she too wanted to see Miley, but didn’t have anyone to go with. So I bought a 50/50 raffle ticket and told her if I won the prize (usually between $1,000 and $2,000) I would treat us to Miley. No such luck.
Not that tickets to the Miley Cyrus Bangerz Tour at the Bradley Center ran in the thousands or even the hundreds. As it turned out, I got a seat in the rafters for a mere $36.20, after $16.70 in fees. It was a snap decision on the Friday afternoon before the Sunday show and I couldn’t manage to get my sorry ass to the Bradley Center to avoid being ripped off by Ticketmaster and Live Nation. It’s a good thing I bought it when I did, because by the time I got home from work Friday night the concert was supposedly sold out.
You might wonder why this fascination with Miley Cyrus. Mine began in 2013 whenever her first single off Bangerz was released. The video for “We Can’t Stop” indicated that Miley, like fellow popstar doppelganger Justin Bieber, had made a decided shift to hip-hop/R&B influenced pop music. To put it bluntly, she was on board with black culture. As a white boy who grew up in Sherman Park and went through Milwaukee Public Schools, I have a soft (yet critical) spot for white kids allegedly “acting black.”
My chronically cheap father has a favorite refrain that he drops on me whenever I tell him I bought tickets to a sports event or movie: “Why don’t you just watch it at home silly?”
You can extend that to include big concerts like Miley’s, which often end up as a movie. (It’s almost guaranteed in Miley’s case, as one of the choruses on “Bangerz” goes, “We gon’ make a movie, movie, and it’s gon’ be in 3D, 3D.”) But there are elements of a live performance that cannot be replicated on the best surround sound systems and 3D flat-screen TVs, and definitely not captured on our measly smartphone cameras. They include the roar inside a cavernous arena, the energy and sideshow of the audience, and the ever-present possibility that anything could happen. It’s the singularity of experience.
Not to mention, Miley, like everyone, is only 21 once. Since pop stars are prone to changing trends this might be the only chance to see the “strategic hot mess” (her words) and “parental nightmare” (not her words) version of Miley Cyrus.
Plus, she’s got some bangerz.
Like any serious journalist unfamiliar to a subject, I did some research. I forced myself to watch the pilot and finale of the Disney Channel original production, “Hannah Montana,” from which Miley got her start. Sweet baby Jesus. I understand why Stephen Colbert took a shot at the Disney Channel sitcom laugh track when he was on “The Tonight Show.”
On his own show, “The Colbert Report,” Stephen recently interviewed Darlene Love, one of the stars of the Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, which is about back-up singers. Stephen asked Darlene to name her favorite performer to work with and she said Sam Cooke, because “he just oozed sex.”
Miley, too, is currently oozing sex in music videos and on stages, which for many makes her a slut. I’m not saying she is all female empowerment, I lean toward the Sinead O’Connor end of that argument, but there’s obviously a double standard for women in entertainment. (At least Miley has a message of self-pleasure rather than subservience, as she says on the track “SMS” (Bangerz), “They ask me how I keep a man, I keep a battery pack.”)
The last question Colbert asked Love, a black woman, was a poignant joke that says a lot about the modern incarnation of Miley Cyrus: “How much about African-American, soul or blues music did you learn from Elvis Presley?”
Boom! Classic Colbert genius. Cleverly calls attention to the wolf of cultural appropriation. Miley, and Bieber for that matter, are part of a long lineage of white performers doing black music and making millions while they’re at it.
What can I say? It’s an unfair state of affairs. Whether it’s working with trap beat producer Mike Will on Bangerz, instructing her listeners to get “Turnt Up” or employing black girls to twerk their asses all over her scene, Miley is riding the wave of black culture to fortune and infamy.
Being from the inner city, I’ve always been sensitive to issues of race. Having moved back to Milwaukee after a decade away has brought race into greater focus, considering our undisputed supremacy (based on 2010 Census date) as the most segregated city in America.
The block I grew up on is pretty unique in that it’s a dividing line between some of the deep blue areas (Black people) on the above map and a bright red spot (White people) representing a Hasidic Jewish enclave. Nobody segregates like the Hasids, which in my understanding is actually part of their religion. (At least that’s why I’m assuming none of the Hasid kids ever talked to or hung out with me and my Black, Puerto Rican, non-Jewish White and mixed friends.)
The Bucks and the Bradley Center hold such a special place in my heart not only because they’re my hometown basketball team and arena, but because in our “strategic hot mess” of a segregated city, there is no other place where so many black and white people come together under one roof as often as at Bucks games.
Given our NBA-worst record this season, the numbers have obviously dropped. Ironically, I’ve gone to more games than ever before. As noted, my father is chronically cheap, so growing up we only went to a couple games a year. Now two of my friends work Downtown and because the team is doing so poorly, single tickets are more affordable than ever.
We consider going to Bucks games somewhat of a masochistic inside joke and have proudly grown to calling both the Bradley Center and the team “The Basement.” But we were there when Brandon Knight hit a buzzer beating three-pointer to beat the Knicks, and when Ersan Ilyasova went 13 for 14 and they blew out the Jazz, and when they came back from 18 down to beat the Magic, and none of our cheering was sarcastic.
