The Seven Stages Of Shaming Miley Cyrus

Your comprehensive guide to being outraged at a pop star for being a pop star.

By now, you will have seen or at least read about Miley Cyrus’s provocative performance at yesterday’s VMAs. The former Disney star is the most talked-about person on the internet today, as bloggers share photos and GIFs of her fondling her crotch and twerking up on Robin Thicke, and write hand-wringing editorials pondering where it all went so very wrong for the poor lamb. Of course, this was the idea all along. Cyrus’s performance did not just happen spontaneously; it was carefully planned and executed, and its success counted on one crucial truth: that mainstream media and internet commenters love shaming and discrediting women who behave in a sexualised manner.

Everyone has a take on the song and dance routine, from gossip blogs like Gawker right through to respectable news outlets like CNN, who would never normally sully their front page with a pop star like Cyrus. Local outlets News Limited and Yahoo are presently engaged in an arms race to see who can be the most outraged, while the crew on The Project devoted a fair chunk of last night’s episode to smirking and moralising about the incident. The question of race also came up – specifically, Cyrus’s appropriation of black culture in an attempt to ‘sex up’ her formerly squeaky clean image.

Twitter users, of course, chimed in on the performance in their own mature and articulate fashion: competing to see who could come up with the most colourful way to use the word ‘whore’ in a sentence.

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While the overall tone of the response is that young Ms Cyrus should be very ashamed for flaunting her sexuality so blatantly, and should probably be sent to bed without any supper, there are several distinct narratives emerging.

‘Miley Cyrus Is Disgusting’

A sense of outrage and disgust hangs over much of the commentary around Cyrus, ‘how dare she flaunt it like that?’ being the typical reaction. “We can’t un-see what we’ve just seen, but oh how we wish we could,” began one fairly typical Yahoo editorial on the subject. Most outlets chose to illustrate this sense of disgust and dismay by showing audience reaction shots from the VMAs ceremony. One commonly-used image shows Drake averting his eyes from the spectacle in ‘gentlemanly’ fashion, while another features Rihanna giving side-eye as the members of One Direction leer behind her.

The most widely-shared image, however, is one of Will Smith and his family, their jaws hanging open in various states of shock and disbelief as they observe the performance – E! News went with this particular image as their money shot. MTV have since clarified that the photo was actually taken earlier in the night, during Lady Gaga’s performance, but nobody is letting that get in the way of a good outrage.

In twerking all over the stage, simulating masturbation with a foam finger and doing other varied sexualised things, Cyrus is not behaving as proper young women are supposed to. The clear implication behind these pictures of Smith and family recoiling in open-mouthed horror is that any right-thinking family person would be outraged by such a wanton display, because sex is dirty and should be kept under wraps.

‘Miley Cyrus Ruined My Childhood’

Claiming that the actions of former child stars can somehow retroactively ‘ruin’ entire childhoods is a popular internet pastime. When former Disney star Raven-Symoné came out earlier this month, various dismayed fans took to Twitter to bemoan how this had somehow sullied their childhood experiences of watching That’s So Raven. Here’s the thing, though: nobody, not even lesbians, can travel back in time and destroy your happy childhood memories, and if you think any different, then you should probably be asking yourself some serious questions about how you manage to function as an adult.

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Needless to say, after yesterday’s VMAs performance, ‘Miley Cyrus ruined my childhood’ became a popular Twitter refrain. The implication being that the emergence of Cyrus as a sexualised adult can somehow irrevocably sully an entire generation’s memories of her fresh-faced, well-scrubbed Hannah Montana character. This in itself is farcical, but it also leads to one of the more troubling aspects of the discussion. Namely:

‘Miley Cyrus Is A Slut’

Very few people (outside of Twitter) have come out and used that word, of course, but the implication is coded right there into every article. “The singer, whose song ‘We Don’t Stop’ [sic] includes drug references, seems to have finally shaken off her Hannah Montana wig and become an ‘adult star’”, began another Yahoo editorial. “And by adult star, we mean a scantily clad, twerking girl who shocked the audience (and TV viewers) with her crotch-grabbing, bump-and-grind performance alongside fellow singer Robin Thicke.”

