Hannah Montana’s “Supergirl”

Hannah Montana is popular for a variety of reasons, the foremost being that she readily addresses the pressures of growing up as a young girl. Built into her character is a schizophrenic existence that is familiar to most adolescents: the challenges of being the successful star (the grown-up) and the normal girl (the teenager). An adolescent girl has to contend with expectations on both sides. She must be grown-up while she is still growing up. Hannah Montana and Miley physically embody this schism. Hannah Montana is grown up. She never cracks under pressure, she performs when she has to, and she makes more money than most adults can ever dream of. 

But Miley is not Hannah Montana. Miley has boy troubles, she struggles with math, and she has to deal with an annoying older brother. She is just as prone to the pressures of being growing up as any other teenage girl. Thus, Miley is forced to reconcile between two lives: one fully grown, and the other burgeoning. What makes her accessible to her target audience is her ability to meet them on her level, as Miley. Hannah Montana is the girl they all wish they could be, while Miley is just like them. The balance between grown up and young adult is tenuous. And yet that is what makes Hannah Montana/Miley appealing: she has as much trouble navigating the divide as the next girl.

This is what makes the song “Supergirl” all the more striking. On first listen, it sounds like a reasonably succinct account of being Hannah Montana/Miley. Hannah Montana has pressures to deal with that Miley doesn’t and yet when the time comes, she has to persevere:

“When I feel all alone and nobody knows
Still gotta smile for a while, I can’t let it show
Dry my tears, have no fears and when I’m
(And when I’m)
Backstage feeling down and the lights come on

No time to worry, gotta hurry
Time to sing my song, gonna shake it off”

The separate demands of Miley and Hannah Montana clash but Hannah Montana has deal with her issue first. This intimates that the pressures of growing up are less important than the pressures of being grown up. It diminishes the worries, problems, and fears of the young girl. Miley’s problems come second to Hannah’s.

Another unsettling trait of this song is that it directly addresses what pop stars know and strive for but never admit: that the pop idol is someone to model one’s self on. Part of the appeal of a pop star is the want to emulate their dress, grace, and confidence. “Supergirl” takes it a step further and asks the audience to consider what that all entails. There is a price to pay for that elegance: the pressures of keeping up that appearance, at all times. It isn’t enough to be merely beautiful; one has to maintain that standard:

“I’m super cool, super hot
Livin’ like a rock star
You think I’m super, you think I’m super
On the cover of your magazine

Wherever I go they make a scene
I’m super, super, I’m super-duper
So you wanna be just like
So you wanna be just like

Think you wanna be just like me
Everybody’s watchin’ me
Never as easy as it seems
To be super, super, to be super, supergirl”

Hannah Montana is telling the audience that they only think they want to be “super cool” or “super hot”; that the price of those attributes is an expectation that no normal girl could ever meet. She makes the beauty, grace, and glamour of Hannah Montana unattainable for anyone but her. This addresses an uncomfortable truth about Hannah Montana: she is everything the audience is not, because she is a product, not a real person. The audience aspires to be “super duper” just like her, and Hannah Montana challenges the audience, “think you wanna be just like me”, knowing full well that they, in fact, cannot. This is a veiled taunt and an affront to the empathy that powers the Hannah Montana engine. An interesting aspect of the Hannah Montana/Miley conflation is how much of Miley is lost in translation. Even Miley acknowledges that Hannah Montana is a being far beyond her, “Wish you could see I’m like everybody else/Struggling to let go and always be myself”. If the actress who play Hannah can’t keep up, how can an adolescent girl even begin to measure up?

A sort of perverse solipsism drives Hannah Montana. She has been created and thus she can construct her own reality. A reality where being beautiful, glamorous, and super cool is only attainable by a girl more perfect than any girl could ever be.

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~ by Verse on November 17, 2009.

One Response to “Hannah Montana’s “Supergirl””

  1. […] I’ve commented on another pop star (Hannah Montana), the transition between normal person and pop icon is one of severe gravity. Pop icons are […]

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