I watched Miley Cyrus' "Can't be Tamed" video the other day, mainly to see what all the fuss is about. My older kids are too old for Hannah Montana, and my little ones are too young, so I was going on my impression of Ms. Cyrus from a few years ago, when the Disney show was in its heyday.
The video? Let's just say it's no feel-good "Party in the U.S.A." Which was a little off-putting itself, come to think of it -- how much "movin' my hips like yeah" should a 16-year-old be doing in short-shorts and with her bra straps exposed anyway? But "Can't be Tamed" makes "Party in the U.S.A." look like it was produced by PBS.
Some critics have warned that Miley is set to become the next Britney Spears, breakdowns and all. "You might want to go back and review Britney’s timeline of events after sacrificing her girlhood innocence on the sex-sells altar of fame and fortune," advises Vicki Courtney on her blog. "She’s been there, done that. Barely lived to tell about it. Literally."
Except... not exactly. Britney Spears' downward spiral began while she was dating Justin Timberlake, sure, but it became public with her 55-hour marriage to a childhood sweetheart in Vegas when she was barely 22. It accelerated after she married another man she barely knew six months later and had two kids in two years. I'd argue that her problems were less about over-sexualization than they were (are?) about mental instability but, in spite of all that, she is currently the eighth best-selling female recording artist in the U.S. ever, and is the top female recording artist here for the past decade. Cristina Aguilera -- another Micky Mouse Club veteran -- was far more blatantly sexual than Britney and she's turned out fine. Not to mention Madonna.
I understand Miley Cyrus' desire to reach out to a new target audience -- though her Hannah Montana character is in high school, the show's fans are mostly 8 to 10 year olds. Her naked-except-for-a-sheet 2008 Vanity Fair cover was part of that plan, too. And, as a former 17-year-old girl myself, I also understand her very normal teenage need to be seen less as a child and more as an adult.
But I also think that Miley and her uncomfortably orgasmic latest video is more the symptom than the problem itself. For every teenage star desperately trying to reach out to an older crowd (and be taken "seriously" as an adult), you have scores of little kids whose parents encourage them to do things like this:
These little girls are amazing dancers, but are the moves -- not to mention the outfits -- appropriate for kids who haven't even hit double digits yet?
So, whose to blame? The parents who give their permission? The adults who come up with the choreography? Or society in general, for clamoring for more?
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @WriteEditRepeat.