I was eight years old when Miley Cyrus made her debut on Disney Channel's Hannah Montana and beginning my senior year of high school when she delivered the VMAs performance that single-handedly butchered the teddy-bear industry. Since then, a flurry of think pieces and open letters have declared Miley to be either the blind victim of puppeteering managers or a maniacal genius of publicity. All seem to agree that her recent reincarnation is just ex-child-star protocol, à la Britney Spears or Justin Bieber, and/or the sign of a mental breakdown. The concern at the heart of it all was for young women my age who grew up with Miley and probably would be brainwashed into a massive army of hypersexual copycats.
I flew to Phoenix in February for an interview with Cyrus and a night of her Bangerz tour. She spoke a mile a minute, eager to impress and to set the record straight, though not with-out claiming repeatedly that she does not give a fuck. She wore a silk John Galliano robe printed with newspaper headlines and did not break eye contact once.
Cyrus is neither a lost train wreck nor completely sure of her place in the world. She's just searching for it on an extreme scale, and, actually, in a much more unique, unprecedented way than her critics might think. She didn't become a sex kitten or a bombshell but instead a stoner with an androgynous haircut and a proudly boyish frame. She didn't follow in the footsteps of young female stars who play sexy for the benefit of the audience but have no sex life of their own (at least not that they'd admit to); instead, her performance of sex is goofy and inaccessible, intended only for her own pleasure and fun (Terry Richardson collaborations aside). She is more self-possessed than skeptics think she is, but maybe not as self-possessed as she thinks she is. Not in any dangerous, downward-spiraling way, though. She just carries the same conviction that I and every one else in our age group share, that as recent survivors of adolescence, we know what is really important to us.