Miley Cyrus has built a career on multiple personality disorder. First, she was the bewigged fake pop star Hannah Montana by day, and real-life child star Miley Cyrus by night. Then, she traded in her Disney channel credentials for the all-grown-up starter pack: mature hit singles, a hunky temporary fiancé, and an extended IMDB page.
These days, Cyrus has been going full rebel without a cause, trading her cutesy roots for a marijuana obsession, queer identity, and psychedelic social media presence. But unlike any other college freshman undergoing a similar transformation, Miley Cyrus is super famous.
This has both positive and negative effects.
On the plus side, when Cyrus starts a nonprofit like her Happy Hippie Foundation for underprivileged, queer, and homeless youth, these issues get some much-needed play on a national platform. Unfortunately, the flip side is that when Cyrus takes a break from supporting cool causes to pursue her side passions of cultural appropriation and saying borderline racist shit, the ramifications are a lot more far-reaching than just an angry op-ed in the campus newspaper.
Miley backlash first reared its white-dreaded head back at the 2015 VMAs, which was essentially an extra long episode of Bad Girls Club masquerading as a legitimate awards ceremony. The show was already slated for drama with a warm up Twitter beef between Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift. Cyrus, in her official capacity as host and in her infinite wisdom, decided to throw some white girl gas on the racial tension fire by showing up to the ceremony in white dreadlocks, and making a “mammy” reference during the show. All that would have been enough; unfortunately, Cyrus also had the balls to do a Times interview badmouthing Minaj about her pre-VMAs conduct. This led to an onstage confrontation between Cyrus and Minaj, which produced the beloved diss quote “Miley, what’s good?” as well as an answer to the age-old question, “Does Nicki Minaj read The New York Times?”
Ever since the VMAs, it’s safe to say that Cyrus’s shock and awe appeal has gone a little lackluster. For an artist whose aesthetic, sound, and performance style owes so much to black culture, that brand of racial insensitivity and borderline racism is more than just inexcusable—it’s downright stupid. All of a sudden, Cyrus’s “cool” doesn’t seem so progressive, and without the mark of millennial-approved values, Cyrus ceases to be an alt, radical hero, and is reduced to a crazy ex-child star stereotype. Instead of revitalizing her image from the roots up, Cyrus seems dead-set on throwing some glitter on the problem and barreling through the backlash. This has led to a series of eyeroll-inducing career moves.
On the heels of her VMAs mishap, Cyrus surprise-released her new album, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz, for free streaming online. The 22-song trip is many things, but Beyoncé it ain’t. The album was partially inspired by the 2014 death of Cyrus’s dog Floyd. Cyrus explained, “This is going to sound crazy, (but a Chinese healer) sent me into a state where my dog was lifted out of my lungs and placed on my shoulder... I pet my dog for like three hours.” This process allowed her to “let go and put his energy out.” While Cyrus’s creative process with her dead dog is her own business, her Dead Petz era struggles to be read on this higher metaphysical plane. Instead, business appears to be sensationalism as usual.
In a recent Plastik magazine shoot, Cyrus shot four different topless covers for the obscure publication. The pictures feature their fair share of neon, pasties, eye patches, and puppies. I’m not interested in the prudish argument that young female celebrities shouldn’t be exploring full-frontal nudity—more power to them—but rather the fact that Cyrus has somehow managed to make art freak toplessness yawn-worthy. This shoot came on the heels of a similar November spread in Candy magazine featuring Cyrus in various states of undress in nine different images, including a topless photo of her fellating a police baton, a completely nude Cyrus with a cat, and a topless photo of her mock-licking a gigantic black strap-on.
Their snooze-worthiness aside, these snaps wouldn’t be so problematic—except they were shot by noted sexual predator Terry Richardson. By subjecting herself to his pervy gaze in the service of cheap thrills, Cyrus is contributing to a culture that lets Richardson run roughshod over vulnerable young models with little to no recourse.
As far as empty surprises go, another supposedly “WTF” moment came at the end of Cyrus’s Milky Milky Milk Tour (I mean, really), when the pop star ushered Pamela Anderson onstage, complete with a “Save the Whales” sign and surrounded by dancing human pizzas. What Cyrus and Anderson—who is probably old enough to know better—don’t understand is how this never-ending quest for shock value actually undermines their larger philanthropic and/or creative missions.
Take Miley’s new video for her Flaming Lips collaboration “BB Talk,” in which Cyrus prances around dressed as a giant sexy baby, “sucking her own toes while singing about intercourse.” In addition to ensuring the end of days, this sort of next-level attention-seeking distracts from anything Cyrus is attempting to say, politically or creatively. Until Cyrus starts to take herself seriously as more than just a collection of clickworthy pics and meme-able music videos, it’s hard to imagine the zeitgeist putting up with her formulaic antics for much longer.