Miley Cyrus’ “Flowers” Is a Direct Assault on the “Purpose” of Men
by Genna Rivieccio (Paris, France)
IF 2022 was “the year men flopped”1 (as if they haven’t been doing just that since time immemorial), 2023 seems slated to start off as the year men are proven totally unnecessary. Granted, this might have already occurred on a more scientific level with the advent of artificial insemination. But, increasingly, even the “need” for a man’s “emotional support” is being called into question by women. There’s no better fresh example of this than Miley Cyrus’ sologamist anthem, “Flowers.”2 To heighten the sentiment behind the release of Cyrus’ first single from Endless Summer Vacation, during the same week, there was also Shakira totally eviscerating her ex, Gerard Piqué, via her collaboration with DJ Bizarrap (unofficially called “Pa’ Tipos Como Tú”).3 It’s a track that addresses not only how he cheated on her with a much younger woman, but also his many shortcomings as part of the male species. That both singles were released in the same week is telling of a generally “hostile” climate among the collective female psyche that keeps asking: what “purpose” does a man actually serve in my life? Or perhaps more politically correct clarification is required in the present: what “purpose” does a “straight” man serve in my life?
It’s crystal clear to anyone who observes pop culture that the hetero male has been on the shit list for quite some time—no further sexuality exegesis needed. Just say “man” to a woman and it’s enough to evoke all manner of rancor (see also: Amber Rose declaring, “[Men are] pretty disgusting… They’re fucking gross. Like, I wanna be single for the rest of my life”4). To a degree that is rarely on par with a man’s reaction to women. Possibly because men are “allowed” to exhibit venomous attitudes in systemic and passive aggressive ways all the time thanks to patriarchy, wherefore they can channel their unrepressed rage and chauvinism rather regularly. Regularly enough not to shudder at the mention of the opposite sex, only quiver and cower when that sex puts them in their place. As has been happening with more celebratory frequency (e.g., Greta Thunberg getting Andrew Tate arrested without even trying).
Talking of jubilations, that’s precisely what Cyrus engages in on “Flowers,” which is an unabashed celebration of the self. And all the ways in which it can both survive and thrive without a man around to make a woman wilt rather than grow. Apropos of surviving, “Flowers” also adds to the burgeoning list of post-breakup anthems, going a step beyond the mainstay sonic trope for thumbing one’s nose at male callousness: Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” Unlike this classic in the canon of songs championing female empowerment, resiliency and the ability to move on after a man arbitrarily decides to abandon a relationship (as was the case in Shakira’s situation), “Flowers” doesn’t necessarily imply any desire (or need) to pursue another romance after recovering from the last. This marks it as a singular contribution to the post-breakup song arsenal in that it defies the convention of suggesting that not only will she move on, but she’ll move on to a new and theoretically “improved” dude. In “Flowers,” Cyrus implicitly suggests that she is the only person she needs to simultaneously “get by” and thrive, and that no one (read: no man) will ever be able to love her as well or as caringly and sincerely as herself.
While some would counter that the song is targeted primarily at her enduring muse (/ex-husband) of the past few years, Liam Hemsworth, there’s no denying her intent in rendering the lyrics as universally applicable as possible. Catering to the masses of women in this world that Cyrus knows have had or are having or will have the very same revelations after yet another botched attempt at seeking intimacy with a penis-packing human. For even Cyrus has fallen prey to the trap (more than a few times) of believing that she “needed” a man to validate her worth. And she’s supposed to be pansexual, so what does that say about the “full-on” straight women who give far more credence to straight men than they deserve?
What’s worse still is that men could easily “keep” a woman if they just made a few slight improvements to their behavior. But a general unwillingness to budge on even the most basic of things accumulates into one big pile of bullshit, eventually forcing a woman to put an end to her masochism. Among such basic things would be the occasional ability to express care through a token gesture. Like, say, something as cliché as giving flowers. A trope that Cyrus wields with the chorus:
I can buy myself flowers
Write my name in the sand
Talk to myself for hours
Say things you don’t understand
I can take myself dancing
I can hold my own hand
Yeah, I can love me better than you can
Yet Cyrus also seeks to decimate the notion that a man is “required” at all to receive flowers. This by declaring that not only is she capable of buying her own bouquet, but that she can also do the other things a man is “supposed to do” (per the established norms of societal, literary and filmic indoctrination)—especially since there’s so little other purpose he can serve in the present apart from at least providing the every-so-often romantic display.
Cyrus is not the only one in the current pop arena to use flowers as a metaphor for male inutility. In 2021, Billie Eilish was equally scandalized by the fuckboy behavior implicit in not even bothering to offer up some goddamn flowers. This being evident on the Happier Than Ever single, “Lost Cause,” during which she laments:
Gave me no flowers
Wish I didn’t care
You’d be gone for hours
Could be anywhere
This comes after Eilish highlights the fact that she had to be the one to give him flowers, stating at the beginning of the song:
I sent you flowers
Did you even care?
