I want to say thank you, Miley Cyrus, for putting me on to the ‘How to twerk’ video on YouTube, which has just added a new move to my exercise regime. Unfortunately I – like you – don’t really have the shape for it, or Shakira’s hips, so it is something I shall merely be showing my husband, when he asks for details on the VMA news story (I don’t want him to sound like that Sixties judge … “And what, pray, is twerking?”), and my children when they need a laugh.
I do not agree with viral blogger mom, who cheerfully told her daughter that she would duct tape her mouth shut rather than let her use her tongue the way you did that night.
You’re trying to break out from your sweet, pre-watershed Disney image and you got the big reaction you wanted. You’re thrilled about the number of tweets per minute you generated and that’s great. So maybe most of them were echoing the shocked, ‘Please make it stop’ expressions on the Smith family’s faces, but numbers are numbers. And maybe Justin Timberlake got much better artistic reviews than you, but pictures of your tongue and latex-clad bottom outdid even his reunion with N’Sync.
What makes me sad for you right now is not what you did. It made my children sigh a little for you, but it didn’t make them dash out to buy a nude bikini and repeat your signature moves in front of older men in nightclubs. If anything, it will have put them off doing all of the above, for which I’m grateful. (And it gave rise to this meme of your cartoon body twerking on various famous paintings through history, which is both cultural and funny, so again, thanks.)
No, what makes me sad is what you didn’t do.
A couple of days after the VMAs you released some pictures celebrating the release of your new album, Bangerz. The papers and online media have had a field day with the ones of you showing your boobs through a mesh top, clutching your crotch and doing the other things that other performers in their twenties do when they want a lot of attention. But among them, there was this one, and I love it.
What makes me sad, Miley, is that any girl in her twenties in a free country can put on a latex bikini and twerk her little butt off. Lady Gaga performed that night in a shell bikini and nobody blinked. But not every girl – in fact, almost no girl but you – can look so ethereal, vulnerable, strong, familiar and unusual, dressed in a suit jacket and carrying a bunch of roses. Taylor Swift is too knowing. Selena Gomez is too sexy. Actually, Gaga could do it, but right now she’s in a nearly-naked place and seems comfortable there.
You didn’t seem comfy in your latex bikini. Your tongue gave you away. It was as if you were using it like a shield of irony around your performance. The thing is, Miley, we’re all talking about you because of all the stuff you did ages ago that you’re trying to distance yourself from, and which you were supremely good at, and we miss that. Nobody’s taken your place as the Disney princess since then. And we miss you.
By all means, please distance yourself from Disney and its lawyers and image consultants and PR people as much as you like. Show us who you really are. But you didn’t convince us that night that the real Miley is Robin Thicke’s dream blow-up doll. Have another go.
There are other ways of being, Miley. This is what we’re trying to tell our daughters. Hell-for-leather sexiness works for some people. It sells a lot of records and a few movies. But it’s not everything, not all the time. You happen to be exceptionally talented at a bunch of the other stuff. Happiness. Comedy. Country music. Girls need a bit of that, too, when they’re recovering from a busy twerk-out session, or trying to work out why Blurred Lines, while genius as a dance song, makes them feel vaguely uncomfortable, and why they keep being approached by pervs in nightclubs who now think it’s OK to mouth ‘I know you want it’ and wink. We’re hoping that you find your way back before it’s too late, and do some more great stuff with your tongue safely back inside, where it looks better, promise, and your clothes on.
No duct tape required.