The story of Miley Cyrus could well be straight out of a film. Tortured and spat out as a child star, she looked to be on the standard child star to adult failure path (complete with a library of mental health issues) until she was allowed to express herself. Except the story isn’t quite as simple as that.
The road to Karen Don’t Be Sad, and the catalogue of accomplished songs it accompanies on Cyrus’ new album Miley Cyrus And Her Dead Petz, begins when Cyrus was aged 11. Cyrus auditioned for a new Disney TV show, called Hannah Montana. The heights of fame to which it elevated her would not have been a surprise to anyone involved; at the time Disney Channel was the most watched cable channel in the states, and Cyrus’ new show was soon to be promoted to crown jewel status.
But the girl at the centre of this huge, multi billion dollar empire was still only 11. No matter how much tutoring and support she was given, she was never going to have a normal childhood. Perhaps more destructively, she would never have a normal stretch of teenage years (I don’t think teenagehood is a word). She would never know what it would be like to be a teenager who did not bear a wider responsibility to the public; like Taylor Swift said ‘I have to consider what kind of perception I’m putting across… whenever I make decisions’. (Although T-dog did also say ‘I don’t like to get drunk because it’s just not cute’. Whatever the fuck that means). There was to be no expression of Miley’s personality for her, because her personality was now an Asset.
To the general public, her artificial childhood appears to have collapsed in on itself when she appeared at the 2013 VMAs wearing a revealing outfit and stroking Robin Thicke’s dick with a giant foam hand. But in reality it happened far earlier. “I would have anxiety attacks. I’d get hot flashes, feel like I was about to pass out or throw up. It would happen a lot before shows, and I’d have to cancel. Then the anxiety started coming from anxiety.” That was, Cyrus says, as long ago as 2006, back when it was still Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus. The anxiety, she says, was born out of being ‘made to look like someone that I wasn’t’.
But although the internal conflicts became manifest to the public at the infamous 2013 VMA’s, the external conflicts which had caused them were far from resolved. Although Cyrus’s new pop persona was far closer to her persona, it was still a pop persona, controlled by others. Miley Cyrus would have to do more to throw off what she had been made into. But that wouldn’t necessarily mean doing more by the way of extremity.