Just Being Miley

Kati Heng


Before you stop reading, just know this is not another article about the right or wrong of Miley’ Cyrus’s VMA performance. It’s not even an article about Miley being right or wrong, being a role model or a racist or whatever. This is simply an article about trying to figure out my thoughts after Miley burst her way into the world of serious fashion, a world which, important or not, holds much more significance to me than any awards show or Disney channel movie.

I’m only a couple years older than Miley, meaning as I’ve grown from awkward preteen to a little-less-awkward twentysomething, I’ve been the appropriate age to watch Miley go from Disney darling to Twerk Master General and the most controversial girl in American society. In my age group, people often have a more polarized perspective on Ms. Miley than on the could-be future president Hillary Clinton.

Some of us loved her on the “Hannah Montana Show” and refuse to accept this unscripted booty shaking. Some of us loved her first albums and danced the night away at high school gatherings to “Party in the USA.” Some of us just hated her from the very beginning because as we would all like to pretend, Joy Division was the most vapid thing on our iPods from the age of 13 up.

I didn’t have cable at home until I was a senior in high school, at which point the Disney Channel wasn’t that appealing, so I was never a super-critic nor a die-hard fan of her show. In all honesty, I totally loved “Party in the USA” and probably would still sing along to it if it came on, and I totally went to see the Hannah Montana Movie in theatres with my best friend under the guise that we wanted to see how bad it was and I can’t remember if I really hated it. The first time I *really* noticed anything Miley did was when she first cut her hair super-short and dyed it platinum blonde. I didn’t really like it.

So the VMAs. We have to talk about it for a minute, because in my mind, that was the moment in which American society could no longer just ignore this 20-year old diva hopeful. As weird as it sounds, I didn’t really care about her performance. Hell yes I looked it up on YouTube the next day to see what all the fuss was about, and hell yeah I was fascinated, but only in the way everyone my age has seen that Youtube clip of that fat kid reenacting Star Wars in his garage. Miley offended me about as much as that fat kid killing the legacy of Mark Hamill.

I don’t want to join in the whole conversation of what group Miley offended with her performance. I can’t say if it was racist because what good is one white girl calling out another? I didn’t feel racially persecuted, so when lines are blurry, there’s no point adding my voice to that. I don’t know if it set women back. More than anything, I think Robin Thicke’s role—blaming the entire thing on Miley and acting like an innocent saint instead of a married father—was the worst aspect of that night. And really, if you watch the music video of “We Can’t Stop,” which is kind of amazing, the whole performance with the teddy bears and the onesies makes total sense.

The biggest cultural significance that night made to me? Apparently it cost Miley a Vogue cover. Miley had already been selected and put in print as an “It Girl,” one of society’s rising young stars of fashion selected by Vogue in August 2013. Miley was in the magazine, lauded for her fashion choices of a fishnet Marc Jacobs silhouette she had worn to the 2013 Met Gala as well as another Marc Jacobs ensemble of a peppermint skirt and a Mickey Mouse emblazoned crop sweater.  The young star had already been shot for Vogue’s December cover, but after that performance, which sources said Anna Wintour found ‘distasteful,’ Miley’s cover spot was cancelled, given instead to the beautiful and supremely elegant Jessica Chastain, who, throughout the editorial page, reenacted herself as the protagonist of famous works of classical art. It is hard to imagine Miley’s spread having a similar look…

Here’s where reading this gets tricky. If you’re going to follow me further, you must be of the mindset that fashion and the magazines that document it have intrinsic value. I’ve sat through many a college class rolling my eyes during discussions on how vapid a magazine Vogue is, how worthless it is to the survival of the good of the planet, so I have heard your side. But at the end of the day, there are those of us who still find value in those seemingly worthless spreads of art known as the fashion editorial. There are those of us who see these women dressed up like the finest queens in pieces we will never again see in real life. Some of us see value and power in the way Annie Leibovitz can capture the charm, vulnerability and strength in another woman in a single shot and can appreciate the expression of a face beyond the importance of what its body is wearing. Not all of us who read the magazines you can find in a checkout line are dumb or shallow, but if you disagree, finding no importance in the cut of a satin, please stop now. I have nothing more to say that will interest you.

So why I am writing about Miley now? What has Miley done to twerk her way into topics in which I am interested most—which, apparently, for better or worse, do not include determining whether a 20 year old is a feminist or a role model or a wanna-be ratchet poser? She landed the Spring 2014 Marc Jacobs ad campaign, making her way if not onto the editorial pages of my Vogue magazine, into the front ad placements.

I’m in love with Marc Jacobs’s line, even if I can barely afford it’s off-shoot, still-$300-a-shirt label Marc by Marc Jacobs. I think his design are that perfect mixture of edgy and sleek, classy and cool, and that more than any other label, it understands or appreciates young people. I’m a huge fan of the look of his ads, which have been for years shot by the fantastic Juergen Teller, a photographer who is king of the washout look and the idea that there is beauty in imperfection. I follow what these men do in the way someone may follow the new work of their favorite artist. Understandably, the fact that Jacobs chose, of all the 20 somethings in culture, Miley Cyrus for his Spring campaign, had a bigger impact on my cultural world than any booty shaking on live television might.

It’s not a new concept for Jacobs to utilize a significant pop or rock star for his ads. He’s photographed Posh Spice Victoria Beckham, the amazing Meg White of The White Stripes, and M.I.A. Jacobs has even included himself and friends like Sophia Coppola in the ads, so it’s no surprise that he would pick whoever he wants for those pages.

Here’s the difference with Miley, and here’s where it really got interesting and worth talking about: Juergen Teller, that legendary photographer who’s shot such amazing photos for the Marc Jacobs, line refused to shoot Miley. According to Jacobs, he simply wasn’t interested. Jacobs has said he picked Miley because she was the perfect representative of his line, the perfect face for the Spring campaign, and then Teller, one of the corners of the adverting look, refused to join. If that doesn’t show the ultimate example of how polarizing this little thing called Miley Cyrus is, I don’t know what can. She breaks decades-old partnerships.

The other thing? Miley doesn’t look bad. She’s not going crazy, twerking on the beach in these ads; she’s acting calm and cool, looking off into the dark, foreboding distance, sitting quietly in the sand. She’s not sporting a mile-wide grin, meaning you can actually see how great this girl’s bone structure is. She fits in. She looks like a model.

Maybe Miley is pissing everyone off because she’s breaking out of all these boxes and categories we’d love to put her in. When she twerks, she breaks out of the Disney-icon square, pissing off the moms who would love to rely on this for ready-made wholesome role models. When she poses in a magazine becoming a blank slate for the photographer to paint up in his choosing, she’s kicking off the shackles off that over-the-top pop star rep. I mean, even Gaga clings to that look of her own when she does ad campaigns, never emerging herself as Miley did. So I didn’t have my twerk moment of decision at the VMAs – I had it with the February issues of my favorite mags. And as much as we may hate these new areas Miley is exploring, it looks like she is doing them well.