Miley Cyrus’s performance at MTV’s Video Music Awards (VMAs) this week was clearly designed to provoke controversy. She emerged from a giant teddy bear, her tongue lasciviously protruding from her mouth and proceeded to ‘twerk it down’ on to the stage. After this incredibly subtle intro, she pulled off her already scanty outfit to reveal a flesh-coloured bikini and did so to a soundtrack repeating the lines: ‘It’s our body, we can do what we want.’ She then joined in a duet with Robin Thicke while simulating self-pleasuring actions with a giant foam hand.
Unsurprisingly, the criticisms came quickly. The Parents Television Council (of which Miley’s father, Billy Ray, is an advisory member) issued the following press release: ‘MTV continues to sexually exploit young women by promoting acts that incorporate “twerking” in a nude-coloured bikini. How is this image of former child star Miley Cyrus appropriate for 14-year-olds?’
As the star of Disney’s pop vehicle Hannah Montana, Cyrus’s music was always derivative and sterile. Little wonder then that her attempt to sex up her act should be even less graceful or finessed than Rihanna’s. But her critics miss the real point. The problem is not that such a raunchy performance supposedly corrupts children or offends women; rather, Cyrus’s metamorphosis demonstrates how difficult it is for one of the world’s most famous child stars to find any way of attaining adult status other than through sex.
Becoming an adult used to mean entering into a world of big and important things, like work, political engagement, argument. In a word, it meant taking life seriously.