Let me start off by saying that I really didn’t want to write a Miley Cyrus blog. Everything that could possibly be said regarding her recent antics and VMA performance has been repeated on a loop for the past two weeks. Over the years, we’ve all seen our fair share of musicians evolve from teen role model to adult powerhouse, each with different audience reactions. With the recent behavior of the musician formerly known as Hannah Montana, I was inspired to look at whether or not her transition into adulthood differed from pop stars before her. So stop licking the sledgehammer for a second Miley, and let’s take a stroll down memory lane.
The identity transition taken on by Miley is strikingly similar to that of Christina Aguilera back in 2002. Leading up to the release of her second album, Stripped, Christina dyed her hair black and got inked with her new nickname “Xtina.” Provocative photo shoots followed, along with the scandalous video for the album’s first single, “Dirrty,” that featured the singer dropping it low in leather chaps and underwear. Parents were horrified that the former Mouseketeer took such a drastic departure from her “Genie in a Bottle” bubblegum-pop image, scrambling to cover the eyes of their children tuning in for their daily dose of TRL. Though the evolution in her career was controversial and left a fair share of feathers ruffled, it yielded major success for Christina and laid the foundation for what would end up being a successful career.
When it comes to Miley, she is following a blueprint that has proved effective for countless female pop stars before her. Somewhat similar adulthood-shift tactics have been used for years by the likes of Madonna, Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, Debbie Gibson, and Jessica Simpson. Whether the approach will work on the current demographic of music fans is an entirely different story though. What worked for Christina in the early 2000s could easily be ineffective with the current wave of pop music fans. If in 2000, I wanted to re-watch the video of Britney ripping off a black suit at the VMAs to reveal a flesh-colored bodysuit, I’d have to wait for the recast on MTV the next day. Now, YouTube puts the controversy at our finger tips and allows us to pull up content within seconds for analysis and comment. Tearing down an artist has never been easier, making the dynamic between musicians and public opinion even more complex.
Miley isn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last celebrity to put the pedal to the metal with her image. Though the question is, will it continue to pay off?