published Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

In Tune: Why I’ve had an about-face on Miley, twerking

Writing a column is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I get to spout off my opinions about whatever is bothering me. On the other hand, being an open-minded human being, my opinions sometimes do an about-face.

Like many writers in recent months, I have stabbed my pen accusingly at Miley Cyrus, whose behavior has been decidedly over-the-top of late. (Nothing screams “easy target” like the spectacle of a former child star wearing a flesh-color bikini and foam finger while grinding on a much older man.)

However, my perspective on her sexually charged performance during the MTV Video Music Awards radically changed after reading her Dec. 26 interview with New York Times entertainment critic Jon Caramanica.

As Cyrus sees it, she was just playing a role and — finally and definitively — breaking out of the squeaky-clean mold built around her since she became the star of “Hannah Montana” at age 11.

“I was so jealous of what everyone else got to do, because I didn’t get to truly be myself yet,” she told Caramanica. “… You don’t have to be signed to Disney Channel to be put in a box or to be rated PG.”

In that light, it makes perfect sense. As a 21-year-old, Cyrus would be insane to be content with behaving like a chaste teenager forever, as if she were some kind of doll that we can just leave on a shelf — idle and unchanging — until the occasional bout of nostalgia motivates us to pick it up and admire it.

The VMAs were the latest and most dramatic step in a public image transformation that’s been going on for years. If it shocked, it was because it had to. The more famous someone becomes, the more dramatically they are forced to behave to alter their public image.

And it worked.

Her latest album, “Bangerz,” debuted at the top of the Billboard 200; with 758 million combined views, her videos for “Wrecking Ball” and “We Can’t Stop” were YouTube’s second and third most-watched this year; and she was recognized as an influential artist and personality by MTV, Barbara Walters and Time Magazine.

In a 2010 column, I lamented that, with the exception of Lady Gaga and a handful of other artists, larger-than-life musical personalities are a dying breed. That makes it all the more galling to realize I’ve been pointing a finger accusingly at someone whose shocking behavior represented the kind of drama and spectacle I’d been missing.

So, I was wrong. We all could use a good twerk every once in a while.

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfree or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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