DiS Does Pop #14: Miley Cyrus' foolproof plan for pop superstardom
Miley Cyrus is the biggest popstar in the world right now. She is the all-singing, all-twerking manifestation of internet culture’s attention deficit disorder and, at the time of writing, is set to score the UK Number 1 single and album come Sunday afternoon.
How did a former kids TV performer garner 14.5 million Twitter followers and the unwavering attention of every columnist in human existence?
Not by simply grinding up to Robin Thicke at the VMAs, that’s for sure. There’s more to Miley than the tale of a virginal teen idol turned adult party animal.
She’d already kicked back against her Baptist roots long before ‘Wrecking Ball’ and is no more of a music industry puppet than Katy Perry, Lady Gaga or Rihanna.
Here's Miley’s foolproof plan for becoming a global superstar.
1) Flaunt your purity ring...
As the the daughter of country music superstar Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley was born into celebrity and raised according to Southern Baptist values. She wore a purity ring to symbolise her abstinence until 2012, when she declared sex to be a “beautiful and magical thing”.
This was after previously stating, "I like to think of myself as the girl that no one can get, that no one can keep in their hand."
Tellingly, the latter quote was spoken during Miley’s time as the star of Hannah Montana, while the former was uttered during her promo tour for LOL; the movie in which she shot her first sex scene.
2) …Before ditching Disney
Hannah Montana ran from 2006 to 2011 meaning Miley would have to adhere to Disney’s strict moral code for the duration of her childhood. In practice, this means performing upbeat bubblegum pop to tweenage crowds of thousands while dressed in a plaid mini skirt; something the Jonas Brothers weren’t party to because, you know, they’re boys.
This didn’t stop Miley from kicking back against her puritanical upbringing. At the age of 15, she appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair draped in nothing but a bedsheet. After seeing the photos, Gary Marsh, the president of entertainment for Disney Channel Worldwide, said, "Parents have invested in her a godliness. If she violates that trust, she won't get it back."
Two years later in 2010, Cyrus was forced to deny smoking marijuana after she was caught on camera with a bong. This testimony was later undermined on her 19th birthday when she joked in a videotape that, “You know you’re a stoner when your friends make you a Bob Marley cake.”
3) Hire Britney Spears’ manager
Much has been made of Miley’s decision to hire Larry Rudolph. Britney Spears' manager since 1999 was instrumental in her transition from graduate of The Mickey Mouse Club to a peddler of 'Toxic' titillation. There are enough similarities between the two singers to assume that their shared svengali for has done a copy and paste job on them 14 years apart.
On a closer inspection, the difference between Britney and Miley is significant. The ‘We Can’t Stop’ chanteuse was already eight years into her recording career before Rudolph was drafted in. He just took her previously repressed tendencies and repositioned them as key character traits. Because who can resist the story of a child star's fall from grace?
4) Embrace R&B
Miley’s biggest pre-Bangerz hit was ‘Party In The USA’. A patriotic call to the dancefloor written by Blighty’s Jessie J, it hit Number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reeks of Maroon 5. It’s also mindblowingly catchy.
For her fourth studio album, Miley completely disavowed the last remnants of her country music heritage to hire the hottest R&B producers around. Bangerz features contributions from Pharrell, P-Nasty and Mike Will Made It. Prior to ‘We Can’t Stop’, MWMI had written several tunes in the vein of ‘Mercy’, ‘Pour It Up’ and ‘Body Party’.
If you’re familiar with these songs, you’ll know they were all created for black artists. When added up with Cyrus’ hip-hop dancing troop and her propensity for twerking, charges of cultural appropriation have inevitably followed.
Miley has responded to this criticism herself via The Rolling Stone, ""I don't keep my producers or dancers around 'cause it makes me look cool. Those aren't my 'accessories.' They're my homies."
In truth, her most eloquent defender has been Pharrel, "Her dad is Billy Ray Cyrus, her godmother is Dolly Parton, and she grew up in the era when kids listen to hip-hop. People ask, 'Why is she twerking? Why is she doing this?' Because she's a product of America."
5) Live through Twitter
“We need to see change,” proclaimed Miley on her MTV documentary The Movement. “Everything that happens we need to see for our own eyes.”
It wasn’t always like this, David Bowie would disappear and remerge as Ziggy Stardust without so much as a 140-character tease. For a pop culture generation that demands immediacy, Miley Cyrus is its perfect cipher. Every facet of her personal life is uploaded into the public domain; even her split from fiancé Liam Hemsworth was revealed by unfollowing him on Twitter.
Anyone can overshare online, the key to Miley’s social media strategy is that her emoji abuse is reciprocated. Her VMA performance drew 306,100 tweets per minute, more than the Superbowl, while Instagram, YouTube and Vine are awash with Bangerz-inspired parodies of varying hilarity. Even if you haven’t seen ‘Wrecking Ball’s video, you’ll damn well know about it.
6) Initiate operation “strategic hot mess”
Miley hasn’t so much swept her Disney days under the carpet, as amputate the memories, douse them in gasoline and set them alight for all the world to see. Every controversial outburst she makes can reduced to a soundbite or a GIF, whether that’s name-dropping “Molly” (a.k.a MDMA) in ‘We Can’t Stop’, wrapping her tongue round a bulbous piece of sledgehammer or Robin Thicke-gate.
According to Cyrus, her rebellious streak is a “strategic hot mess”; a means to ensure she’s the top trending hashtag after every promo appearance. Accordingly, Miley’s eye-raising stunts have largely revolved around hyper-sexualised imagery. Capitalising on a culture that elevates ‘Blurred Lines’ to 191 million YouTube views, she’s directing people to her music via the medium of raunch.
This is troublesome on far too many levels to get into here, but the crux of the matter is that Miley’s actions deliberately demand your ire.
7) Perpetuate the outrage
Once you reach a certain level of notoriety, you are no longer the story. People’s reactions to the story are the story.
The creator of the foam finger is outraged his life’s work has been denigrated.
The UK Stroke Association is incensed at joke about “mini-strokes” causing your constant tongue wagging.
Sinead O'Connor is concerned the music industry "will prostitute you for all you are worth".
All of this attention is negative, but it’s all anyone can talk about. Especially when you weigh into the debate with an ill-judged riposte of your own.
Before Amanda Bynes.... There was.... pic.twitter.com/6JZPVnunPc— Miley Ray Cyrus (@MileyCyrus) October 3, 2013
After expending so much effort on making people listen to her, Miley is reaping the benefits. She now only has to stoke the flames of outrage to prompt an onslaught of apoplectic commentary. Nice work, if you can get it.
8) Can’t stop? Won’t stop
The downside of Cyrus’ current Top 40 domination is that it has escalated beyond her control. She has exhausted pretty much every outlet from which to whip up hysteria and Bangerz is less than a week old.
How will the online realm react when they’re served up a different shade of more of the same? In truth, it doesn’t really matter. When Miley comes to mind, the defining image is now of a pixie-haired 20-year-old swinging in the buff on a metal ball. Not a cherub-faced child actress.
Hannah Montana has been rendered redundant by sex, drugs and provocative pop. What comes next will be written on a clean slate. The Disney starlet is dead, long live the Disney starlet.
Read/watch more about Miley...
Miley Cyrus: The Movement - MTV documentary Rolling Stone - cover feature quotes Miley vs Sinead - Shirley Manson's stream of consciousness Miley Cyrus: does the music business exploit women? - The Guardian Miley Cyrus vs the world - The New Statesman's feminist critique
More: DiS does POP columns, here.