When I first saw Miley Cyrus dancing at the Video Music Awards (VMA) 2013, I was fascinated by what I saw. Never before had I seen a pop star trying so desperately to look sexy but ending up looking so childish. She was dressed first in teddy bear leotards and then just flesh-coloured latex underwear. She had her tongue out for most of the performance and she even had a giant foam finger that she kept rubbing against her crotch. She also twerked, which basically means she shook her hips in an up-and-down bouncing motion, causing her butt to jiggle, as singer Robin Thicke stood behind her and sang his hit Blurred Lines, which is a song that talks in a veiled manner about consent and rape culture. It was all meant to look suggestive, sexy, raunchy and so very out there, but it didn’t do any of that. Instead it looked a bit creepy—what with a young girl awkwardly jumping around darting her tongue in and out and a man trying hard to look impressed by that. If anything, you wanted to get up on stage and show her a dance step or two, or just advise her to watch a few Britney videos.
And then the onslaught started. Newspapers, blogs, magazines across the world were talking about how Miley had made a fool of herself. Singer Cher said on a TV show, “I just thought all of it was terrible. Outfit, terrible. Dancing, terrible. Singing, average. Performance, terrible. If she’d just come out there and kicked ass, even though I don’t think that I would have loved it, I would have respected it, and I would have appreciated it.” The Huffington Post reported that the Federal Communications Commission of America got various viewer complaints about the performance that went like this: ‘Had I wanted my family to see a hooker perform a live sex show, I would have taken her [sic] to Tijuana.’ Anna Wintour decided not to put her on the December cover of the American edition of Vogue. Britney Spears, who had kissed Madonna during her VMA performance, defended her by saying, “I remember that age when I was just transferring into my career and doing more controversial things and the energy that you feel, all this chaos going on, and she is on fire right now, she’s just a ball full of energy.”
Miley herself said that most people were “overthinking” it. “I don’t pay attention to the negative,” she told MTV News, “Madonna’s done it, Britney’s done it. Every VMA performance, anyone that performs, that’s what you’re looking for—you’re wanting to make history. Me and Robin the whole time said, ‘You know we’re about to make history right now.’”
When I told a friend I was writing a piece in defence of Miley Cyrus, she groaned, “I won’t be reading that. How can you be okay with that?” But I am. In a world where 15-year-olds take selfies of their chests to post as Facebook profile pictures, why does a 21-year-old who jiggles her butt have to be such an affront? Okay, she was a Disney star, but does she have to behave virginal all her life? If watching her means that impressionable teens will get inspired and start twerking in high schools, well then many of us 90s kids would have worn conical bras or tiny skirts and sung ‘Hit me baby one more time’ when we were 15.
I would just suggest that everyone watch that VMA performance once again. True, she tries to be sexual, but does she really pull it off? No, and that’s the point. It’s all quite funny, and that’s how it should be seen. It was a kid trying to pull off an adult gig and failing miserably. Maybe headlines should have read, ‘Miley, let’s try sexy in another five years, shall we?’
If anything, Miley is a smart cookie. Her songs, massive pop hits, are fun to sing along with and move your hips to. Her recent videos (We Can’t Stop and Wrecking Ball), which have her naked and semi-naked, have been well appreciated worldwide. Wrecking Ball recorded 19.3 million views in the first 24 hours of its release.
Miley has never been to rehab or jail, and that’s quite an achievement. In a recent interview with Daily Mail, she says, “People have this misconception of me that I’m just one of these kids on TV and that now I go off and party and I’m just this ratchet White girl, and I’m not. I work really really hard, I’m just in a different environment. I’m young and living and in LA, which is everyone’s dream, you know.” In an interview to Britain’s Sunday People, she admitted, “I have so many fucking issues. I am so fucked up—everyone does dumb stuff when they are messed up.” But the difference here is that her being ‘fucked up’ has created a mega star. Her VMA performance became the most tweeted-about event in history, with 360,000 tweets of the event per minute. Now that move just seems pretty well thought out.
So if you are a Miley hater, you should know she doesn’t really care. Even after the backlash over the VMA, Miley appeared at the iHeart Music Festival in Las Vegas with black pasties over her nipples, a white mesh tunic and black-and-white underwear. Like all of us before her, she is using her twenties to do all the outrageous things she won’t be able to do in her thirties and making lots of moolah to boot. She’s not yet sexy, but she may get there. Till then, just laugh and smile a bit when she moves around awkwardly on stage, because she is just being a foolish young thing. You remember being twenty, don’t you?