Making Sense of Miley: An analysis of the lyrics to “Party in the USA”

For those who haven’t heard, I’m back in New Haven for the summer, beginning to raise money for my return to Orlando. My time in Orlando was fantastic, and I’m looking forward to returning, but right now, I’m happy to be in New Haven with the family (well, the parents, anyway, as Nick is in New Jersey for the summer and Lizzy only recently returned from doing relief work in Haiti).

For my last month or so in Orlando, I was spending a lot of time with good friends who have questionable different tastes in music, and as a result, I’ve been subjected to the song “Party in the USA” a lot. And I mean a LOT.

Now, I can enjoy a lot of different types of music. I love Bob Dylan, despite the fact that his voice often sounds like gravel caught in a lawnmower. But something about Miley Cyrus’ voice rubs me the wrong way. Sure, she’s not the MOST grating voice in pop music–that dubious honor probably goes to Ke-dollar-ha, although Lady Gaga (when in character and desperately trying to hide the fact that she has actual talent somewhere) gets honorable mention, as does Katy Perry. (And by the way, if I hear “Hot or Cold” one more time I’m going to strangle a walrus.) Still, Miley’s voice isn’t exactly what you could call “pleasant” with a straight face, and I suspect that the Disney Genetic Engeneering Lab programmed her this way as part of a failed viral marketing campaign for a Chip ‘N Dale reboot.

So after hearing it played so many times, I’ve started doing anything to distract myself from the music itself. In a final act of desperation, I tried actually listening to the lyrics, and trying to make sense of them.

I hopped off the plane at L.A.X.
With a dream and my cardigan

–A cardigan is an odd article of clothing to single out. I can understand mentioning a cowboy hat, or even accessories like a purse, but noting that you were wearing a sweater? The only time you ever need to mention wearing something so innocuous so early in the story is when it’s the Rolex from Die Hard. If Alan Rickman doesn’t fall to his death in the final verse because he’s clutching to the sweater you removed, I declare this line pointless.

Unless, of course, she meant Cardigan Welsh Corgi, which actually IS a significant item to mention having, but couldn’t she have the decency to refer to the pet by its name? If I was clutching my father’s (recently departed) New Caledonian Crested Gecko, Frege, I wouldn’t say “with a dream and dad’s New Caledonian”. I’d mention that she’s a lizard, sure, but I’d call her by her name! She’s a beloved family member! “My dad’s lizard, Frege!” And if your Cardigan Welsh Corgi is actually named Cardigan…sorry, Miley, but that only works in Jay Ward cartoons.

Then again, it’s also possible that this was just an awkward setup for the next rhyme.
Two lines in and I’m already overthinking this. This is going to be a fun song!

Welcome to the land of fame excess

–Miley’s short-lived foray into the illustrious career of a tourism board slogan writer begins and ends here, folks. Maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t “excess” have a negative connotation? “Fame abundant” implies chances to become famous everywhere, where “fame excess” is what happens at the end of a Twilight Zone episode when a man becomes SO FAMOUS that it causes him to die in some ironic fashion right before Rod Serling reminds us to be careful what we wish for.

Am I gonna fit in?

–Of course not, you Cardigan Welsh Corgi-carrying freak! Now, if you had a poodle or a chihuahua, you’d do just fine.

Jumped in the cab,
Here I am for the first time

–Things are established in an unusual order in this song. She first mentions that she’s getting in a cab, and only THEN mentions that she’s “here”, and that it’s her first time, something that would normally be established before detailing her actions. Was this song structured after chapter four of Watchmen?

Look to the right and I see the Hollywood sign

–I’ll admit, I identify with this line. When I arrived in Los Angeles for my internship last summer, there was an awesome moment on the shuttle from the airport where we drove over a hill and the Hollywood sign seemed to rise in the distance. It was a scene worthy of dramatic, triumphant music. Of course, now I’m sad, because I’m reminded that I could be listening to some dramatic, triumphant music by Tchaikovsky right now. Or Beethoven. Or John Williams. Or Alan Silvestri. Or Mike Post. Anything cooler than this.

