If you’ve spent any time in the past six weeks clutching your pearls over Miley Cyrus’ hallucinogenic disasterpiece of a VMAs performance, or the way her tongue lovingly caresses a sledgehammer in her ”Wrecking Ball” video, or her latest cheesecake photo shoot with professional creepster Terry Richardson, then congratulations: You’ve been playing right into Hannah Montana’s naked little hands.
”I mean, it’s kind of what I want,” Cyrus told Matt Lauer on the Today show Oct. 7. ”I’m an artist, so I’m hoping I get a little attention. Otherwise, my record sales might be a little sketch.” Later, Billy Ray’s daughter bluntly summarized the method to her madness: ”[The VMAs] went exactly as planned. I mean, it’s a month later, and we’re still talking about it.” (Actually, it’s been longer than that; Cyrus’ cartoon orgy aired way back on Aug. 25.)
The theatrics, the twerking, that protuberant tongue — yes, they were all part of a performance designed to be a ”strategic hot mess,” as Cyrus explained in her Oct. 2 MTV documentary, Miley: The Movement. That phrase is useful shorthand for Cyrus’ general approach to post-Disney stardom. And whether you approve of her strategy or not, you can’t deny that it’s working.
There are some, of course, who think that Cyrus is the victim of a cruel business run by manipulative men. On Oct. 2, Sinéad O’Connor — whose intimate ”Nothing Compares 2 U” clip Cyrus named as an inspiration for her ”Wrecking Ball” video — posted an open letter to the singer. ”They will prostitute you for all you are worth, and cleverly make you think it’s what YOU wanted,” she wrote. ”You are worth more than your body or your sexual appeal.” Cyrus responded with a tweet mocking O’Connor’s history of mental illness; O’Connor fired back with two more letters.
But given her recent interviews, Cyrus really does seem savvy enough to know exactly what she’s doing. (A lifetime in showbiz will do that.) With every calculated provocation, she ensures that she and her new album, Bangerz, released Oct. 8, keep making headlines. Somehow, each successive mini-scandal helps build the image that Cyrus is consciously crafting: ”I want to be the cool chick that everyone wants to be friends with,” she recently told Rolling Stone. ”My shtick is I’m the homey.” She’s not just trying to get attention; she’s doing it in a winking, approachable way that exemplifies the millennial #YOLO credo. If Beyoncé is Music High’s perfectionist class president and Lady Gaga is its pretentious theater geek, Cyrus is the ex-cheerleader with a college boyfriend, a well-worn fake ID, and a surprisingly sharp sense of humor. She’s sort of like pop’s answer to meme dream/quote machine Jennifer Lawrence, only a lot more naked.
Don’t believe it? Just check out Saturday Night Live’s Oct. 5 episode, which featured Cyrus as host and musical guest. A 27-minute delay — the result of a late college football game — prompted rumors that something was amiss backstage. But when the show finally began, Cyrus came out with guns blazing. She played beautifully off of cast member Vanessa Bayer, who famously portrayed a younger, more innocent version of Cyrus in past sketches; she did a mean Michele Bachmann in a government-shutdown-inspired revamp of her ”We Can’t Stop” video. During her monologue, she even got in a great dig at Hannah Montana. (”I can give you an update on what she’s been up to: She was murdered.”) And when it came time for her musical performances, Cyrus shocked everyone by keeping her clothes on — and delivering powerful, unadulterated renditions of Bangerz’ two biggest hits.