American scholarship has long neglected the significance of popular music as an index of cultural development amongst the 12-18 year old age group. My close reading of Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” will examine the transformative power of pop music as it is represented in the intradiegetic dialog of the narrator of this anthem, as well as the ways in which young people in America negotiate the dichotomy within the notion of Americanism.
I hopped off the plane at LAX
with a dream and my cardigan
welcome to the land of fame excess, (woah)
am I gonna fit in?
The first paragraph of “Party in the USA” hails the arrival of a country girl in the urban setting of Los Angeles. Her expectations are immediately challenged as she self-consciously reflects on her choice of apparel: Will a cardigan seem provincial in a city that is predominantly sunny, and does the word ‘cardigan’ in itself not sound archaic? The protagonist struggles with anxiety about the possibility of failure and fears she may be ostracized from the community if she is unable to rapidly conform to the cultural norms of SoCal The exclamation “woah”, a signifier of shock, suggests a possible moment of traumatic confrontation with the divergence between her dreams and the reality of having to adjust to a different culture.
Jumped in the cab,
Here I am for the first time
Look to my right and I see the Hollywood sign
This is all so crazy
Everybody seems so famous
The protagonist observes the iconic sign of Hollywood culture with a sense of culture shock. In spite of her undoubtedly extensive study of Western America, she is insufficiently prepared to embrace the now ubiquitous signs of celebrity culture. By projecting her inferiority complex on bystanders, she re-affirms her intimidating image of Los Angeles as a class-oriented society to which one can only gain entrance by means of cultural status.
My tummys turnin and I’m feelin kinda home sick
Too much pressure and I’m nervous,
That’s when the taxi man turned on the radio
and a Jay Z song was on
and the Jay Z song was on
and the Jay Z song was on
The narrative mood shifts and the listener is offered a phenomenological account of the clash between the protagonist’s ideal image and her realization of the diverging reality. Though the scene is clearly fictional and not a representative account of the average teenage experience, her anxieties can be read as emblematic of the way young people in America negotiate their own capabilities and imperfections in the face of excessive demands to conform to norms established within celebrity culture. Our protagonist’s physical response suggest the strong interconnectedness between physical or mental well-being and exterior appearance, especially in impressionable youths. However, the tension between two extremes is resolved when she breaks the class barrier and connects to the working class realm of the taxi driver, for whom this celebrity culture is mediated through the radio, as it had once been for our protagonist back in Tennessee.
Get to the club in my taxi cab
Everybody’s lookin at me now
Like “who’s that chick, thats rockin’ kicks?
She gotta be from out of town”
So hard with my girls not around me
Its definitely not a Nashville party
Cause’ all I see are stilletos
I guess I never got the memo
Feel like hoppin’ on a flight (on a flight)
Back to my hometown tonight (town tonight)
Something stops me everytime (everytime)
The DJ plays my song and I feel alright!
Upon arrival we once again witness a radical change in our protagonist who is identified as an outsider on the basis of her ‘Kicks’, a symbol of the way the American south embraces low-culture and the athletic ideal in spite of its own reluctance to exercise and combat obesity. Her Nike’s are misplaced in a sea of stiletto’s. The protagonist identifies the differences between adolescence in the south and in Los Angeles: This is definitely not a Nashville party. Her social rank within her own American subculture is devalued in this second representation of Americanism, and she is concerned that she “never got the memo”, that is, that in spite of a visually mediated understanding of the urban culture of Los Angeles, she never received a verbal description of its varying norms and values. Yet just as she is about to resign herself to her seemingly inferior status, and return to the rural setting of her childhood, she once more witnesses the transformative power of art. The DJ establishes a common ground for participation and inclusion by playing the music that unites both cultures.
The song shows itself to be highly self-reflexive, as its meta-references to popular music suggest its own inclusion in this transformative art. The title of the song, which seems somewhat alienated from its subject matter, is actually a brilliant reference to the way this transformative art unifies American subcultures. Thus we see how the American youth negotiates cultural difference through the medium of art, perhaps in compensation of the waning influence of religion, or perhaps establishing an entirely new understanding of the idea of a “nation” on the basis of cultural distribution.