Even with recent renovations that cost millions, including the refurbishment of all the luxury suites, the Bradley Center has been given a death sentence by Adam Silver, the new NBA commissioner. Silver has decreed that the Bradley Center is outdated and if the team doesn’t provide a plan for a new arena by 2017 we will have to say goodbye to our beloved Bucks.
(And to think, they just brought Jake’s Delicatessen to the Bradley Center and now white people don’t have to go to 17th and North for those mouth-watering Jewish deli sandwiches, which for my money are better than their counterparts in New York City and Montreal.)
The Bradley Center might not be up to Adam Silver’s standards but it was just fine for Miley last Sunday night. I wonder if it was simply a coincidence that the Bucks scheduled “Faith and Family Night” on the night before Miley’s exhibition of debauchery and hedonism. To Milwaukee’s credit, there were more people at the Bucks’ Y2K Night featuring a halftime performance by Coolio than at Faith and Family Night featuring a Christian rock band called Mercy Me that we didn’t stay to see.
The first thing I noticed at the Miley concert (besides the guy holding the door for me dressed as Robin Thicke in a Beetlejuice-inspired VMA 2013 outfit) was that security was not using metal detecting wands to search us like they do at Bucks games. Inside the Bradley Center it was damn near pandemonium. As soon as I got off the escalator on the upper level I did the getting-out-of-each other’s-way dance with two girls jogging towards me and one of them screamed in my face with pure excitement.
The crowd was considerably younger, whiter, less clothed and more female than at any Bucks game. In fact, when Miley comes to town, men lose most of their restrooms. (Fun fact: the day before the concert was International Women’s Day and Miley had an off day on her tour.)
One of my Bucks buddies made the following analogy about the Bradley Center. “The Basement is like an old school porno theater: dimly lit, shabby, and everyone is kind of embarrassed to be there.”
It’s not too far from the truth. And during the Miley concert it was all the more true. There was just so much skin! (Though I have a feeling the mulleted beer vendor at The Tap House was enjoying himself guilt free.) But it wasn’t exclusively clothing-deficient females. Let me break down the basic demographics:
-13 to 21-year-old girls easily outnumbered 22 to 35-year-old women, but the latter had a much stronger showing than expected, to my delight.
-There were a fair share of overly straight boyfriends, one of whom I overheard plead, “Can I please buy everyone beers?” right after his double date arrived.
-A few unlucky (or lucky, depending on their perspective) chaperone dads.
-Barely any mom-teenage daughter duos, but a number of single moms and older mom-daughter duos, one of whom were wearing matching “Will Twerk For Beer” t-shirts.
-Lots of gay men and women, mostly under 30.
-Middle-aged rockers wearing way too much make-up.
-Nerdy young straight guys enjoying the scenery, including a crew of college boys filing out of the First Aid room, undoubtedly leaving one of their overly intoxicated “bros” behind.
-A Mexican dad, uncle and teenage daughter team.
-My favorite demographic had to be the Future Gays. These are flamboyant preteens. There weren’t many but seconds after spotting a pair of probably gay adolescent black boys I immediately saw their 25-year-old versions and it momentarily blew my mind.
I’m guessing a sizeable percentage of the young people were on drugs, especially this one girl that bumped into me and started simultaneously groping, smiling and apologizing.
The Baseline Bar was packed, lots of selfies were being taken (most featured tongues out, Miley’s signature) and a Nate Wolters (Bucks rookie) jersey was spotted, looking sexy.
Official Miley tour t-shirts ran an astonishing $40-$45 and a program cost $20. But at least the inflatable bananas were affordable.
The opening act, a young female Swedish duo named Icona Pop, executed a tight 30 minute set and successfully riled up the crowd. In the interim I noticed all the balloons hanging from the roof and along the floor, which made the Bradley Center look like the scene of a scandalous graduation.
And then came Miley. It’s hard to describe the fever pitch during the build-up to her entrance. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. That minute or so may have been worth the $36.20 alone.
As expected, it was a spectacle. And for those on drugs, it was a trippy one. Highlights included: cartoons on the big screen by the “Ren & Stimpy” creator, a sparkly marijuana leaf dress/marijuana leaf gold necklace combo, a 100 times-better-than-at-a-sports-event Kiss Cam during “Adore You,” Miley riding a hot dog, Miley dancing with a midget dressed as a joint, and a show-stopping performance of “Wrecking Ball” that I got so caught up in I was compelled to SnapChat the image below to my ex-girlfriend.
Lowlights included: Miley playing a black girl performer’s thigh like a guitar, the big trippy monkey head before a team of black girls came out and twerked, and weak covers of Bob Dylan, Irma Thomas and OutKast when she came to the smaller stage in the back.
There was also the orgy with the midgets dressed as vibrators and a gaggle of black men. You can imagine the mostly white female crowd lost their collective minds.
Apart from her entrance, the other epic moment was when the crowd spontaneously pulled out their cell phone lights. (I’d bet it was more spiritual than anything during the Mercy Me mini concert the night before.)
