Maybe it’s the fact that I’m several decades removed from my tween years. Or perhaps it was her sound, which, on her early hit albums, was a bit too High School Musical for my taste. Whatever the reason, I never quite got Miley Cyrus nor did I understand the haste with which she was able to turn a starring role in the Disney Channel sitcom Hannah Montana into international pop and film stardom.
She wasn’t the first ambitious kid to ride Disney to the top. Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Keri Russell and Ryan Gosling all got their starts on The All-New Mickey Mouse Club in the ’90s, but it took them several years to parlay their Disney exposure into instant fame. Cyrus’s 2006 rise, if not quite faster than a speeding bullet, was certainly more rapid than the ascent of Disney’s Lizzie McGuire star Hilary Duff in the early ’00s. Maybe the tweens were just desperate for someone new, and for a few years, Cyrus was it. Rising Disney starlets Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato were no match for her. She had hit albums and hit movies, sell-out concerts, massive media coverage, famous boyfriends (including—natch!—a Jonas Brother) and, until last January, Hannah Montana, the alter ego and the show.
Then Cyrus went and did the unthinkable: She grew up—way too soon.
Her 2010 album Can’t Be Tamed introduced a sexier, worldlier and still-underage Miley. Critics and tweens cringed, and it promptly tanked. Bong hits and public lap dances did neither her image nor her bankability any favors. Then this past March, I was the one doing the unthinkable: For the first time, I found myself rooting for Miley Cyrus. All it took was TMZ’s video replay of her run-in with a pushy paparazzo who got too close to her mom. As Cyrus forcefully told him to show some respect, I cheered and wished she’d channel some of this attitude and raw spunk into her work.
There might be hope for her yet. Though she announced after the release of Can’t Be Tamed that she’d be putting music on the backburner for a while to focus on acting (she’ll costar as Demi Moore’s daughter in the forthcoming film LOL: Laughing Out Loud), Cyrus already seems to be eyeing a pop comeback. Though she has no current projects to promote, she was booked to host the March 5 episode of Saturday Night Live. Not only did she prove that she still has some Hollywood pull by grabbing the plum gig, but considering that SNL regularly lampoons her with the mock “Miley Cyrus Show” (on March 5, she appeared as Justin Bieber alongside Cyrus impersonator Vanessa Bayer), she’s apparently a pretty good sport, too—plus she does a spot-on Bieber. She scored bonus points by mocking Lindsay Lohan and inciting yet another LiLo celebrity fued. And look what that did for Gwyneth Paltrow on Glee!
On April 27, Cyrus continued her climb back up the pop ladder with an appearance in the American Idol performance package for sixteen-year-old Lauren Alaina, who had sung the Cyrus hit “The Climb” weeks earlier. (Idol mentor and music exec Jimmy Iovine offered a huge reality check, though, when he declared Alaina “a much much stronger singer than Miley Cyrus.” Ouch!) Though she didn’t perform, her appearance hinted at a renewed interest in her pop career. According to her dad Billy Ray Cyrus, she’s met with Dr. Luke, the producer behind hits by Britney Spears, Ke$ha and Cyrus herself, so new music might be forthcoming sooner rather than later.
While Dr. Luke has an excellent track record (which includes Cyrus’s greatest hit, “Party in the U.S.A.”), I’m hoping she’s gotten the pop tart bit out of her system. Can’t Be Tamed already proved that no one is buying Cyrus as the second coming of Spears or any of those under-dressed female pop stars currently crowding the market. Unlike Lohan, there have been no arrests, no truly embarrassing moments. Cyrus’s biggest sins so far have been making poor fashion choices and releasing bad music, so this, too, shall pass—if she’s learned from her mistakes.
Next time, she should skip the skimpy. If she must embrace sexual liberation, she should do it with class—and better songs. She’ll likely never get a return shout out from Jay-Z, but maybe she can team up with Jessie J, the rising, sort-of-edgy UK star who co-wrote “Party in the U.S.A.,” for a sequel that’ll convert her detractors and restore her V.I.P. platinum status.