So what if Miley’s a slut?

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Aug. 25 was an iconic day in contemporary American history, apparently. Miley Cyrus twerked, and we cared. The single act sparked one of the most notable outcries from the general public in the history of live performance, and if you haven’t been living under a pile of discarded Random Access Memories records, you’ll need no refresher about the myriad of ways people felt Miley had impinged upon their moral standards by dropping her thun thun thun in front of millions of Americans. And I get it. It was scandalous, it was raunchy, it was daring, and somebody needed to say something. But what the performance did not warrant was its labeling by critics as a flagship for the deterioration of music and the overexposition of sexuality in contemporary media and culture.

Yes, of course, popular music frankly doesn’t compare to that which was popular when these repulsed critics were growing up. I think it would be difficult to find someone who has any sense of music at all who disagrees. And yes, instead of listening to Michael Jackson belt out the ABCs of how to fall in love when middle schoolers are having their first dances, the speakers in the gymnasium are blaring Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz’ “Get Low” (my favorite lyrics going something like, “To the window / To the wall / To the sweat drop down my balls”).

Clearly, a shift has occurred, and we should take note of it. But the allusion critics make to censoring popular music for their children or forcing them to hear the “real” songs written in their childhoods instead of the philistine junk played on the radio is like placing a band-aid over a festering wound. The “problem” isn’t the music. The problem is us.

 First of all, different stuff is sexy now than it was when they were growing up. An article from popular culture blog Hypstercrite shows how Robin Thicke’s manipulation of Marvin Gaye’s classic “Got to Give It Up” reveals the kind of perversion for which contemporary popular music is agreeably responsible. The author cites Gaye’s lyric, “You can love me when you want to, babe / This is such a groovy party, baby,” claiming that this kind of sexy talk is inherently better, cleaner and more appropriate than Thicke’s replacement, “You the hottest bitch in the place.”

But here’s the real talk: Kids are living and growing up in a world where romantic ideals of love and sex have been shattered. When we think of sex, we also think of disease, death and danger due in part to the medicalization of sexuality and the popularization of HIV and STD awareness campaigns. While “let’s get it on” might be a more polite and sensual form of getting someone into bed with you, it also is indicative of a time when sex still stood for something pure. The first thing kids think about when they hear sex in the 21st century is more likely porn and strip clubs than rose petals and red lipstick.

Some of the mystery of sexuality has been lost, and while, of course, I love Marvin, Al, J Brown and the rest of them, I think there’s value in new artists trying to define and imagine a new definition of sexuality that might more accurately apply to a 15 year-old kid in 2013, growing up in a world much different from the one these critics grew up in — different not only because we’ve swapped out the LP for the iPod but because we’ve completely reconceptualized sex, love and relationships in general.

 What many critics have suggested is that older generations remove technology from their children and instead take them on field trips to the record store in hopes that they establish a kind of music taste that more closely aligns with their own, so that, I think, so too will their concepts of sex, love, identity, selfhood, etc. begin to regress to those more “pure” ideals of the ’60s and ’70s. But the thing is, we’ve already changed, and the music just follows. While Sam Cooke wrote “A Change Is Gonna Come” at the peak of the Civil Rights Movement in 1963, his lyrics reflecting the passion of the people who believed in a different future for blacks in this country, artists today are worried about different issues and are communicating them in different ways because, well, times are just different. Whether it’s Thom Yorke’s environmentalism, Macklemore’s gay marriage, Beyonce Knowles’ women’s rights or Kendrick Lamar’s race/class struggle, things are still being said through music, messages are still being delivered, and most important of all, people are still dancing.

And yeah, who cares if Miley’s a slut? If popular music is giving some 11-year-old girl a little relief from the fucking hectic, acid-bleached pain of growing up as she locks herself in her room to just dance, or move, or listen and escape, I don’t think we can complain. Music is still moving people; it’s still making people smile. It’s still making people cry. And until it stops doing all that, I’ll keep listening.