No, you don’t. By ‘adult star’, you mean ‘slut’.

The same Yahoo piece lamented the disappearance of the ‘good girl’ of old: the Disney starlet who was ‘nowhere to be seen’ after the VMAs. The distinction here is also pretty clear. The innocent, virginal Miley Cyrus is no more, irrevocably damaged and broken in the wake of such an open display of sexuality. “While the singer has been keen to shed her teen sweetheart image, we’d like to think there are other ways of doing it,” said News Limited, helpfully reminding us all that women are allowed to be sexual, but not too sexual, lest they cross over into slut territory.

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‘Miley Cyrus Scarred My Kids For Life’

Mere hours after Cyrus’s performance, the Parents Television Council had made their displeasure known to MTV. They drafted a complaint, posted yesterday on their website, which accused the network of displaying “adults-only material to children while falsely manipulating the content rating to make parents think the content was safe for their children.” They went on to ping MTV for “marketing sexually charged messages to young children using former child stars.” Any complaint from the PTC should be taken with a grain of salt, as they are notorious for spamming the FCC with complaints, and have been called “literally terrible human beings” by none other than Seth MacFarlane. But at least they didn’t call Cyrus a whore.

‘Miley Cyrus Is A Racist’

Though the bulk of the internet stuck to slut-shaming Miley Cyrus, a few took her to task for being racist. Vulture’s Jody Rosen referred to her performance as a “minstrel show”, and accused Cyrus of cynically appropriating elements of black culture — specifically that of ratchett/Dirty South — in order to project a more adult image. Flavorwire’s Tom Hawking called bullshit on this assertion. The argument went back and forth in the comments section of both pieces, and yet somehow, in the aftermath of a six-minute Miley Cyrus performance, the complex issue of racism in America remains unresolved.

‘Miley Cyrus Is Dead To Me’

Judging by the comments under the video for Miley Cyrus’s cover of ‘Jolene’ last year – a song originally performer by her godmother Dolly Parton – the fans themselves are not totally sold on her new direction.

“Who kidnapped her??” asks the wonderfully-named Ben Dover. “Where is the talented woman in this video???I want this Miley back. You can keep the craptastically awful imposter that is using her name now and making a fool of herself.”

A user named kesselhut1989 adds: “we will never forget you “this miley”, may you rest in peace…”

Whether fans are upset about the newly-sexualised Miley of the VMAs or the more urban sound of ‘We Can’t Stop’ is unclear. It’s probably a bit of both, but the discussion reminds me of the time, on Season 12 of American Idol, when the judging panel was rendered speechless in the presence of a young, white woman from rural New Jersey who performed in both the country AND hip hop genres. The young contestant in question sang what I think was a Taylor Swift tune, then followed it up with the rap from Nicki Minaj’s ‘Superbass’, and the judges lost their minds. It seemed bizarre to them that a regular kid might draw on two such different genres, apparently not realising that the current generation grew up surrounded by all these influences and more, and will mash them up however they damn well please.

‘I Don’t Care About Miley Cyrus’

Yes you do, or you wouldn’t have read this far.

It seems bizarre that a former Disney star-turned-twerking pop singer should find herself as the focal point of such intense debate about feminism and race, but here we find ourselves.

I’ll leave you with this, the cover art for what may well become the most talked-about album of the year, Miley Cyrus’s forthcoming release, Bangerz. The internet is a weird place.


Alasdair Duncan is an author, freelance writer and video game-lover who has had work published in Crikey, The Drum, The Brag, Beat, Rip It Up, The Music Network, Rave Magazine, AXN Cult and Star Observer.



  1. Lorena May says:

    My biggest problem with this performance… was the performance itself – it sucked: the song, the signing, the choreography (mostly), the outfit. It was all just soo unoriginal, like it was straight out of the ‘How to Act Like you Don’t Care When Really you Really Care – For Idiots’ book. Pure industry exploitation of a girl who is just trying to grow up, on stage, for the whole world to see — and most importantly again, my main point, the performance itself sucked.

  2. Thomas Gillespie says:

    I felt that as well. I don’t actually give a fuck if she had sex with five dudes on stage – if she sang well, and it had some decent choreography, it doesn’t really bother me. All just a marketing ploy in the end – and we all fell for it.

