Twerk or die
Miley Cyrus’s performance with Robin Thicke at the MTV VMAs was the latest example of a Disney princess’s full-on reinvention of herself. Is there any other way for tween stars to become Hollywood starlets?
Twerking around: Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke. Photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters
Pay attention: Britney Spears and Madonna kiss at the 2003 MTV VMAs. Photograph: Kevin Kane/Wireimage.com/Getty
Twerking, we’re told, is one of those suggestive new-fangled African- American-influenced dances. Like the Twist. Or the Hucklebuck. The word, sometimes represented as twerkin’, has just entered the online Oxford dictionary alongside such other voguish confections as “bitcoin” and “selfie”.
The ascendance of “twerking” into a thesaurus near you could not be more timely, coinciding as it does with Miley Cyrus’s appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), an annual shindig dating back to the era when music television actually played some music. Cyrus, the former Disney Channel princess and erstwhile star of Hannah Montana, did indeed twerk for the occasion, a spectacle that launched a billion OMG-themed tweets and two billion tabloid headlines containing the words “criticised for” and “overtly sexual overtones”.
Regular newspaper readers may be permitted a loud and long yawn at this juncture: yes, these are the same hackneyed phrases that appear, like clockwork, after every episode of The X Factor, phrases that seldom pop up without the optional bolt-ons “deemed too raunchy for TV” and “family show”.
Really? Anyone who thinks that the MTV VMA showcase is aimed at “family audiences” clearly wasn’t paying attention when Madonna performed Like a Virgin back when the telly valves had to warm up first. Or when Diana Ross felt up Lil’ Kim, in 1999. Or when Madonna (again) and Britney Spears kissed during the 2003 edition. Or to any similarly themed broadcasts from this or any other decade. (See also wardrobe malfunctions and the Super Bowl.)
Anyone who thinks that Will Smith and family – the savviest media clan on earth – were, as reported, genuinely aghast at Miley’s “antics” doesn’t know Will Smith and family.
Surely we expect our tween stars to spontaneously gyrate and stick out their tongues upon entering their 20s. Surely making suggestive gestures with a giant foam finger is part of a rite of passage. Surely the good girls are required to “go bad”. Let’s hear it for Spears, who has spent most of the past decade battling addictions and terrible wardrobe choices. And shout out for Lindsay Lohan, who has practically secured her own revolving-door entrance to LA’s jailhouse.
Disney (and occasionally Nickleodeon) princesses are apt to emerge from their pubescent chrysalises with a radical haircut (see shaved Spears circa 2006) and with parts of their bodies exposed that we didn’t know previously existed. Back in the day Debbie Gibson swapped squeaky clean for soft-porn movies and Tiffany ditched her trademark fluffy jumpers for a Playboy spread.
’Twas ever thus, and so it shall remain. Never mind the twerking: Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens got up to far more shocking activities in this summer’s controversial Spring Breakers, a poetic movie critique of American student debauchery from the reliably shocking Harmony Korine.
Disney princesses grow into Hollywood starlets in the same way that the former Mouseketeer Ryan Gosling gets serious and seriously buff. Therein lies a terrible and old-fashioned double standard: nobody blinks an eye when Justin Timberlake gets down and dirty, but Spears, his former girlfriend, was a whole other story. And another double standard: from the chaste romances of Life With Boys, that crisp Canadian teencom, to the Jonas Brothers spraying foam on eager audiences, the trick to being a presexual star is to be as sexual as you can decently manage.
Still, gender biases and double coding don’t entirely explain why Cyrus’s gyrations have taken up quite so much bandwidth. Was it merely a slow news week?