I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
All of us, I believe, have moments when information oversaturates our brains and they short-circuit. A wave of considerations rolls in and washes away the possibility of cogent response, leaving us blink-y and vacant like sloths. A president earnestly suggests his constituents drink bleach; a big baby lifts a truck; a CGI influencer consciously uncouples from her human boyfriend — I stumble over the tripwire, rip my mind-plug from its socket, and wait quietly for the whole system to reboot.
It is during these times that I feel the most kinship — which is to say, a whisper of kinship — with Billy Ray Cyrus, a country singer about whom I know vanishingly little. I am aware, of course, that he has, or had, an Achy-Breaky Heart; I am also aware that, since he divulged this secret to the world in 1992, his career has not exactly bustled. I know that he used to have a stylistically pure mullet, a tangle of perm cascading from the windswept plain of his closely cropped crown. And I know that he has “much to think about.” This is the tie that binds us.
Billy Ray Cyrus tweeted (and also, as I only recently discovered, Facebook’d) this sentiment, alongside a photo of his burdened brooding face, just after midnight on June 9, 2015. In it, he sits in a driveway (his driveway?) at golden hour. Behind him, everything is plants, a cacophony of late-spring greenery, except where it is stucco. And yet, despite the flora and the fauna, despite the impending sunset and the perfect swing of his face-framing layers, Billy Ray Cyrus appears troubled. He locks his downcast eyes on the middle distance. His goatee sags slightly. His brow furrows. Billy Ray Cyrus looks disconcerted, pensive, puzzled. He has, as advertised, “much to think about.”
When Billy Ray Cyrus made his big announcement, Twitter existed for me only in theory. I had an account back then, but was kinder to myself and therefore never logged on. I encountered this tweet after it had been immortalized as a meme, when a friend texted it to me to convey her own overwhelm at the circumstances then bullying her. It landed in my lap in much the same way it landed in yours: totally divorced from context, a neatly wrapped present from the content gods. Oh my, I thought, marveling Gollum-like over my new precious. What is this treasure?
It feels uncouth to spoil a treat like this with analysis, when we could simply enjoy it for what it is (enigmatic gold). Still, how could a reasonable person not wonder what was happening inside Billy Ray Cyrus’s honky-tonk head that drove him, (a) to such distraction, and (b) to crosspost it to two social-media platforms? Another point of distraction: The subtle forward shift of his right arm suggests the pic might be a selfie, although to me it looks more like a portrait snapped at close range. This raises the related question of who in Billy Ray Cyrus’s trusted circle would see him looking so abjectly downcast, and grab their phone rather than ask him what’s wrong.
When Billy Ray Cyrus tweeted “much to think about,” it had been four years since Hannah Montana, the Disney show he says “destroyed [his] family,” went off-air for good. His daughter Miley had already pivoted to a more rebellious persona by then; “Wrecking Ball” was two years in the rearview mirror. So, although a nude-heavy Paper magazine profile on Miley did happen to publish on this day in history, the pop star’s preference for nakedness was not exactly news at this time. Also, if Billy Ray Cyrus really is the “cool hippie psycho freak” Miley described in the article, then the photos probably didn’t prompt a fatherly anxiety spiral.
But then what could have been on his mind? Bringing back his mullet, something he allegedly wants to do, has been talking about for years, and could totally make happen with only about five minutes’ worth of effort? Sandwiches? Chronically overfeeding his charm of pet hummingbirds such that their flight becomes labored and slow? We will never know. And that is exactly what makes the tweet so perfect.
The fact that “Much to Think About” came into this world apropos of absolutely nothing means it retains no clear associations that might color its use today. I keep a screenshot of the tweet, which Billy Ray Cyrus has not deleted and still references sometimes, in my phone’s “favorites” folder. I use it as a stand-in for my own inability to function in the face of facts so absurd they threaten to burn out my retinas, or for mere speechlessness. When I am having a casual catchup with my bud, and am blindsided mid-goss by the announcement that platypuses SWEAT MILK, just lactate from their every pore, so naturally I must do to another friend what has been done to me and share the blog? “Much to think about,” for everyone involved. When the group chat generates like 109 notifications in the span of a single shower, and I step out of the bathroom and into a text squall — “much to think about,” no elaboration needed. The receipt of scintillating information about a bad ex or nemesis, such as the discovery of their active LiveJournal-style blog — “much to think about.” Cats, as a concept? “Much to think about”!!! When I’m high as a kite and someone reminds me that fungi is the foundation of all earthly life, and just like that the trap door in my head swings open and here I am, lying on a spongy bed of mushrooms, amazed — “much to think about” indeed.
Without its shroud of mystery, the tweet would not be so versatile. If it arrived amid a well-publicized family drama, or some scandal on the set of a Billy Ray Cyrus sitcom, we would likely regard it with empathy, or sympathy, or vicarious cringe, whatever the situation demanded. If it coincided with the kind of news cycle to which we have recently acclimated, we would understand intuitively; the statement that there is “much to think about” right now would ring ridiculously redundant. But as a non sequitur it is memorable, and also memeable. As real-time commentary, probably not so much. Context clues would ruin the punchline.
Had Billy Ray Cyrus allowed us a glimpse into his interior life, his tweet simply would not have hit the same way. Instead, he decided to give us a gift horse, a perfect, evergreen tweet; I should pull my head from its mouth and enjoy the ride.