This is all so crazy
Everybody seems so famous

–“Seems” is such an odd verb choice here. What quality of fame does everybody “seem” to have? Do they look famous? How does one look “famous” in general, aside from looking like an actual specific famous person? Do they smell like you’d expect famous people to smell? (I expect most famous people to smell like chapstick and oregano, personally.) Do they “feel” famous, in the sense that you think you recognize them as the victim in that one CSI episode but you can’t put your finger on their name? Do they “project” famous, like that limo driver in America’s Sweetharts who claims to “project” John Cusack? Do they just have that general aura of being snooty, sheltered, self-righteous, and generally unpleasant to be around, like most famous people?

Actually, I’m willing to accept that last one.

My tummy’s turnin’ and I’m feelin’ kinda home sick
Too much pressure and I’m nervous,

–This raises a very important question: WHY IS SHE IN LA? What pressure is she under? What on earth does she have to be nervous about? If she’s just nervous about being in a strange land, I can understand, but I can’t really sympathize unless I know why she needs to be in that strange land in the first place. If she’s there for a job interview, or to reunite with a long-lost relative, or because the local hospital is the only place with the cure for her potentially-fatal Irritating Voice Syndrome, then I sympathize, and want her to feel better about being nervous. If she’s just there because she heard LA was a good place to go clubbing, score some cocaine, and meet dudes, then you know what? She can bloody well deal with her homesick turning stomach.

That’s when the taxi man turned on the radio

–“Taxi Man” would be the most boring superhero ever. That said, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Miley doesn’t refer to the poor driver with a more dignified name, as she can’t even refer to her dog by anything other than an adjective at the beginning of its species. But really, if she had been more polite, he might have had the radio on since the beginning of the ride, like most taxis I’ve ever been in.

And a Jay Z song was on

–While I’m used to being out of the loop in most areas, I do wish someone had informed me that we decided to expand the definition of “song” to include the works of Mr. Z.

And the Jay Z song was on
And the Jay Z song was on

–I’m not sure what self-respecting country girl is so excited by the prospect of hearing a Jay-Z song that she must reiterate the phenomenon twice. Even if she does like the song that much, why isn’t it on her iPod? (Now, hearing a Coach Z song, that’s worth geeking out about.)

One verse down. Now comes the chorus!

So I put my hands up

–Wow, she’s being mugged already. That was fast.

They’re playing my song,
And the butterflies fly away

–Butterflies in the sky? Bah! I can go TWICE as high!

I’m noddin’ my head like yeah

–The obvious question here is “how does one nod their head like NO?”, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here; I think she was dictating her lyrics to a secretary, and wanted to go into some eloquently-worded simile, but forgot it halfway through. “Nodding my head like…yeah, like…you know, um, watchamacallit.” The ever-diligent secretary mercifully decided to shorten it a bit.

I’m movin’ my hips like yeah

–Okay, maybe I was wrong. Maybe the lyrics were ALWAYS meant to be just this stupid.

I got my hands up,
They’re playin’ my song
I know I’m gonna be OK

–I know God works in mysterious ways, but I can’t imagine a Jay-Z song being a sign that I would be okay. If anything, I would take it as a warning, a sign that I’ve made a horrible mistake and entered a very dark time in my life that I may not emerge from safely. But then again, Miley may be more in tune with the gift of prophecy than I am.

Yeah, it’s a party in the USA

–We come to the title drop, which only raises more questions. If we’ve already established that this is Los Angeles, why draw attention to the fact that this party takes place in the States? Is Miley’s first visit to LA also her first visit to the USA as a whole? Is this song actually about a poor immigrant arriving in the US for the first time?