  3. Chad Taylor says:

    She danced around as though her limbs were pieces connected by little hooks and wires as she was held up by strings. She reminds me of Jessie from Toy Story II.

  4. Edcedc8 says:

    its funny that assholes who write ‘slut shaming’ are the only people who think ‘slut’ is bad.

  5. Guest says:

    you forgot the part where we reunite in disgust with robin thicke….again.

  6. Phoebe Loomes says:

    I don’t care about a man explaining to me what slut shaming is. What even is this?

  7. Mark Terrett says:

    most of the criticism i’ve read isn’t about the performance, its about her personally. its a shame that the performance was so poor because its given a
    lot of people out there an excuse to voice some pretty ugly opinions.

  8. Tara says:

    yep once again the guy was just an innocent bystander. it reminded me of the janet/justin thing except that was/was made out to be an accident.
    Unfortunately i must be old and out of touch coz i agree with the PTC the whole show was one PR stunt – i dont know who for tho coz it wasn’t music or the actual award winners.

  9. arch-tex says:

    People are just as bad as her, how come her story is all over? I wish people had that much enthusiasm or energy to criticise things that DO matter.

  10. Jarrod Smith says:

    I’m totally down with a feminist interpretation of the media circus’ reaction to this, that is important. But it would also be awesome if you spared a paragraph – even a single sentence – to notice the pop music industry’s utterly cynical and pervasive leveraging of sex for profit, and how Cyrus is complicit in this. I know there’s a branch of feminism that sees Cyrus’ performance as nothing more or less than a free woman expressing her sexuality, but I think a more sober feminist appraisal forces us to at least take a moment to notice how sex is the MSG of the music industry.

  11. StandAsYouAre says:

    What ever happened to letting your talent do the talking? Maybe her talent well has run dry and she is trying to distract everyone.

    I think it’s more sad that she acts that way to get attention. People aren’t interested in her any more, so she has to come up with a way to make the focus come back on her by being Vulgar.
    And Arch-Tex is right with it isn’t just her doing this, but still it doesn’t make it acceptable. It’s been going on forever with the 20-something starlets and stars. But now with the internet and world wide media, it seems like anyone with a cellphone who wants to get your attention will dance around like a idiot if it means you talk about them. You could have thrown a drunk Thicke fan up on stage, let them do all those moves on him and they would have had the excuse “I was so drunk I can’t remember a thing”. And that “Made History” line in her interview, I’m sure they are putting that into the Oxford Dictionary right now under “Desperation” with her picture and a subtitle (Doing a Miley).
    If she was doing all these moves on him and it wasn’t being filmed, people in the crowd still would be thinking the exact same thing they did that night.

    I mean what’s next? Sex Tapes?… After all it worked for Kim K, excuse me… I just vomited in my mouth a little from that thought…

  12. Ben says:

    I’m not sure I agree with Alasdair here. If you cast a net into the cess pool that is twitter you can dredge up plenty of examples of anything you want to write a blog post about. Most people I have spoken to about this performance aren’t concerned with skimpy clothing or sexualised dancing. They are concerned with how bonkers the performance was. It looked like she was having a fit.

  13. Ruhfus says:

    I really like Miley – she’s so awesome. Lay off.

  14. Katrina Payne says:

    And yet… nobody is pointing out how choreographed it all is.

    We live in a world where we REQUIRE our child stars to do this. If they do not, we just cannot accept any music they do, until they go through this phase and become acceptable. If they don’t do the Hot Mess phase–we ignore them entirely.

    Miley is mostly playing up to these requirements that us as a people put onto any stars that started as kids. To have that awkward messy Lindsey Lohan stage… and honestly, I love how people are sucking up and taking down the Lindsey Lohan act she is doing. It is quite hilarious, really.

    Even more so, with Lady Gaga talking about Art Pop and meaning, “I’m going to remake the movie Cabaret”… then we have Miley Cyrus doing antics that Andy Kaufman was better known for doing.

    What is more, she is doing the same thing Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson, etc. also did. Hell, her current shtick is on par with Marilyn Manson’s Bewb outfit. Except, Marilyn Manson is brilliant on the grounds he has a penis, and Miley is a slut… on the grounds she doesn’t have a penis.