You ran the shower
And left them by the stairs
In other words, while she exhibited care for him and their relationship with this expression of thoughtfulness, he, in turn, displayed his total lack of care by not even tending to the flowers—choosing to “water himself” instead. This being a grander allegory for the intrinsic selfishness of the male gender. With the latter lyric, Eilish also seemed to be loosely referencing the 1999 hit by Blink-182, “All the Small Things.” A track written by a man, specifically calling out his own appreciation of “little gestures” (so why can’t he understand hers?). Among the few non-repetitive lines in that single, the listener finds:
She left me roses by the stairs
Surprises let me know she cares
And the least a man can do to return that care is put the fucking roses on display right away.
In a more pronounced instance of repurposing a male song from the female perspective , Cyrus’ “Flowers” overtly reworks the chorus of Bruno Mars’ “When I Was Your Man,” in which he sings:
I should have bought you flowers
And held your hand
Should have given you all my hours
When I had the chance
Take you to every party
‘Cause all you wanted to do was dance
Of course, these “insights” tend to come when it’s already too late, with a girl like Cyrus having to explain:
I didn’t wanna leave you
I didn’t wanna fight
But, in the end, she had to leave for her own sense of self-worth. Which Cyrus can only truly find without the man she ephemerally thought would “complete” her. Thus, her braggadocious flex:
Yeah, I can love me better than
Yeah, I can love me better than you can
Realizing this before Cyrus, via the same flower analogy, was not only Eilish but MARINA, too. That very summer of 2021, with a song also entitled “Flowers” from her record, Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land. Referring to her five-year relationship with Clean Bandit member Jack Patterson, MARINA comes to the conclusion:
I would rather not
Betray myself just to keep
Your love at any cost
The cost so frequently amounting to ignoring the “little things” that add up to one big revelation: he ain’t the one (a similar epiphany had by Drew Barrymore as Julia Sullivan in The Wedding Singer). As MARINA expounds:
With every careless action, you let me slip away
If you just bought me flowers, maybe I would’ve stayed
The flowers, as usual, are emblematic of something more telling: care. Consideration. Or rather, the absence of it. So, instead, she left Patterson and bought flowers for her damn self, posting a photo with a bouquet on her Instagram account in April 2020 and captioning it, “I ordered flowers to: myself from: myself And let me tell you, it felt surprisingly great.” Cyrus, it appears, would tend to agree.
MARINA was, in fact, so determined to stay true to herself and her standards for how she should be treated that she even broke up with Patterson at arguably the most vulnerable time to do so: during the lockdown phase of the pandemic. Thus, at one point in the promotion cycle of the record, she declared, “I’m not seeing anyone at the moment, but I’ve always enjoyed my own company. I’m pretty good, fortunately, on my own.” As are many women (more and more) at this juncture—for it’s just so much less disappointing than trying to make it work with a man. More often than not, a toxic hindrance to a woman’s potential for “blooming.” As MARINA phrases it:
The seeds we planted grew
But not like roses do
We had the thorns and leaves
But the buds, they never bloomed
And now my future gleams
With colors bold and bright
In a home that’s filled with love and hope
And a life that just feels right
“Just right” because, as Cyrus has pointed out more bluntly in 2023, “I can love me better than you can.”
To be sure, not every woman—far from it—will be so eager to jump on the anthemic single’s message in practice as opposed to theory (part of that theory translating to dancing one’s ass off to it alone in their room). Most especially the women who are not in the same income tax bracket as the likes of Miley, Billie and MARINA. For the feeling of “radical independence,” in this society, is inextricably linked to having money, and mounds of it. This being the obvious reason why men have been so determined for so long to keep women out of the game as “exceptional earners.” As that glass ceiling persists in being shattered, the question of a man’s relevance to a woman’s existence will have an easy answer: he’s not.
1. Mia Mercado, “The Year Men Flopped,” The Cut, 14 December 2022 [27 January 2023].↑
2. Genna Rivieccio, “Miley Cyrus’ ‘Flowers’ Takes the Sologamy Message of ‘thank u, next’ to a New Level,” Culled Culture, 13 January 2023 [27 January 2023].↑
3. Genna Rivieccio, “Shakira Just Knocked Every Post-Breakup Diss Track into the Toilette,” Culled Culture, 14 January 2023 [27 January 2023].↑
4. Charmaine Patterson, “Amber Rose Says She Wants to ‘Be Single for the Rest of My Life’ amid Ex’s Romance with Cher,” People, 26 January 2023 [27 January 2023].↑