Some thoughts on Miley Cyrus, Show Business and performers of her age

Having a daughter a bit younger than Miley Cyrus, I have followed her career and that of many of her peers whether I wanted to or not. I even chaperoned my daughter to a Jonas Brothers/Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana concert! So I have always been interested in what happened to them, if only because they have been part of her life and part of my life indirectly. Most of them shone on as stars for awhile and then faded (e.g,. Hillary Duff, some of High School musical gang). Some of them have crashed and burned (e.g., Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes). And some of them seem to be in the process of transitioning from kid stars to adult actors and performers (e.g. Miranda Cosgrove, Vanessa Hudgens). And some have been all over the map (e.g., Brittany Spears, who crashed and burned but now seems to be on the uptake, career wise).

Ideally all of them, because of talent, would mature and become successful adult performers (e.g., Jodie Foster, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Justin Timberlake). But that transition is difficult. First, because alot of them are in the Disney/Nickelodeon machine, and while they are in it, they are well managed and groomed, but once they are out of it, they are on their own. Unlike some of the other performers, Cyrus has an independent support network, and that seems to have kicked into high gear with the timing of the VHS performance, her video release, and the Rolling Stone cover coming one after another.

For those upset at how over the top it all seems to be, recall that she had a previous attempt at transitioning to performing as an adult and it was mocked and dismissed. She and the people she works with likely thought they would have to do something stronger to succeed. Hence the recent performances and appearances.

She does seem to be succeeding too, if you measure success by gaining and holding attention. That has always been the measure of success for American entertainers, and by those standards, she is succeeding. It would be best if she could gain that attention by the quality of her work, not by subverting her previously manufactured image of the stereotyped good little girl with the new stereotype bad girl, but I have seen her work, and it was never that good. For example, her show, much like the Jonas Brothers that came before her and many others like that, consisted of lots of costumes, dancing with other dancers, and generally doing a lip synced/over dubbed musical show while a bunch of middle aged dudes all dressed in black pants and T shirts played all the music in the background. (I imagine the star did play and sing, but the session type musicians in the background did all the heavy lifting, musically speaking, while Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers entertained the crowd.) That doesn’t mean she can’t sing and dance: she can dance, and at the end of the show, she performed a solo number, as if to show the audience that yes, I am real.

Did you know that Miranda Cosgrove recently did a series of rock n roll type concerts? No, you wouldn’t, because Cosgrove’s were pretty standard and very tame in comparison to Cyrus. She is comparable with Cyrus musically, and she has a ton of fans, who filled her shows. But unless there is a hidden talent she is holding back until a later time, she is never going to get on the cover of Rolling Stone or have people talking because of her music, fan base or not. To get that attention, you need to be either really good or really outrageous, or both.

Justin Bieber seems to get this. Or at least his handlers do. He should be fading now, but he manages to stay in the news with his behavoir these days. It too is a bad boy behavoir, though because of our patriarchial society, his bad boy behavoir comes across in a different way. It’s not bad boy behavoir compared to Keith Moon or Ozzie Osborne, but Bieber doesn’t have to be that bad to get attention. The same with Cyrus: she’s not Courtney Love nor Janis Joplin, but she doesn’t have to be.

A Show Business career, like alot of lucrative careers in the U.S., is a brutal business. Cyrus seems to know this and seems determined to succeed in it by whatever it takes to succeed. Mick Jagger once said that Madonna was a thimbleful of talent in an ocean of ambition. Like many quips, this is unfair and insightful. What is true is that Madonna would do what it took to stay on top, and has managed to do it for a crazy long time. That is her true talent. It looks like Cyrus has the same ambition, and she may decide to follow the same path to achieve a similar level of success.

The latest Rolling Stone has her interview here: Miley Cyrus on the Cover of Rolling Stone | Music News | Rolling Stone. I breezed over it, but she came across as pretty savvy here, which is not surprising, after I thought about it. She’s been in the business for along time, and she’s been a star for along time. Right now she is outraging people with her calculated behavoir, and the interview shows her dealing with some of the fallout for that. She is a professional, and that comes across in it. In a year from now, if a different set of actions will keep her in the news, I imagine she will tack in that direction.

It is possible she will crash and burn at some point. (The same could be said for Bieber.) I suspect she will not, and she will transform herself many more times over the course of the next few decades. Like Madonna, I suspect we will be listening to Cyrus for years to come, whether you like it or not. And like Madonna, that will be her true talent.

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