Miley Cyrus Is Right – Black Mirror Does Reflect The Music Industry’s Dark Side

Rachel, Jack And Ashley Too shows how the mental health of musicians is often sacrificed for streaming stats and ticket sales, writes Bonnie McLaren

Miley Cyrus

by Bonnie McLaren |
Updated on

Season five of Black Mirror has finally arrived - and with it, the episode we’ve all been waiting for: The One With Miley Cyrus. Or, as it’s actually been titled, Rachel, Jack And Ashley Too. It’s the last of three episodes, following The One With Endgame’s Anthony Mackie and The One With Fleabag’s The Hot Priest Andrew Scott.

If you haven’t seen it yet - the new series really is worth a watch (and there might be a few spoilers below) - then a quick head's up: Miley’s episode is a lot darker than an episode of Hannah Montana. It centres around the relationship between pastel haired popstar Ashley O and lonely teenage superfan Rachel, who would do pretty much anything for her idol. When Rachel is given an AI doll of Ashley (aptly named Ashley Too), their worlds collide. You find out that, despite a glossy pop persona, Ashley is as lonely as Rachel. You also discover that she's depressed. Ashley's career is being hung by a thread, that thread being her aunt, who also happens to be her manager, and a dodgy doctor prescribing her antidepressants.

The most striking part of the episode is that it raises serious questions about how musicians - particularly those with mental health issues - are treated by those with their hands on the purse strings; hits over health, stats over stability. Obviously, because it’s an episode of Black Mirror, the industry’s relationship with technology is also explored. Particularly how tech might be able to extend an artist’s legacy, if, for whatever reason, they can no longer tour or create music.

As show creators Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones told Grazia, even though they doubted Cyrus would even read the script, Mileyjumped at the chance to take the leading role - because, just like Ashley O, she’s had to fight to carve her own identity from cutesy cookie-cutter child star. Miley herself told The Guardian, ‘I think it’s an important story that needs to be told. [It’s] such a realistic take on what it’s like working in the music industry. It really portrays the overt exploitation of artists - and that numbers usually eclipse the creative most of the time.’

You don’t need to look very far to see the parallels in Cyrus’ life - the press went wild when she started her transformation from child star to weed-smoking, twerking provocative pop princess by cutting her hair in 2012.

But you also don’t need to look that far to see the parallels in the rest of the industry. Speaking at screening of the episode, Charlie Brooker told the audience that he knew it was going to ‘piss some people off’. There’s certainly going to be some people, probably at the top of the industry, who aren’t going to be best pleased about how labels and managers are portrayed.

As the stigma surrounding mental health slowly starts to dissipate, more and more musicians are speaking about their own mental health, with many saying there’s a lack of support in an industry that exposes creatives to overwhelming pressure. As recently as this week, Liam Payne labelled his time in One Direction as ‘toxic’, saying that it caused him to drink. And fellow child star Justin Bieber announced on Instagram that he was taking some time away for his mental health earlier this year.

Speaking about the pressures of the industry, Zara Larrson - who suffers from anxiety caused by Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder - told Grazia that she understood why so many people in the industry struggle with mental health problems. ‘I think that a lot of artists struggle with that because it also comes down to how popular you are, what the stats are, how many records you’re selling and sometimes you’re blinded by that,’ the 21-year-old explained. ‘So you think that your value is in that - and of course it isn’t - but I think that can be extra hard.’

In the episode, Ashley O might be managed by her aunt, but their toxic relationship might remind some of the #FreeBritney movement, where fans are rallying to release Britney Spears from the conservatorship which has seen her father Jamie acting as a conservator over the pop singer’s affairs and estate for over ten years (especially after she checked into a mental health facility in April). No doubt inspired by the tours that Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston are set to embark on from beyond the grave, towards the end of the episode, a hologram starts to perform - something which will inevitably happen quicker than AI popstars rolling into toystores.

Rachel, Jack And Ashley Too is funny - and it’s been hailed by critics as fun and more light-hearted as than previous Black Mirror episodes. And, in a way, it is. The doll looks ridiculous; it’s soundtracked by reworked Nine Inch Nails songs, where Ashley O sings about being a ‘hoe’; the storyline is bombastic and fast-paced, with it almost derailing half way through; and there are some truly laugh-out-loud moments. But, of course, because it’s Black Mirror, Rachel, Jack And Ashley Too does have an incredibly dark undertone. Miley might be the star, but the sinister side of the music industry definitely isn't just something she can relate to.

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