There's much Internetz buzz about Miley Cyrus's (relatively) new video for her song "Can't Be Tamed." A lot of the response (read: criticism) seems to revolve around what seems to be a sudden change to a more grown-up style of video accompanied by rebellious lyrics and how that means Miley has finally packed her bags for Slutsville, never to return.
I beg to differ.
Remember when you were 17? If it was anything like when I was, you sure as heck didn't want to be seen as a sugary innocent child anymore. You may have done questionable things on the Internet. You probably cursed when your parents couldn't hear (or in front of them-- I wouldn't have lived to 21 if I chose to). You probably tried to dress in a more adult way-- you didn't want to be "cute" anymore, but sexy instead. Maybe you drank, experimented with drugs, had a sexual relationship and/or explored your sexuality. You probably weren't watching shows akin to Hannah Montana and playing board games as your primary pastimes.
I'm not saying everyone was the definition of a "wild child," but even as someone who had some pretty darn tame teenage years, I can say I did a number of those things at Miley's age.
What's unfortunate for Miley, of course, is that she has to be watched being a teenager by a very wide audience. I'm not saying that the sometimes questionable things teenagers do are safe or right, but most of us did them in some combination-- so why should Miley be expected to be any different? It's ludicrous to expect a young woman in the pop music industry to keep wearing a blond wig and bubblegum-pink skirts while singing about ponies or something forever. That's not how our music industry works, and it's surely not what most people want, including her fans. Many of her fans have left the tween years, too, we have to remember.
I think the most upsetting part of watching young people try to navigate the entertainment industry is the obvious toll it takes on their ability to be normal. That sounds pretty obvious, but what I mean more specifically is that the manufactured growing-up process is absolutely bull. You're damned if you do and damned if you don't-- and it's especially the case for stars that start off portraying themselves as super-innocent. If Miley doesn't grow up, she denies her own desire to be a woman as she sees fit, loses part of her original audience, and is probably ridiculed for being a prude. If she does grow up, she's a ho who isn't a real artist and makes the parents of every little girl who worshipped Hannah Montana as a Wonderful Role Model go on a mission to destroy and denounce her at every turn.
Of course, it's okay for Miley to be sexy if it doesn't seem so overt-- like she knows what "sexy" is. Honestly, I find that to be the creepier side of how we treat youth in pop culture. It was okay for Miley to wear teensy tiny shorts (as is her custom) in the Party in the U.S.A. video. That was hot, because there she is, being all casual, hangin' out, just looking attractive and young, the kind of young where you don't really know your own strength when it comes to your sex appeal. But if she's clearly using it? No, that's wrong. If she clearly wants men to look at her, to desire her, it's gross and skanky and terrible.
We want to be voyeurs, to be the peeping Toms looking in her window, watching her blossom yet keep her innocence because it makes it that much more magical: the idea that you can have your cake and eat it, too, in a sense. Yes, a girl who's pure but smokin'. That's what we all want. But she can't know it or use it to her advantage.
This is what we call "slut-shaming," if I'm not mistaken.
Miley Cyrus recently made the following statements about her sexy performances and double standards to Access Hollywood:
“Girls are immediately going to say, ‘Oh, she’s trying to sell sex,’” she told Billy of her current maturation. “Well, I love Zac Efron, but what’s he selling? He’s gorgeous, he’s hot, I don’t go see his movie because I’m like, ‘He’s such a fantastic actor.’ He’s a great actor, but he’s hot.”
Miley explained that her male colleagues also have it easier in the clothing department.
“He’s just not in a leotard with his legs out. He has his shirt off. So what’s the difference?” she continued. “In ‘High School Musical’… he’s in basketball shorts and his cutoff tank top and all the girls are dying.
“It just isn’t as obvious when guys do it,” she added. “I was on tour with the Jonas Brothers my first year and boy bands get away with a lot. For girls, it’s always going to be harder."
Here is an example of what someone says when they understand the system-- because, honestly, I've never heard that much criticism of young male stars becoming too sexy. Take Daniel Radcliffe aka Harry Potter, for instance: when he decided to star in Equus, there was buzz about the fact he'd be nude, but no shock and horror and falling-out. I found this article, in fact, where the author casually says "I guess it's his way of saying he's all grown up now" and provides NSFW photographs of the young actor nude. I can't imagine such a nonchalant, oh it's artistic, response if this had been Daniel's costar Emma Watson.
But back to Miley:
What this is is my round-a-bout way of saying LEAVE MILEY ALONE! JUST LEAVE HER ALONE!
*Ahem* But really: I find it a bit awful that all of us media consumers out there expect a 17-year-old girl who grew up in the same sexified society as we did to not feel the urge to be sexy in public. Let's let go and allow kids to grow up and be a little rebellious and ridiculous. I know the instinct is to cling to youth and innocence, but guess what? Kids that age aren't completely innocent.
And I'm willing to bet our refusal to acknowledge that does more harm than good.
So what if Miley can't be tamed? Maybe she's just a normal kid. Maybe she doesn't have to be.