That…explains EVERYTHING. Suddenly, the lyrics are much more forgivable; she’s a foreigner! She simply doesn’t have an adequate command of the English language! It’s not her fault that her rhymes are forced, she uses bizarre verb choices, and she has a limited understanding of similes! She only learned VERY basic English!

Yeah, it’s a party in the USA

–Welcome to the USA, miss. I’m sorry I was so insensitive to your struggles with our dialect earlier. Please allow me to extend the olive branch. I hope that you and I will learn much about each other’s cultures over the course of the next few verses.

Get to the club in my taxi cab

–Actually, Miley, maybe I’m not the best guide to American youth culture, as I’m not really into the whole clubbing thing. However, I might be tempted to visit a club that was inside a taxi cab. Sure, it’d be crowded, but at least there would be windows!

Everybody’s lookin at me now
Like “Who’s that chick, that’s rockin’ kicks?
She’s gotta be from out of town”

–Yeah, sorry, Miley but most of the young people around here aren’t really sensitive to cultural differences. But rest assured, you may feel like everybody’s staring at you, but that’s just your nerves talking. They’re all too drunk to even notice you’re here.

So hard with my girls not around me

–You own girls? I’m sorry, I know it’s hard without them, but the fact is, slavery was abolished in this country a long time ago. You’ll have to make do on your own, or at least give your girls minimum wage and health benefits if you want them to continue to aid you.

Its definitely not a Nashville party

–I can only presume “Nashville” in this context refers to Tampere. See, I’m learning more about your homeland!

On reflection, I’m actually impressed the lyricists didn’t make the amateur mistake of dumping all of this exposition awkwardly at the beginning of the song, instead letting us learn more about the character’s backstory as the narrative progresses. This method of storytelling has its own risks, of course, as if you release exposition related to the climax too late, it comes off as a Deus Ex Machina, but I have faith that the third act of this song will feel natural and not at all contrived. And if there’s one thing that NEVER betrays us, it’s unrealistic expectations about our entertainment!

’cause all I see are stilettos

–Miley, you should be relieved. While I have no personal experience in the arena, I can’t imagine any possible way that dancing in stilettos would be remotely comfortable.

I guess I never got the memo

–Psst, that doesn’t really rhyme. Just trying to help you out as you learn the idiosyncrasies of our language!

My tummy’s turnin’ and I’m feelin’ kinda home sick

–Once again, you miss your home, and you still haven’t told me why you’re in LA instead of back there, being pampered by your slaves. Don’t you have an appointment or something you should be getting to, instead of wasting your time in clubs? Or did you come to the US solely for our world-famous Nightclubs in Taxi Cabs? If that’s the case…I can see you’re already starting to regret your decision. I could have warned you ahead of time, clubs are only really fun if you’re with your friends (or, in your case, your slaves), and leaving them behind in Finland was a stupid idea.

Too much pressure and I’m nervous

–Seriously, you have absolutely no reason to be nervous. There’s no pressure. Just act like a spaz, you’ll fit in with all the other dancers. And even if you don’t, this is just about the least significant event in history. In ten years…hell, in ten HOURS, it won’t matter if you make a fool of yourself.

That’s when the D.J. dropped my favorite tune
And a Britney song was on

–Oh, I’m so sorry, Miley. It must suck to have your favorite song be played, only to be drowned out by the Britney Spears garbage that is playing simultaneously for some reason.

And the Britney song was on
And the Britney song was on

–Yeah, I heard you the first time. I know it’s noisy in this Club in a Taxi Cab, but I’m still tracking with you.

So I put my hands up
They’re playing my song,

–Geez, woman, they can’t ALL be your song! Leave some for the rest of us!

And the butterflies fly away

–They may fly away now, but who wants to bet they’ll be back before the next chorus? Miley, you might want to see a therapist about your mood swings.

I’m noddin’ my head like yeah

–Funny, because I’m plugging my ears like yeah.

I’m movin’ my hips like yeah

–I’m just moving toward the exit. Seriously, I’ve given you a lot of leeway due to your relative inexperience with English, but what the hell is with these lyrics?

