Every few years, a beloved child star finally starts living her life and everyone else starts clutching their pearls about it. This year, it was Miley’s turn to bear the disdain of millions of youtube comments and mommy bloggers. It started with her haircut, then her twerking in a unicorn onesie, and then ended with her twerking all up on Robin Thicke dressed as Beetlejuice at the VMAs. Now she’s licking hammers and hanging out with Kanye West. And all I can say is: More power to her.
It’s not unusual for a child star to want to shake off the shackles of her Disney career. In fact, it’s almost expected. They pose provocatively for magazine covers, they appear in R rated films. Society seems to have created an environment where young celebrities feel the only way they can be taken seriously, is to become sexualized. Just look at Vanessa Hudgens in Spring Breakers. You don’t get much more “Fuck you, High School Musical” than deep-throating James Franco’s gun. Like, an actual gun. What I’m trying to say is that young female stars exhibiting provocative behaviour to differentiate themselves is not exactly new or interesting territory here.
What’s interesting is the way Miley Cyrus is going about it.
Let’s talk about her music videos for a second. I’m going to start with ‘We Can’t Stop’ because it’s honestly my favourite video of the year. It’s fun. It’s glamourous. It’s sexy. It shows a skull made out of French Fries and a guy eating a money sandwich. Of course, Miley is twerking and splashing around in a swimming pool, but there is a distinct lack of pervy male onlookers. She is being seductive without being (perish the word so overly used by women everywhere!) slutty. It embodies the spirit of the song itself, which is essentially about having fun and being who you are and not letting anyone else give you shit for it.
Then there was Wrecking Ball. I had a mom on my Facebook describe that video as ‘repulsive and degrading’. Really? Yes, she licks a hammer. Yes, she rides a wrecking ball naked but there’s nobody there, except her. The whole thing makes so much sense in the context of the song, which is about about vulnerability and the end of a relationship. (Shoutout to Liam Hemsworth). It’s definitely sexual. It’s definitely not universally palatable by any means. But it’s interesting. In a lot of ways, she’s showing our generation that young women in their twenties are and can be sexual beings in a way that is not geared towards men. The very notion that you can still be sexy for nobody but yourself is progressive and radical.
I guess that brings me to the VMAs. I’ll openly admit that when she danced offstage after that performance, I was left staring into my bowl of ice cream, thinking “WTF did I just watch?” My first instinct was to run to the Internet and express my confusion. But after my initial “Miley, No!” tweets, I started to think about my reaction, and I realised that maybe that was the point. She’s not Alicia Keys. She’s not about to sit down at the VMAs and play the piano. I found it strange, however, that nobody was bothered at all by Robin Thicke’s part in it. Maybe writing a misogynistic pop song gets you a free pass for these kind of things. I don’t know.
Some people argue that her behavior reeks of rap culture appropriation, and is offensive considering her background. I don’t think anybody ever stopped to consider the fact that Hannah Montana was Miley Cyrus’ day job. We don’t know what she did when that blonde wig came off. The fact is, she might have been seriously listening to West Coast hip hop the whole time. Maybe all this weird, sexy stuff is who she’s always been – we just didn’t get to see it.
It also bothers me that so many people are calling how she chooses to define herself as an artist as a cry for attention. Calling Miley’s recent artistic evolution and sexuality ‘just another way for a young star to act out’ is not only dismissive – it’s also incredibly unfair to the rest of her generation. We are all trying to figure ourselves out in our own way and it’s not always going to be in a way everyone else likes. Sure, Miley isn’t what our parents would call a good role model. But maybe we need to consider that good role models are the people who choose to express who they are, no matter what anyone else says.
I think Miley is doing just fine in that regard.