At one point Miley held her own smartphone out to the crowd like it was Excalibur. The phone was covered in a McDonald’s French Fries skin and she mentioned Instagram. It made me think about how many people were fully engaged in the moment, and how many were posting about it or otherwise distracted by their phone. I also questioned to what extent Miley’s career is a corporate formula.
If you look at the aesthetic for her previous “Gypsy Heart Tour” you’ll notice it resembles Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 film Black Swan, which was popular with young women and came out just months before the tour. Her current concept for the Bangerz tour, and the album art, is strikingly similar to Harmony Korine’s 2013 film Spring Breakers, which is about a group of college girls gone wild and features a few former Disney Channel starlets.
Some elements of Miley’s bad girl image seem over-the-top, like all the marijuana endorsements, middle-fingers and grabbing of her crotch. We are clearly being sold rebellion. I even wondered whether covering “Hey Ya” is actually part of her repertoire or if the company producing her tour isn’t also producing this year’s OutKast 20th Anniversary Tour.
The crowd in the lobby after the show reminded me of hanging around after high school let out, and for a brief time the corner of 4th and State felt like Manhattan. As I walked toward my bus stop an adorable four-year-old asked his father, “Daddy, who is Miley Cyrus?”
“Miley Cyrus is the reason there was no hockey tonight,” replied the father, who happened to be wearing a Milwaukee Admirals knit hat.
That’s right, Miley bumped the Admirals. And a story about the Bradley Center wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that it’s also home to a minor league hockey team. (I guess the basketball team for this Jesuit university plays there too, but I’m not a fan, and screw them for attracting more fans on average this season than the Bucks. Just kidding Marquette. Calm down, we know who you are, no need to shout it.)
So how about the future of the Bradley Center?
I spoke with a friend’s dad who’s been an usher for five years and he feels the BC’s days are definitely numbered. As far as he knows, the facility is not falling apart, as some articles have claimed, which I’m convinced Adam Silver is secretly sponsoring. But he has heard the arena is unfit for the NBA, and like his co-workers, is fairly confident that the team will work something out and a new arena will be built. Recent visits from Bucks legends Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Junior Bridgeman have been encouraging, with one article suggesting Bridgeman might join the ownership group as a partner.
Mayor Tom Barrett has said that “multi-county, regional support” would be a fair way to fund a new arena. Yet three border counties have already passed resolutions saying they won’t help pay, though I can guarantee they had residents at the Miley Cyrus concert.
Over the past 30 years over $30 billion in taxpayer money has been spent on new sports and entertainment facilities in the United States. It’s the closest thing we’ve had to an urban development project. But study after study show the promised economic benefits never happen. Team owners, the leagues and their sponsors are the ones who’ve profited off this absurd corporate welfare system they’ve established, and now the NBA wants to dip their hands in Milwaukee’s pockets, which if you don’t know, are definitely not overflowing with riches.
The NBA has a heavily promoted community-service arm called “NBA Cares.” But what do they really care about? They’re touting the Sacramento Kings arena plan because it will be the first cash-free facility. That’s the future the NBA wants to see, one in which everyone has a smartphone, meaning everyone is at least middle-class. The NBA cares about the less fortunate in front of cameras, but how about pricing them out of attending a game?
The gold standard in NBA arenas is currently the Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. I watched the Bucks beat the Nets at the Barclays after it opened in 2012. I was impressed, not only by the Bucks performance, but also by the facility. (There were even some Hasidic Jews in the house rocking Bucks jerseys!) The main draw was the delicious food and the fact that they hired a talented hip-hop DJ, J-Period, to craft a unique soundtrack to each game. The arena itself is cool to look at, but I don’t think it was worth displacing some Brooklyn residents and jacking up admissions.
To the Grantland writer who called Milwaukee “perhaps the most comfortingly bland bit of America the NBA has to offer these days,” screw off. Take a look at San Antonio, Sacramento, Oklahoma City, Phoenix or Salt Lake City. (Milwaukee musicians are repping hard right now at SXSW. I wonder how the Oklahoma City delegation is doing?)
The NBA should still be ashamed of itself for letting some rich douche from Oklahoma City move the Seattle SuperSonics franchise. Instead, they’re ready to put the Bucks on the chopping block for some new billionaires in Seattle to make amends for their sins. Not even Bieber would stoop that low.
Personally, I think an ownership group of individuals and/or corporations — aka the people who will profit from the teams that will play in the new arena — should fully fund the project. I love the Bucks with all my heart, but if it means spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to keep them in Milwaukee, sadly, I’d rather see them leave.
Our city doesn’t even have dedicated funding for public transportation. Our budgets for public health and education are dismal. I firmly believe a Packers-style community-owned shareholder model would be the ideal situation for the Bucks moving forward, but I’m sure Adam Silver would dismiss such an arrangement as “too awkward for the rest of the league.”
Support your community, not just the big corporate concerts that come to town and your professional sports teams, but more importantly, the amateur athletes, the struggling artists and the small businesses.
And remember this: the next time a band you like comes to town you can either sit at home, listen to their album and turn it up so loud the digital clap almost sounds real. Or you can join other human beings and bring that clap to life.