May 27, 2010
Prof. Susan Harewood
Narrative Analysis: “Can't Be Tamed”
Miley Cyrus' music video for her single “Can't Be Tamed” is about over coming societal
pressures and expectations and coming into your own identity, being free to define who you are for
yourself and no one else. Through examination and analysis of Cyrus' video the message of
individuality and identity formation was very clear and present. Through further analysis and
explanation of characterization, symbolism, representation, and ideologies, this individualistic theme
will become even more evident by viewing the processes behind it.
Miley Cyrus' music video for her song “Can't Be Tamed” begins by opening up to a formal
black tie event at a natural history museum. With all the attendees gathered around a large covered bird
cage the curator announces the new exhibit, a rare creature, “Avis Cyrus” (Miley Cyrus), that is being
held in captivity for the first time. The cage is unveiled and inside a large bird nest sits this creature.
Noticing the audience, Cyrus gets up and walks towards them. A photographer snaps a picture. In doing
so the flash goes off causing Cyrus to shield and cover herself with her large wings. At this point the
music begins to play and Cyrus along with a slew of back up dancing begin to dance and escape out of
the cage. The group of wild creatures storm through the museum hall ways trashing the other exhibits
along the way. After wrecking havoc on the place, Cyrus returns to her cage at the conclusion of the
song and the video ends.
In her video, Cyrus plays the character of “Avis Cyrus.” This character is introduced as being a
very rare creature that was actually thought to have been extinct. This rare creature being, in fact, a
bird. This is apparent as she is wearing wings, is in what is typically known as a bird cage, the term
“Avis” is in her name which actually means “bird”, and the use a feathers in her costuming is abundant.
Being such a rare creature, she appears to feel trapped and caged in like a prisoner. Observing her body
language and facial expressions whilst trapped in her giant bird cage, she appears to be very
uncomfortable and even angry. It is clear that she does not want to be trapped any longer as she
eventually escapes the cage. Avis Cyrus comes of as being very dominant, aggressive, and is in a way
masculine yet feminine at the same time. She is a very dominant character in that she is, for the
majority of the video, wearing a leather leotard along with leather straps and other bondage like attire.
Leather is typically associated with both male biker gangs and dominatrix fetish gear, both being very
aggressive and masculine images. She is also dominant in that throughout the video she is front and
center within her gang of backup dancers who are constantly following her lead. In the video Cyrus
also display dominance through her dancing. She is constantly coming at you and is in your face wit
her dance moves which consist of, among other things, fist pumping, pushing her dancers off of her,
and all of the moves are done with very dark facial expressions, there is rarely if any smiling. Cyrus
also displays her seductive feminine side with lighter and brighter colors in an outfit change during a
scene where she is lying on her back caressing the skin above her chest all while staring and singing
into the camera longingly.
Other signs and symbols used in this video include a giant cage, the natural history museum
setting, peacock feathers and the idea of a peacock, the bird characterization, the photographer and
audience, and the usage of dark colors and lighting. Both the giant cage and the natural history museum
setting symbolize feeling trapped and very much on display. This symbolism is reinforced by the
audience and photographer as well. Cyrus, being a celebrity, in everyday life is always on display and
under constant criticism. The audience in the video directly represents the audience of people who are
constantly following her every move and mistake, while the photographer represents the paparazzi who
capture her every move. Peacocks symbolize pride, beauty, vanity. Clearly Avis Cyrus is proud of the
person (creature) she is and just wants to break free and be able to be herself. The characterization of
being bird also represents her individuality and wanting to break free and fly away. The dark colors and
lighting used in this video represents a large deviation from the character she typically plays on the
Disney Channel, which signifies her escape from that persona to move in a new direction, one that is
more true to who she it.
Cyrus intentionally interpellates the audience into feeling like they are a part her video.
Throughout the video she is constantly singing directly to the viewer who is essentially the person or
persons who is holding her back. That person or persons being the man or men that are currently
lusting after her as the lyrics state. Her constant eye contact with the camera and finger pointing at the
camera suggests that she is sing directly to the view all while singing “don't change me” and “if you
wanna be my man understand...” Through the lyrics and her body language Cyrus turns the viewer into
the male she is singing to.
In her video Cyrus contests the ideologies of individualism and feminism. Individualism the
concept of is the overarching ideology present in this video. The lyrics of the song are about how she
can't be tamed, how guys have tried to change who she was before, and how she is not going to change
the person she is for any reason or for anybody. The plot and concept of the video reinforce the
individuality of her lyrics. She has a large number of people trying to coop her up in a cage for their
own amusement but she is so strong willed that she escapes. She refuses to conform to the expectations
of others. Feminism and sexuality are also present in Cyrus' video. In the video Cyrus crosses typical
gender barriers and norms. As a female she portrays a very dominant character and has both man and
woman following her and lusting after her. In society women are not usually dominant beings nor any
they usually able to be both dominant and feminine, but in her video she manages to pull it all off and
still be sexy.
Cyrus' video makes reference to a couple of other videos as well as to other artists. The line
dancing and backup dancing Cyrus used in her video makes reference the dancing Michael Jackson had
previously used in his videos “Thriller” and “Bad”. Some of the dance moves in Cyrus' routines seem
to be directly from Jackson's “Thriller” video. Also, the concept of dancing and running throughout an
empty space with a gang of backup dancers is also reminiscent of Jackson's “Bad” video and the
concept of dressing the backup dancer up like wild animals resembles the ghouls in Jackson's “Thriller”
video. Another artist Cyrus drew from was Lady Gaga as she followed suit on the weird is hot trend
and the usage of robotic and other worldly seeming dance moves.
In conclusion Cyrus' “Can't Be Tamed” music video strongly stresses the ideas of feeling
trapped, being yourself, and not changing for anyone. Through looking at the characterization,
symbolism, representation, and ideologies that exist within the video these themes are evident.
The “Can't Be Tamed” video places a claim on reality that you can and should be exactly who you are
and you want to be. This construction of reality ultimately effects anyone who is listening as it the take
home message can ideally be applied to everyone. It can apply to the high school student who feels like
she needs to give in to peer pressure and it can apply to Cyrus' critics in that she is not going to change
who she is just so they will stop talking.
Can't Be Tamed. Dir. Hales, Robert. Perf. Cyrus, Miley. Hollywood Records: 2010, Film.
Bad. Dir. Scorsese, Martin. Perf. Jackson, Michael. MJJ Productions Inc.: 1987, Film .
Thriller. Dir. Landis, John. Perf. Jackson, Michael. MJJ Productions Inc.: 1982, Film.