Robin Thicke, left, and Miley Cyrus perform "Blurred Lines" at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013, at the Barclays Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York.

Charles Sykes, Associated Press - Charles Sykes/invision/ap

An undated handout photo of Miley Cyrus on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. In the weeks after a controversial performance by Cyrus at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, a growing chorus of female editors has begun to indicate a backlash against Cyrus' critics.

, via New York Times

Saturday Night Live

Who: Host and musical guest Miley Cyrus.

When: 10:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where: KARE, Ch. 11.

Miley Cyrus, the princess of twerk, has her defenders

  • Article by: JACOB BERNSTEIN
  • New York Times
  • October 4, 2013 - 5:32 PM


Last February, Joanna Coles, the new editor of Cosmopolitan, spent much of Fashion Week squiring around the magazine’s cover girl, Miley Cyrus. There was Cyrus front row at Rachel Zoe’s show, rocking a fire-engine-red jumpsuit. There she was again in an off-white peplum dress at Marchesa. One night, at a party in her honor, as paparazzi hovered, Cyrus dismissed shock at her budding sexuality as largely a media fabrication. “I think it’s fun to read about,” she said, before adding that she didn’t think the public at large actually cared.

What a difference a few months can make.

In an image now seared in the minds of millions, the artist formerly known as Hannah Montana appeared in August at the MTV Video Music Awards, tongue out, twerking in a virtually nonexistent costume against R&B singer Robin Thicke and sexualizing the iconic foam finger. By the next morning, blogs and news networks were full of dissection and debate. Many of the singer’s most vocal critics were other women. On “Today,” Mika Brzezinski said, “There’s pushing the envelope and there’s porn; there’s raunchy porn that’s disgusting and disturbing.”

She was perfectly clear that the performance fell into the latter camp, adding that part of what appalled her was seeing a young woman “in the process of her undoing” and “everyone clapping for it.” Meanwhile, in her Wall Street Journal column, Peggy Noonan called Cyrus lewd and “mindlessly vulgar.”

That wasn’t all people were saying. Over on Jezebel, commenters expressed considerable discomfort with Cyrus’ use of black female dancers, dressed up as giant teddy bears, as sexual props, saying that it amounted to racism.

But to the editors of two of the largest women’s magazines in the country, Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar, and one of the Internet’s faster-growing pop culture websites, Hollywood Life, the pop singer is, if not a role model, at least intriguing to their young readers, one who has appeared on their covers and driven a huge chunk of their traffic. (Laura Brown, the celebrity wrangler at Harper’s Bazaar, said: “I think whether a reader relates to a cover star is not always the point. They just need to find her interesting. And Miley, at this point in her life, certainly is.”)

To artists like Marilyn Minter, who is fond of pushing the envelope herself, Cyrus is also, in many ways, a victim of American society’s puritanical, even hypocritical attitude toward sex and nudity.

Minter said of Cyrus: “I think she’s being slut-shamed, and slut-shaming is not cool.” She said she understood that Cyrus might have been mining black culture, but so, she said, were many male performers and attendees that night who didn’t get singled out, among them Macklemore, Justin Timberlake and Cyrus’ onstage partner, Thicke. “There’s a ceiling for women owning sexuality in any shape or form. She’s being slut-shamed with the race card thrown in. All she was doing was what young girls do at the MTV awards. Britney Spears did it; Madonna did it.”

And in the weeks after the music awards, a growing chorus of female editors has begun to indicate a backlash against the Miley Cyrus backlash as well.

“I love Miley Cyrus,” Coles said. “I think she’s an artist and an entertainer, and she was entertaining. And she’s also a provocateur who has launched a conversation about female sexuality. Old people have always criticized young people for exploring their sexuality and owning it and enjoying it. ’Twas ever thus.”

Janice Min, editorial director of the Hollywood Reporter, said: “I think Miley Cyrus is a genius. She doesn’t just talk like a bad girl, she behaves like one, but she never crosses the line into Lindsay Lohan territory. You don’t see her getting arrested for DWIs. She doesn’t do stupid things. She wants mothers all across America to be horrified. This is her brand. She’s been on a relentless campaign not to be Hannah Montana and to be this emblem of rebellion and trouble. If you’re a musician, that’s an incredible place to be.”

It does appear to be working. Cyrus’ new video, “Wrecking Ball” (in which she is filmed largely nude, periodically licking construction equipment), was directed by the fashion world’s perennial bad boy, Terry Richardson, and has been viewed 180 million times on YouTube.

Cyrus is also plastered on the covers of Harper’s Bazaar and Rolling Stone, and the accompanying interviews suggest that she is well read and together, a girl with tattoos, for sure, but tattoos that quote from Teddy Roosevelt speeches. She doesn’t even seem particularly worked up about the uproar she created, telling Rolling Stone’s reporter simply: “I think it’s an important time not to Google myself.”

All of which may be why Brzezinski seems to be in the minority with her opinion that Cyrus is somehow Britney Spears 2.0, going through yet another epic celebrity meltdown.

“She can talk the leg off a table,” said Brown of Harper’s Bazaar. “She’s a passionate young girl experiencing everything and grabbing it. Sometimes people are going to say that’s rad, and sometimes people are going to say that’s too much.” But, she said, Cyrus is “a total professional.”

Coles agreed: “I’ve sat with her at shows, I’ve hung out with her. She’s highly intelligent and she’s enjoying being a sexy young woman. Other people you’ve seen make that transition haven’t looked like they were having a good time. There was something tragic about Britney’s breakdown, because it was so clearly a cry for help. I think Miley is having a whale of a time.”

If online traffic and sales figures on the “Wrecking Ball” single are any indication, Cyrus has replaced Lady Gaga as the most talked about young artist in pop music today, whether or not people are united on the question of how talented she is.

Bonnie Fuller, the editor of Hollywood Life, said: “There’s a diversity of opinion about her, but the bottom line is that people are buying and listening to her music. Even if they’re debating it, and some of them are disapproving, the bottom line is: They’re interested in her.”


© 2018 Star Tribune