Miley Cyrus and the death of the female ‘role model’


Whether it’s Diane Abbott getting dragged for enjoying a tinnie on the train, or someone threatening to leak nudes of Sia, women in the public eye are always unfairly scrutinised by the prying public. 

Taking on this constant surveillance is Miley Cyrus, who’s opened up on Twitter about her past, and the pressure on celebrities to be perfect.

“I can accept that the life I’ve chosen means I must live completely open and transparent with my fans who I love and the public, 100 per cent of the time,” the singer began. “It is no secret that I was into partying in my teens and early 20s. I have not only smoked, but advocated for weed, I’ve experimented with drugs, my biggest song to date is about dancing on molly and snorting lines in the bathroom.”

Cyrus goes on to list a handful of other ‘transgressions’, including cheating on exes and having nudes circulating online. The musician continues: “I’ve learned from every experience in my life. I’m not perfect, I don’t want to be, it’s boring. I’ve grown up in front of you, but the bottom line is, I HAVE GROWN UP.”

Having first shot to fame in Disney Channel favourite Hannah Montana when she was 13 years old, Cyrus is no stranger to being in the spotlight, and is especially well-versed in criticism. Lauded as a role model for teen girls, people seemingly couldn’t handle it when the singer grew out of her cookie-cutter image, with one (male) Guardian journalist writing of her “Wrecking Ball” video: “exposing yourself so completely makes your flaws all the more apparent”.

The whole thread is basically Cyrus’ Black Mirror episode brought to life: teen idol pop star is tired of pretending to be something she isn’t. Charlie Brooker will be drooling on his keyboard. Undoubtedly influenced by the singer’s IRL story, “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” saw Cyrus’ character, a pop star called Ashley O, literally robbed of her thoughts – a perfect metaphor for how the public want their idols: inoffensive and obedient.

To expect our pop stars to hold up a certain standard of living – no drugs, no sex, no fun – is not only unrealistic, but is also a very gendered phenomenon. The public hedonism of rock and roll artists like Mick Jagger and Pete Doherty is romanticised and ‘comes with the job’, but Cyrus “ripping a bong” loses her a big money deal.

When it comes to being a female celebrity, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Attempting to hide your ‘flaws’ and evade the press, as Taylor Swift normally does, results in just as much controversy as swinging naked on a giant ball. Amy Winehouse, who was incredibly open about her struggles with addiction, is still getting shit for a 2011 “drugged & drunk” performance in Serbia, while slowthai’s on-stage whitey at this year’s Primavera was heralded by NME as sharpening the set’s “rawness”.

“Cyrus’ Twitter thread is a refreshing sign that younger female artists are beginning to take ownership of their stories, reclaiming them from the once-suffocating grip of the press”

Of course, I’m not dismissing the idea that male celebrities have it hard – they do. But female stars, particularly those who grew up in the public eye, are the victims of the majority of Daily Mail gossip articles, probed 24/7 for any hint of sin.

Cyrus’ Twitter thread is a refreshing sign that younger female artists are beginning to take ownership of their stories, reclaiming them from the once-suffocating grip of the press. Cardi B has consistently been open about her past as a stripper and self-proclaimed “street bitch”, while Rihanna remains vocal about domestic abuse. It’s through examples like this that our exhausting pursuit of authenticity pays off, with ‘flawed’ women killing off the traditional ‘role model’ narrative.

Cyrus’ acceptance that many people will still berate her as “a twerking, pot smoking, foul mouthed hillbilly” marks an end to public perception’s stronghold on a pop star’s career. The parents of the tweens who once loved Hannah Montana can put up or shut up as far as Cyrus is concerned, and now she’s declared her apathy towards their opinions, they likely will shut up. What’s the point in dragging someone if they don’t care?

The ‘role model’ trope is naive and outdated, especially when assigned to 20-somethings who are obviously going to engage in unfathomable debauchery. The world would be an incredibly boring place if all pop stars were squeaky clean; culture needs imperfect people to create nuanced, interesting art. ‘Respectable’ women are out – give me Cyrus and a penis cake any day of the week.





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