Is "Wrecking Ball" Actually a Wreck?

By now, almost everyone in North America, whether they listen to Miley Cyrus' music or not, has heard of the song "Wrecking Ball". The music video that was made for the song provided the public with images of the pop starlet riding a wrecking ball in the nude with just enough elusive camera angles and properly placed appendages to avoid full disclosure. Couple that with her and Robin Thicke's infamous performance at the MTV Music Awards, and "Wrecking Ball" has become almost synonymous in the public mind with that shocking sexualism that shouldn't really shock us anymore. Miley Cyrus' personal issues are one thing, but is the song "Wrecking Ball" actually a song that should not be listened to for fear one might turn into an attention-starved, sexed-up trollop?

As a disclaimer to this post, I should probably mention that music -- the actual notes, bars, and whatever else is involved -- and I have not reached any sort of intellectual understanding. I know what music I like to hear, and I know what music I don't like. But beyond that, the art of music is a veritable mystery to me. Knowing that, I don't plan to comment on the musical aspects of the song. I am a literary savant; I am approaching this song as a work of literature, as a poem. I am focusing on the lyrics. Seeing as the majority of people today are only exposed to poetry in the form of nursery rhymes, song lyrics, and forced readings in school, I think it's important to address the poetic tastes of our culture via the primary poetic source of the 21st century: lyrics. With that in mind, let's look at the lyrics to "Wrecking Ball" to see if there is anything objectionable in this much-buzzed-about song.

Perhaps before we go any further, we should admit that Miley Cyrus is not the poet responsible for "Wrecking Ball". A media conglomeration of five different singers/songwriters/producers came together to produce the lyrics (and, I'm assuming, the music) to this gem: MoZella, Stephan Moccio, Sacha Skarbek, Dr. Luke, and Cirkut. Whether they were all responsible for penning these lyrics or whether some focused exclusively on the musical aspect of things, I'm not sure. What I do know from this is that any idea that this song is about Miley Cyrus and her past relationships is about as farfetched as the script of Star Trek being written about episodes of William Shatner's life, especially since the song was first intended to be sung by Beyonce. So let's approach this as a poem without specific connections to any one person, place, or event, and attach only what literary value we can from the words themselves.

Ostensibly, the lyrics portray the painful experience of a breakup. No surprise there -- this is a Bilboard Hot 100 song, after all. I think a hundred songs just like it pop up on the radio every month. What I did find interesting about the lyrics to this song was the distinct image of the wrecking ball as a symbol of a kind of destructive love. The lyricist says that s/he wanted to force the openness in the relationship by breaking down the beloved's "walls" that keep the lover and beloved apart. The attempt to force intimacy, to force a closeness in the relationship before true intimacy had been established, results in both lovers being "wrecked". There is a sense of blindness in the rush to be intimate: the lover "just closed my eyes and swung"; both lovers "jumped never asking why". Any idea of prudence, caution, or patience is thrown to the wind, and the movement from interest to infatuation to intimacy is given the force of destruction. The idealization of the beloved by the lover ("I put you high up in the sky and now you're not coming down") in some sense demands a response, and, when a response is not immediately given, the lover attempts to force a response, unintentionally starting a "war". The beloved's resistance to intimacy is implied in the seeming necessity on the lover's part to use force and wrecking balls and chains to gain access. The desire for a more cautious courtship is attacked by the lover's impetuosity, blindness, and misguided idea that love requires nakedness, whether physical, emotional, or psychological. In this sense, the lover is right to say, "I should have let you win", with the meaning of "I should have let you have your way", by respecting the beloved's desire to develop the relationship more slowly and allow a natural intimacy to blossom. The war between the impetuous lover and cautious beloved ends with even more destruction: "crashing in a blazing fall", "ashes on the ground", and "wrecked" individuals.

"Wrecking Ball", it seems, carries within it the ugly truth about our society's modern ideas about equating intimacy with sexual activity, relationships built on infatuation, and the so-called "hookup culture". These social phenomena do leave people "wrecked" and struggling to come to terms with their failed romances. Forcing intimacy does not create love; more often, it destroys it. The better path to take would be one in which both parties respect the boundaries of the other, build up a true knowledge and sincere friendship over time, and use prudence to assess whether the other person is the "right" one to establish a truly intimate relationship with. Maybe this doesn't sound very romantic when put in such pragmatic terms, but there is something beautiful about being able to say, "I married my best friend". And there is something very beautiful about being able to be truly naked before that one person who you are able to be completely yourself with, who, rather than knocking down your walls, is willing to wait to be invited inside and shown around. And that's not a bad lesson to learn from a Miley Cyrus song.
It's better than being naked on a wrecking ball, at any rate.


The point of this blog is not to tell anyone what they should or should not consider entertaining, nor what films, books, lyrics, or television shows are morally or artistically good or bad. The point is to engage with the stories that are creating our culture on an intellectual level, to meet the morals with our minds before they go to our hearts. Once you know what's in the entertainment you imbibe and you're aware of how it may be shaping your perceptions of the world around you, well then, imbibe away!

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