Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball is effectively a sex tape, one that can be legitimately monetised and controlled by the young star and her label. No one is confused about the purpose of the New Miley project – generate a massive media talking point, more than 50 million Youtube views (and counting) and realign Miley’s image at the opposite end of the Disney-porn star spectrum – however people seem disturbed by the crassness of her/her management’s approach to sex. ‘It’s not sexy,’ is this odd, oft-repeated refrain in the Twitterverse, as though she were attempting something and doing it wrong.
But here’s the thing – it’s not meant to be sexy. Wrecking Ball is meant to be confronting, offensive and degrading to women. Any expression of Miley’s sexuality is secondary to the project of stirring our moral outrage. ‘That is fucking foul’ is the desired response, not ‘Wow, is she sexy!’ What kind of role model is she for our pop-loving daughters? What does this mean for the progression/regression of feminism? How has porn reshaped our cultural product? These are the “serious” question fuelling the media churn while the rest of us sling mud on Facebook. Wrecking Ball pushes all the right buttons and “sex appeal” isn’t one of them.
The choice of Terry Richardson as director is not accidental. An enfant terrible of the fashion photography world, Richardson is renowned for mixing business and pleasure, so long as the pleasure is all his. Described as a manipulative predator by one model and a creep and a perv by another, Richardson’s brand is all about moral decay, with a neat sidebar in the degradation of women. A former Disney star doesn’t turn to Richardson in the hopes of asserting their adult sexual power, they go to Richardson is search of something so trashy and depraved that it will make headlines. Job done.
Meanwhile, Miley is a victim in all of this. Richardson was overheard at a recent Hollywood party saying “[she] was a pleasure to work with and not a lot of people trust me the way she did.” Richardson isn’t a lone wolf here – Miley threw herself tongue-first into the porn-marketing fray, trusting not just Richardson but every management, label and ‘creative’ that pointed her twerking ass towards superstardom. They were right, after all, that grotty sex sells. But was Miley fully prepared for the fall out? Did she yearn for the period in her life when she would be subjected to endless slut shaming and abuse? Did she foresee Anna Wintour’s disdain? How could she, when Richardson is one of Vogue and Wintour’s preferred photographers?
Many hands helped her on the road to sledgehammer fellatio, but Miley stands alone as the cultural symbol for ‘that is fucking foul.’ However loudly she crows on Twitter about busting the VeVo record, she is also deep in a minefield of criticism, judgement and internet parody that will shape a significant part of her adult life. Any “serious” career move at this point will be read as Miley trying to right the wrongs done with Wrecking Ball, and that’s a brutal burden for any 20-year-old, even one as ridiculous as she.