If you’re looking for a celebrity role model for your daughter, look to Jennifer Lawrence or Taylor Swift or, better yet, the girls who ran the orphanage in Haiti.
Among the lesser choices, at least at the moment, would be Miley Cyrus, with her weirdly erotic wardrobe, ever-present tongue and druggy-party vibe. In fact, in a non-scientific poll last year of 2,400 parents (conducted by Couponcodes4u), she managed to top Lindsay Lohan, Kim Kardashian and Amanda Bynes as the Worst Celebrity Role Model for young girls.
And that was before she delivered one of the most grotesque TV performances ever, at the MTV Video Music Awards, twerking in a teddy bear suit and stripping down to that hideous flesh-colored latex bra and panties for her foam finger dance.
It was a 180 from the wholesome, G-rated image of “Hannah Montana” that Pittsburgh fans saw when she last performed here in January 2008, a show that had parents in a mad scramble for the sold-out tickets.
It was none other than Donny Osmond who predicted the change coming when he wrote a piece about her for Time 100 in May 2008.
“Within three to five years, Miley will have to face adulthood. Fans grow up, and their youthful interests quickly dissolve. Her challenge will be overcoming the ’Hannah Montana’ stereotype... she’ll want to change her image, and that change will be met with adversity.”
The Osmond Brothers singer had been through it before, trying to shed the squeaky clean “Donny and Marie” image in the early ’80s to the point where one of his agents suggested they spread false drug arrest rumors. He rejected that idea, and while he did have a minor comeback in 1988 with a tougher appearance, he never did shake the vanilla image.
Michael Jackson managed to blow through that problem on sheer talent — and his “Thriller” makeover — but most teen pop stars (from David Cassidy to the Jonas Brothers) stall out or flame out during that transition. Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake all grew up in show biz being part of the “The Mouseketeers” crew, but they certainly weren’t known as kids to the extent of Michael or Miley.
Britney was 17 when she launched her music career in the schoolgirl uniform and belly shirt with “Oops...I Did It Again,” drawing the wrath of parents and pundits. Christina wasn’t far behind and quickly went from her toned-down genie look to the “Dirrty” “Xtina” phase.
“I’ve seen this all play out before,” Mr. Osmond wrote. “It’s the same ball game, just different players in a different time.”
Ms. Cyrus was only 9 when she ventured into show business as Kylie in “Doc,” a series that starred her father Billy Ray Cyrus, and she was 13 when “Hannah Montana” launched in 2006. The first hint of what was to come was the bedsheet shoot with Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair in 2008, which was written off as a mistake or misunderstanding. Everybody moved on and she was able to do three more years of “Hannah Montana,” along with a movie. She also scored a No. 1 album with “Breakout,” a No. 2 hit with “Party in the U.S.A.” (from the 2009 EP “The Time of Our Lives”) and a $67-million grossing Wonder World Tour, which did not stop here.
Her 2010 campaign was more of a mixed bag. “The Last Song,” her big-screen break from the Hannah Montana character, was a box office hit but critical flop. Her attempt at an edgier pop style on third album, “Can’t Be Tamed,” was a bust, written off as watered-down Britney. When her next two movie roles, “LOL” and “So Undercover,” didn’t even get a wide release she was quickly on her way to oblivion.
Enter party-crazed Miley, short-haired and sneering, twerking and singing about “molly” (ecstasy) in “We Can’t Stop” and its erotic video. It dropped last June followed by the VMAs in August, prompting 300,000 tweets per minute.
“I know what I’m doing. I know I’m shocking you,” she told Rolling Stone. “When I’m dressed in that teddy bear thing, I think that’s funny.” She added, “But I forget that it’s, like, people in Kansas watching the show. That people sit their kid in front of the TV and are like, ‘Oh, an awards show! Let’s watch.’ ”
In that same interview, she talked about marijuana being “the best drug on earth” and ecstasy being “a happy drug.”
It would have been pretty embarrassing if she had gone down in flames as the teddy bear Miley, but the “Bangerz” album has been anything but a bust. Even riding high with “The Voice” exposure, Ms. Aguilera fell flat trying to go Gaga on “Bionic.” In this case, people have taken to Miley’s tongue-out-of-cheek mix of sensuality and devilish humor, partly because she was able to back it up with the radio-ready hits “We Can’t Stop” and “Wrecking Ball.”
Although she’s no Whitney or Christina-level diva, known to be a bit nasally, “Wrecking Ball,” like previous hit “The Climb,” does show off an impressive range. And being from a musical family in Tennessee, she knows her way around a folk or country tune. Her rendition of “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” was among the better covers on the Bob Dylan “Chimes of Freedom” tribute in 2012 and she does godmother Dolly Parton proud on “Jolene,” which she’s doing on this tour.
She’s certainly more advanced in her musical tastes than most of her Top 40 peers — she’s shouted out the Pixies as one of her favorite bands — and it shows up on this “Bangerz” tour in her covers of The Flaming Lips and The Smiths.
For the April issue of the Time 100 Artists, Ms. Parton weighed in on her controversial goddaughter, saying she had to do something drastic to break away from Hannah Montana (“she’s just smotherin’ and chokin’ in it”). The country legend conceded, “And she doesn’t have to be so drastic. But I will respect her choices. I did it my way, so why can’t she do it her way?”
No one will forget the teddy bear, but at 21, she has lots of time to regain her dignity and she’ll do that with a net worth estimated at $150 million.
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg