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We’ve seen it all before and we’ll see it all again. Tweenie Disney girl turns into woman, but along the way she slips a little. It seems all too familiar, a rite of passage, but there’s a little something different about Miley Cyrus’s recent so-called downfall.
Miley is evidently going through a cathartic process in which she is rejecting what has previously defined her. It would be silly to suggest that the former pop princess somehow has a duty to continue conforming to the “butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth” stereotype. Her entire life has been about herself, the product she has been forced for years to market. In rejecting that product, she is rejecting the part of her life which has been manufactured for years. Unfortunately in doing so, she is being used to craft a newer product, the “new Miley”, a sexualised “adult” version of herself in which she flaunts herself and uses drugs, which also sells just as well as the “old Miley”.
But is what Miley is doing even that edgy? By now we are all far too familiar with her raunchy VMA performance, the Wrecking Ball video and those God-awful rent-a-sultry-pose Twitter pictures. Her actions are by no means jaw-droppingly shocking and have been done many times over. The VMAs have been a cesspit for self-indulged celeb tomfoolery for some time, from Britz and Madge’s kiss to the Gallagher brothers’ ongoing spats. As for the Wrecking Ball video and the pictures which adorn her Twitter feed, they are just a continuation of the “red cups and sweaty bodies everywhere”, tantalisation and faux-scandal with an ultimate end of increased record sales. If anything, the industry is exaggerating Miley’s purported crisis. After all, a good scandal pays in the music industry as we are all well aware.
Miley illuminates a wider issue: that of female exploitation by the music industry. From Britney to Whitney, women are continually overly-sexualised, under-valued and treated like commodities. As Charlotte Church recently stated in her exceptional John Peel Lecture, stars like Miley are encouraged to reduce “female sexuality to a prize you can win”. Once you look past the grimaces and condemnation in the media, you see a fixation on Miley’s femininity. Her new-found vigour translates directly into publicity, which every ad man will tell you is always good, even when it is negative. The subjugation of Miley’s sexuality is irrelevant for most of those who make money from this business. Her happiness is incidental, so long as she brings in the dollars. Sexual exploitation is a means in this instance, a means to the end of profit.
And, let’s face it, Miley Cyrus isn’t the only daring popstar in the industry. We only need to take a look at Rihanna’s latest explicit video Pour It Up, which commenters on YouTube have already likened to porn, to see that sexualisation is rife within the music industry. How many scandals has Rihanna been involved in, whether it’s to do with sexualised videos, smoking, or taking cannabis, and yet she is just as popular as ever. It’s certainly a far cry from her almost cute S.O.S video. Surely this is exactly the same transformation as Miley has gone under? Why are we giving Miley Cyrus such a hard time when someone even more successful than her is still able to do what she likes?
It is hard to decide on whether Miley has taken things too far. It’s her party; she can do what she wants to. She’s certainly not going to be pop’s perennial goodie-two-shoes, but that does not excuse what the industry is doing to her. The extortion of Miley is making a group of men very rich at the expense of a young woman’s wellbeing. Miley cannot be seen as “liberating” herself whilst she is doing so in tandem with industry interests, so let’s have a modicum of respect for a girl who is still relatively immature. It’s time that, instead of lynching the stars themselves, we take a long hard look at the music industry and its immorality when it comes to over-sexualising vulnerable women.