Every few years, a new music video takes its place in the pantheon of the most bizarre, shocking, or simply miserable four-minute segments of the human experience. Last month, Miley Cyrus, who has spent the last several years shattering expectations no one expected or asked her to shatter, gave the world a music video fit for such a pantheon: “Dooo It!” The work, which Billboard generously praises as “performance-arty,” has amassed 11 million views in its historic month of existence. That so many people have already had the opportunity to witness, indeed, to be changed by, “Dooo It!” is truly one of the great and terrible powers of the internet.
The video begins with an extreme close-up of Cyrus’s mouth as she professes her love of various indulgences. It ends with one, too, but the “bookends” effect doesn’t really hold, perhaps because the rest of the video’s four minutes and 26 seconds is also comprised of extreme close-ups of Cyrus’s mouth as she professes her love of various indulgences.
What’s in between, however, is not simply a loop. As Cyrus pours and rubs various liquids and substances to her face, the video subtly but unmistakably progresses: the cuts are shorter, the lips are wetter, the substances are increasingly viscous, sugary, and mysterious. Cyrus does not merely lip-sync and blow smoke rings: She leads the viewer on a head-spinning descent into grime, shock and debauchery. Even more impressively, so close are the shots that she does this exclusively with her nose and mouth; not even Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables could pull that off, though, in Hathaway’s defense, she was working with shoddier source material.
As critics have followed Cyrus’s career, they have often picked the low-hanging fruit, noting the irony of Cyrus’s aggressively public bacchanalia in light of the ingratiatingly wholesome persona forced upon her in her Hannah Montana youth. Having noted the cliche, viewers shouldn’t help but feel that it would be literally impossible to get further from “The Climb” than Cyrus does in “Dooo It!” Gone are the white-toothed smiles; in their stead is Cyrus’s dripping tongue, messily corralling sprinkle-infused goo. The white teeth are still there, which is a remarkable feat of dental science, considering how many times Cyrus insists, “Yeah, I smoke pot!” Gone are the hooks and catchy choruses; the musical structure of “Dooo It!” calls to mind a train that, as it approaches full speed, jumps the rails and takes three minutes to come to a complete stop, snaking wildly through the countryside and leveling a small settlement in its wake.
Gone, too, is the insidiously virginal patriotism. More forcefully than ever, Cyrus has abandoned the cheery optimism of pre-recession America. Hands up, they’re playin’ her song—and she knows we’re not gonna be okay. If you look closely enough, given that you have the stomach to do so, you can probably see the seven deadly sins represented. Perhaps in “Dooo It!,” Cyrus, like John Doe in that one Fincher flick, merely holds a mirror to her morally empty society. If we recoil in horror, it is hardly the mirror’s fault.
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