Jan 10, 2009

Entertainment - Miley's Future: Sweet or Spicy?

Kurt Soller & Oscar Raymundo

Friday morning in Manhattan, Miley Cyrus gave a free "Good Morning America" concert for more than 10,000 tween girls and their moms. Some of the fans had been waiting since 3 p.m. the day before to get into the show, but two NEWSWEEK reporters--both male and in their early 20s--squeezed into Bryant Park to investigate the Cyrus circus for themselves. "The kids really look up to her," confirmed Diane White, a mom from Medford, N.J., who told us her daughter has asked whether Miley would turn bad "like Lindsay Lohan?" That's what NEWSWEEK's Oscar Raymundo and Kurt Soller spent the walk back to the office debating.

Kurt: OK, Oscar, now that the sun is out of our eyes, what'd you think of the performance?

Oscar: I really liked it, she performs like an adult.

Kurt: Yeah, she's definitely a professional with a great voice. But then, I'm like, "Wait, she's 15!" Shouldn't she be singing about, I dunno, lockers and gym class instead of boyfriends and booty-call texts? And speaking of booty--what was the deal with those shorts she was wearing? Definitely not kid-appropriate.

Oscar: C'mon, tweens don't want to listen to songs highlighting how childish they are. They read Seventeen even though they're 12, talk about boys even though they're not allowed to go on dates and definitely wear short shorts. Have you been to the mall? If anything, I'm surprised Miley has kept it so clean for so long.

Kurt: But there's a clear difference between Old Miley and the girl we saw on stage today. She's gone from Hannah Montana--the kid who played dress-up and worshiped anything that sparkled--to a modern day Lolita. Lately, she makes the news whenever she crosses this imaginary tween line--whether that is a bra photo on MySpace or a questionable spread in Vanity Fair--and she's playing that up. She's at the age where she's discovering her own sexuality, and she's letting America discover it right there with her. This week, for example, the obsession is on her TV Guide interview where she told the magazine she plans on staying a virgin until she marries. "I like to think of myself as the girl that no one can get, that no one can keep in their hand," she added. To me, 15 seems like an awfully young age to commit to that sort of promise, no less to admit to being a coquette. And a girl's sexual power certainly isn't an issue that comes up on Disney's hit "Hannah Montana."

Oscar: Yeah, the difference is that Old Miley was just a big product of the Disney machine. This new Miley's got her adult career ahead of her and it should be her priority. What going to happen after a new "It girl" replaces her exactly the way she replaced "Lizzie McGuire"/Hilary Duff? Her fans are getting older and they're not going to be mesmerized by her silly child tricks for much longer. And it was obvious with that Vanity Fair scandal that Miley wants to be seen as an adult entertainer, not just a kid cash cow. To do that, she needs to take risks. It worked for Rihanna. Everyone loves a good girl gone bad. I'm waiting for the Miley hit featuring Jay-Z.

Kurt: Wait, they're not really collaborating, are they? And I'll give you the Rihanna connection--once "Umbrella" stop being played, Miley's "See You Again" was all over the radio. But I feel like this transformation needs to be a little bit more subtle for Miley to succeed. I'm thinking of stars from our teenage years like Justin Timberlake, a squeaky-clean boy-bander who went away for a few years and came back as a true musician. As for the girls, with Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, we knew they were questionable role models from the moment the words "I'm not that innocent" came out. But with Miley, she's changing her image in front of a group of girls who might be too young to understand how MySpace even works. Meanwhile, she's has gotten so big that parents have no choice but to comply lest their child gets labeled "uncool."

Oscar: But now it's uncool to like her if you're not in that tweeny-bopping stage. And that's a dangerous place to be for a pop star. She needs to widen her demographic appeal, and when it comes to growing up, she needs to be one step ahead of her fans. First thing, though, she needs to get some therapy and drop that whole Hannah Montana split-personality thing.

Kurt: Yeah, good luck getting out of that Disney contract.

Oscar: Just start going to rehab. It worked for Lindsay, no?

Kurt: All too true. Speaking of La Lohan, what do you think is going to happen when all the parents realize they spent so much money and time entertaining their kids with Miley, who seems to be heading down a similar path. One fan I spoke with at the concert told me she liked Miley because "She's nothing like Lindsay." But comparing the two at age 15: Lohan was probably somewhere in Long Island, reveling in "Parent Trap" royalties and attending school. Miley? Well, the whole world knows where she is right now.

Oscar: I thought it was funny that one parent was like, "I shield my kids from the news any time a Miley controversy erupts." It's like abstinence-only education. Teach your kids how to swim, and teach them not to look up to Disney or Nickelodeon tween stars. Because at the end of the day, Jamie Lynn got pregnant, Lindsay had substance-abuse problems and Miley will soon grow up, too.

Kurt: Haha. But let's give the girl a few years, OK? If only because it is much easier to push 12-year-old girls out of the front row. As you said, she really was a great performer.

Oscar: Yeah, I would like her a lot more if I didn't have this guilty feeling whenever I listen to her songs or, you know, get up at 6 a.m. to go see her in Bryant Park with a bunch of soccer moms.

Kurt: Indeed. Let's get some coffee.

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