In terms of getting herself imprinted on the public consciousness as someone far far away from squeaky Disney princess Hannah Montana, Miley has done an excellent job. First by twerking — and no, I don’t quite know what that means either — at the MTV awards in flesh-coloured latex underwear with singer Robin Thicke, and currently by swinging naked on a concrete ball, wearing only a pair of Dr Martens. The video for her latest single ‘Wrecking Ball’, directed by art-perv Terry Richardson, had been viewed 113,145,632 times by the time I got around to watching it on YouTube. Mmmmmm. You can see why.
Aesthetically, it’s gorgeous. The song’s not bad either. Miley’s big blue eyes well up like Sinead O’Connor’s in ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, as she delivers an emotional ballad about her heart feeling achey-breaky, except with better lyrics. But we’re not listening to the words, because we are too busy looking at Miley with her kit off. Baring more than just her soul.
Miley thinks we should see beyond the naked thing. It’s hard, though, especially when she’s fellating that lump hammer. “I think the video is much more, if people get past the point that I’m naked and you actually look at me,” she told a New York radio station. “You can tell that I actually look more broken than even the song sounds. The song is a pop ballad. It’s one of these songs that everyone is going to relate to.
“If people can take their minds off the obvious and go into their imagination a little bit and see kind of what the video really means and the way that it is so vulnerable. If you look in my eyes I look more sad than actually my voice sounds on the record. It was a lot harder to do the video than it was to even record the song. It was much more of an emotional experience.”
So, lump hammer aside, Miley is using nudity as a metaphor for vulnerability. That works especially well if you are a 20-year-old with a perfect body and beautiful face as well as immeasurable confidence. But naked Miley, who turns 21 in November, is causing all kinds of consternation. We don’t like our virginal pop princesses transitioning to raunch.
A more innocent looking Miley Cyrus
Miley is having none of it. A millionaire since primary school, she says, “I was an adult when I was supposed to be a kid. So now I’m an adult and I’m acting like a kid.” It may not be feminist to sell records, but as a business model it rocks.
But Miley is hardly a Britney or a Lindsay — or even a Paris. She has not cracked up, become an addict, or gone to jail. For the past four years she has been in a relationship with Hunger Games actor Liam Hemsworth — their recent break-up tying in nicely with the careful, air-brushed anguish of ‘Wrecking Ball’. And yet she is only 20. For all her life lived in public, for all her success, she is very, very young.
Miley with ex-boyfriend Liam Hemsworth
Miley was named Destiny Hope by her parents in 1992, but uses her childhood nickname — a derivative of Smiley. She was brought up an hour’s drive from Nashville, Tennessee, in the Southern Baptist faith, by her parents Billy Ray and Tish. One of six siblings — Braison, Brandi, Trace, Cody and Noah (Noah’s a girl, by the way) — Miley’s godmother is good witch of the south, Dolly Parton. Her country and western star dad, Billy Ray Cyrus, is best known for his 1992 track, ‘Achey Breaky Heart’, and his bad hair — he has even released a track called ‘I Want My Mullet Back’.
When Miley was 12, she landed the part of Hannah Montana, the Disney television pop star who became the face of a million pink pencil cases and duvet covers. Billy Ray played her real life dad in the TV show, and everything was shiny, wholesome and lucrative. Hannah Montana became a brand.
Miley with her father Billy Ray
But obviously, Miley would not stay 12 forever. When she performed at the Teen Choice Awards in 2009, aged 16, she used a stripper’s pole as a prop, and a year earlier when Annie Leibovitz photographed her for Vanity Fair when she was 15, there was an outpouring of very cross statements from Disney about the inappropriacy of the resulting pictures — Miley had appeared in the magazine naked but for a strategically placed bed sheet.
This was not the Disney image they wished their golden show pony to project — Miley had earned $25m that year. She and Leibovitz offered a tepid apology about how the photos had been “misinterpreted”.
More recently, Miley professed to be baffled at all the fuss about her MTV performance in the latex underwear.
THAT performance at this year’s VMA’s
So when would she provide us with the crack-up we were obviously craving? When her Bible-reading parents announced their separation in 2010 after 17 years and six kids together, the media vultures gathered to watch the public disintegration of Miley. It didn’t happen. What happened instead was some fairly normal teenage behaviour against the abnormal, megabucks background of child stardom: Miley cut off her hair and said she enjoyed smoking weed. Shock horror. That is all, apart from the twerking and the naked video. Yet acres has been written about her imminent implosion.
The thing is, Miley — despite her parents separating — comes from a fairly grounded place. Unlike Lindsay Lohan, she and her mother have not done coke together as her father sits out a jail sentence. She has not had an eating disorder like Nicole Richie, tried to legally disengage from her parents like Macaulay Culkin, or had her entire childhood stolen from her like Michael Jackson. And thanks to dad and his achey breaky mullet, the family had some experience of what fame felt like before Hannah Montana came into being.
Obviously, we could all read next week that Miley Cyrus is going the way of Amy Winehouse, but it seems unlikely. What we will read instead is the media’s sweaty obsession with a young woman using her sexuality as a marketing tool. It is a symbiotic relationship — she feeds off us, we feed off her. Sales of her fourth album, Bangerz, will not be harmed by her nudity. Just so long as she doesn’t call it ‘empowering’ or ‘feminist’.
* Bangerz is out on Oct 8.