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?
In part this tsunami of Cyrus-bashing memos is just another manifestation of Twitter-engineered hysteria. As Amanda Bynes, another “fallen” tween queen, will attest, negative tweets can beget many more negative tweets awfully quickly. Suddenly, the tutting and frowning that might once have been confined to the scarier corners of the playground and common room can congeal and snowball hysterically into a planet-sized gob of disgust.
Cyrus, who accidentally tweeted about taking a Xanax last June, knows well enough how social media can go horribly wrong.
There is, however, a genuine sense of betrayal sounding through much of the capitalised Cyrus outrage. For millions of girls raised in front of the hit Disney Channel show Hannah Montana, Cyrus was supposed to be something like a Real Live Girl. She had the snaggle tooth and Tennessee accent to prove as much. It didn’t matter that she was the daughter of the country superstar Billy Ray Cyrus or that her birth name was the less cool-sounding Destiny Hope or that she first appeared in Big Fish, a star-studded Tim Burton film, at the age of six. Hannah Montana’s central conceit – ordinary brunette schoolgirl by day, glamorous blond pop singer by night – allowed impressionable viewers to believe that Cyrus was both things at all times.
The casting of Billy Ray as Cyrus’s onscreen dad blurred the distinction between Real Cyrus and Disney Cyrus even further, as did the show’s use of Noah Cyrus, her younger sister, and various real-life country stars, notably “Aunt” Dolly Parton.
Since 2010 the former child star has bounced from one all-grown-up story to another. Her role in the Nicolas Sparks romance The Last Song – the film that introduced her to her on-again, off-again Australian fiance, Liam Hemsworth – was cited as her induction into more adult themes. In 2011 back-to-back appearances on Saturday Night Live and MTV’s Punk’d were cited as her induction into more adult themes. Last year musical collaborations with Snoop Lion (aka Snoop Dogg) and Pharrell Williams were cited as evidence of her induction into more adult themes. And so on.
It was Pharrell Williams, ubiquitous musical polymath, who suggested that Cyrus, now aged 20, might like to chop off the locks once used to signify the Hannah Montana dichotomy. She says her new do gave her “a newfound sense of confidence and forward momentum”. The “haters” say it was the beginning of the end.
Strands of concern
They’ve never forgiven her. For good or ill, many little girls are defined by their curls. When the heroine of F Scott Fitzgerald’s short story Bernice Bobs Her Hair emerges from the salon she is soon ostracised for her radical short locks. Between the intemperate outbursts and mock outrage scattered about various media, there’s a genuine strand of concern from former Miley minions. Will she ever grow her hair back? Can’t she just get a weave?
The answer to both queries may lie in Cyrus’s new bun nubbins: yes, of course. Crucially, however, by the time the tresses reappear the same voices of concern will likely be screaming for One Direction.
For the moment Cyrus can afford the slings and arrows of “OMG” and “What is she thinking?” In terms of celebrity binary, of being talked about or not being talked about, her “raunchy performance” has attracted more attention and YouTube hits than Hannah Montana could ever have dreamed possible. In the Darwinian hinterland of the former tween queen she might just have ensured her own survival.