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Lisa McInerney: It’s patronising to say Miley Cyrus is being exploited by evil executives

Sinead O’Connor has written to Miley Cyrus expressing concern that she is being manipulated – but Cyrus is an industry veteran with who understands very well what she’s doing, writes Lisa McInerney.

Lisa McInerney

OH, BUGGER. I hoped by now we’d all be finding Miley Cyrus and her antics a teensy bit tiresome, but it turns out there are plenty of people still very invested in the emotional wellbeing of the good (ole) girl gone bad. Not least our own Sinead O’Connor, who has just published an open letter to Miley after the latter cited O’Connor’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ video as an inspiration for her own ‘Wrecking Ball’ promo. You know, the one in which she performs fellatio on a hammer.

Sinead’s letter is at once heartfelt, exasperated and stern. She pleads with Miley to open her eyes and see that she’s being exploited by decision-makers in the music biz. She alludes a number of times to prostitution. She refers to a woman vs man struggle within the industry, rather than an artist vs executive struggle. Through it all, Sinead is earnest. She is concerned. She speaks “in the spirit of motherliness and with love”. Which is really helpful because the vehemence with which she demands Miley cover up would otherwise seem pretty dictatorial.

Swinging the spotlight

In recent weeks, Miley Cyrus has worked us all into a lather by jumping around the place in her knickers with her tongue hanging out, which is more a reflection of pop culture barrel-scraping than it is of Miley herself. Don’t hate the player and all that; Miley’s figured out a way of swinging the spotlight, and we can’t blame her for how well it’s working.

It’d be easy to claim that Miley’s tactics centre around female sexuality, unashamed sensuality or peekaboo sensationalism, but we really need to aim lower. Think more along the lines of cartoon erotica. Only less Jessica Rabbit than… an erotic Roadrunner fanfic in which the protagonist only stops speeding long enough to hump a novelty foam hand and waggle its arse at voyeurs. In short, she’s making a bit of an eejit of herself. And it’s lucrative. So very lucrative.

The making of a female pop star isn’t always a positive process, so that Sinead O’Connor is concerned for Miley Cyrus is no surprise. We’ve seen it countless times before – an ingénue packaged by a marketing department into something that will hit the spot with an audience whose tastes are in constant flux. Britney was the doe-eyed, snake-hipped virgin. Christina was the X-rated Britney. Rihanna is couture S&M. Katy Perry is Technicolor froth who’s not averse to wearing rubber. And so on and so forth.

Miley Cyrus, breaking away from her Hannah Montana persona and keen to continue working in a fickle industry, has become the bonkers Spring Break girl. It’s a drastic reinvention, but a drastic reinvention is very much necessary when one has had one’s face plastered on lunchboxes and duvet covers since 2006. And Miley’s squeaky, saccharine back catalogue doesn’t lend itself to an adult audience.

Miley is an industry veteran

As much as we like to give pop princesses the benefit of the doubt, it’s patronising to suggest that Miley Cyrus is being wholly exploited by evil suits cackling in a boardroom somewhere. Miley is very young – twenty years of age, still a baby to most gnarled onlookers – and she’s not immune to the uncertainty and awkwardness that define the transition from teenager to adult.

But she is also an industry veteran, someone who has not only worked hard throughout her formative years, but is the daughter of a platinum-selling (yeah, I know) country star. Miley Cyrus is not some bumpkin hastily styled to satisfy a whimsical horde. Miley Cyrus has a much better idea what she’s doing than we do.

Sinead O’Connor knows what she’s talking about too. She’s had a long, successful career and has suffered and shared plenty of crises. But while the industry may not have changed since Sinead’s chart-topping days, the expectations of aspiring popstars certainly have. Going to Number 1 used to be the goal; now, going viral is even more important. Talent is secondary to canny self-promotion – in a sense, it always has been – and whether Miley Cyrus is OK with this is beside the point; she certainly knows it.

Telling Miley that the industry is shamelessly profiting from her willing flesh is a waste of breath, because there’s no doubt that she is well aware of the plot she must follow and its pitfalls. Maybe she’s not entirely sure what she’s letting herself in for. Maybe hindsight is 20-20. Maybe she’ll be in rehab before she’s 25. Maybe she’ll have comfortably retired by the time she’s 30. No one can say. What we can say is that Miley Cyrus is on the front cover of Rolling Stone magazine and she didn’t get there by accident. Like Britney, Rihanna, Beyoncé and Katy before her. And Sinead O’Connor.

She doesn’t wish to be left alone

OK, so maybe when Sinead grabbed headlines it was because she was naive about broadcasting her principles, though there are plenty who think her Pope-ripping antics were a personal, not political, statement. And it could well be that Sinead’s earnestness is preventing her from seeing the game Miley’s playing. Indeed, a large part of her letter is devoted to appealing to Miley’s sense of responsibility to her fans and to her gender.

I fear that it’s wasted energy. Miley Cyrus has figured out that playing the skanky fool will keep her in the spotlight, and no voice of dissent – derisive or motherly – can shout louder than that. And far be it from any one of us to demand that the masses leave Miley alone. She does not wish to be left alone. She does not wish to be given a break to work out her artistic trajectory.

A legend like Sinead O’Connor wringing her hands on Miley’s muse is no wake up call – it’s more fuel for the fire, and Miley’s only roasting in it.

Read: Sinead O’Connor writes amazing open letter to Miley Cyrus
Watch: Hedgehog parody of Wrecking Ball is the best yet

About the author:

Lisa McInerney

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