    Also, her performance of Robin Thicke’s song (stealing his queues, until they just turned off her mic, but then her stealing attention by masturbatory acts with a foam finger) is actually the best performance of that terribly rapey song ever.

  15. Jehan says:

    She’s not a slut or a whore or anything. She just danced rather poorly in a very attention grabbing way. It’s like going to a club and having a friend who insists on dancing in everyone’s faces and has to be the centre of the party, despite not being a good dancer. The “Wrecking Ball” video also had the same vibe, as the sexual posing completely clashed with the Sinead O’Conner-esque feel of the rest of the video. If she’d twerked better I’d have thought it was pretty cool. And if the Wrecking Ball song was a Lady Gaga style anthem it would be fine too. I just sense either a need for attention or a poorly executed marketing scheme at work.

    But to all the people calling her a “slut” or a “whore”, please shut up. She’s just guilty of a bit of bad dancing and a slightly comical videoclip. I don’t think we should attack her character on that basis.

  16. jdoany says:

    This article is shallow and pedantic. It shows the thoughts of a person who has decided to completely eliminate all aspects of the “problem with Miley” focusing in only on the one single aspect that all modern pseudo-feminists love to latch on to, sexuality. It’s as if that’s all that you people can think about. This pointless diatribe about “that’s not how good girls should be” is just that, pointless diatribe. Personally, I have no problem with women being overtly sexual. In fact, if you pay any attention to the media at all over the past couple of decades, you would know that your belief that this is looked down upon is simply wrong. Jenny McCarthy, Jenna Jameson, Pamela Anderson…I could continue, but hopefully by now you get the point. There are many uber-sexual women who have been perfectly well accepted by pop-culture and even the media. The problem here, is that Miley is being fake. Her attempts at utilizing her sexuality as a vehicle to turn a profit, seems to be nothing more than a lazy attempt at hiding the fact that she has no real talent. Perhaps if her overt-sexuality didn’t happen overnight the way it did, people wouldn’t have reacted so badly to it. Maybe, if she sang a song that was well-written, and heck maybe even a song she actually wrote herself, as well as tied the sexuality in with the performance in an artistic way, people wouldn’t have reacted so badly. I’m so sick of this bullshit pseudo-feminism, which is really just clueless women trying to find a philosophical justification for being promiscuous. You’re not fooling anyone. The women’s liberation movement came and went. Women have progressively become equals. I don’t think there is a legitimate claim that could be made to say that women do not have equal rights as men. Unfortunately, that left a gap in the complaint department, and what used to be a rational movement for change has become “We should be allowed to be sluts”. It’s empty, it’s shallow, and it is meaningless. If you believe this is somehow a true philosophy, that is steeped in anything deep, you are a fool. All animals can have sex, in fact, if you go to the chimp cages at the zoo, you will see plenty of it. It’s a normal biological function. What’s there to be proud of? By having sex with someone with no emotional attachment, you’ve accomplished nothing but the carrying out of a biological function. It’s no different than taking a shit. Are you proud of the shits you take, to the point you want to try to build a philosophy around how taking a shit = freedom? What a joke. Besides, what happened to all the crap about men using women for sex. When I was growing up, myself and the males around me were taught (not by our peers mind you) that it’s wrong to use a woman for sex. We were told that men who sleep with a lot of women are “womanizers” and “pigs”. Women used to love to talk about how men are pigs, for being overtly sexual. It was called “wrong”. However, women seemed to decide that instead of agreeing that it was wrong, and thinking that men and women both should have some level of convictions when it comes to sex with another person, they decided to go with “they do it, so should we”. Real smart logic there. Besides, if you want to see real oppression against women, travel to the middle east. When you are forced to cover everything except for your eyes, and have the law protecting your husband for beating the life out of you, then maybe you can claim oppression. I think it’s sad and disgusting that women today are attempting to equate “slut-shaming” to oppression, when there is true oppression in the world. Until you’re black and blue from your husbands beatings, while he’s protected by law (you’re allowed to beat on your property there), and are only allowed to show your eyes…you need to shut the fuck up.

  17. jdoany says:

    That’s what I was thinking too.