I got my hands up,
They’re playin’ my song

–At this point, I have to assume that Miley is one of those foreigners that only really exist in children’s movies and television shows. You know, the type who is so enamored by the wonders of Western Civilization that they fall in love with any and every single piece of pop culture to come from the States. As a result, ANY SONG the DJ might ever consider playing is already a song Miley thinks of as her own.

I know I’m gonna be OK

–I’m not so sure I am. How much longer is this song?

Yeah, it’s a party in the USA
Yeah, it’s a party in the USA

–Okay, now you’re just OVERstating exposition. Seriously, kid.

Feel like hoppin’ on a flight (on a flight)
Back to my hometown tonight (town tonight)

–I understand you’re having regrets about your decision to come here. Frankly, I don’t blame you. You’ve left your friends, your home, everything you hold dear (except your Cardigan Welsh Corgi, which you’re still clutching for some reason) for a fleeting chance at some hedonistic nightclub pleasures. I think it was a mistake, and I think you’ll be much happier if you just head back to Finland. While you’re there, you should probably free your slaves, because…

Something stops me everytime (everytime)

–Oh, what’s this now? What’s stopping you from leaving? A minute ago, you were eager to return to your whole life, and now some mysterious force keeps you here.

Dear Lord, you’re under some evil curse, aren’t you? You’re stuck in the seedy underbelly of the LA nightlife for all eternity! What a horrible destiny! I’m sorry, I have no idea how to break this spell. I know a paladin I can call; he’s only level six, but…

The DJ plays my song and I feel alright

–Now I see. You’re trying to be strong, trying to find any escape from this eternal damnation that is the nightclub life. You’re latching onto anything for enjoyment, claiming any song, no matter how crappy or repetitive, is your favorite, just so you can at least fake some comfort in the midst of this horrible fate. And being stuck in this dark, cruel world forever means you’ll be spending a lot of time repeating that awful, awful chorus.

So I put my hands up

–The final act of defeat. She’s given up, and she’s going to take whatever the club dishes out to her and hope to enjoy it.

They’re playing my song,
And the butterflies fly away

–I now see she’s using this “fly away” metaphor as a cry for help, a desire to escape, to fly away herself. Poor girl!

I’m noddin’ my head like yeah

–You can almost see the misery on her face as she continues the pointless and repetitive nodding motion.

I’m movin’ my hips like yeah

–It’s all so clear now. Even from the start, comparing nodding and moving to “yeah” WAS a case of giving up on the simile, because, like Slurms McKenzie, she’s simply exhausted from pretending to enjoy partying. (Whimmy wham wham wozzle!)

I got my hands up,
They’re playin’ my song
I know I’m gonna be OK

–Keep telling yourself that, Miley. Be strong in the face of endless torment.

Yeah, it’s a party in the USA
Yeah, it’s a party in the USA

–And with that final, haunting bit of redundancy (complete with a terrifying and sinister laugh in the recorded version), our journey with Miley comes to a close, but her nightmare continues forever.

So, in summary, “Party in the USA” is the depressing, almost cautionary tale of one lone immigrant from Finland, longing to escape her boring homeland for the world of Los Angeles nightclubs, which she has built up in her mind as the most exciting thing in the world. Upon realizing she’s made a mistake, having left her home and her slaves (but not her dog) behind for the equally-monotonous and boring club scene, she finds the evil nature of the clubs is actually magically holding her in place, so she enters a deep state of denial, so desperate to believe she’s having a good time that her mind enters a loop equally as monotonous and depressing as the cold, harsh nightclub around her.

Either that, or Lukasz Gottwald, Claude Kelly, and Jessica Cornish are just utterly incompetent when it comes to writing lyrics.

Side note, I was halfway through writing this when it occurred to me that TGWTG’s own ToddInTheShadows probably had his own take on this song. To my delight, he did:

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