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Miley or Britney… I Can’t Tell?

Miley’s new music video, Can’t Be Tamed, was released this past Tuesday, May 4th. The press has described it as “sexy,” “dark” and “seductive.” I would just describe it as textbook selling out.

Britney did it. Aguilera did it. Beyoncé and Lady Gaga are still doing it. It’s a simple recipe for success:

    Take 1 part singing talent
    Add 1 heaping tablespoon of risqué
    Mix in 1 part questionable lyrics
    Add just a dash of controversy

Now the young star of Hannah Montana is following the same formula.

Miley’s 2009 Teen Choice Awards controversial pole dance pales in comparison to this new video. She has clearly graduated from ‘questionable’ and moved on to ‘sex object.’

As a father of two girls who grew up watching Hannah Montana, this is really heartbreaking for me to see. Miley had the opportunity to be something rare today: a positive role model for young girls. Instead, she seems to have chosen to go with the flow, corrupting our young girls’ minds with false ideas about where our value comes from.

I wonder if Miley even realizes that she’s falling in suit with the American Psychological Association’s (APA’s) definition of the sexualization of girls:

    When a person’s value comes only from her/his sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics, and when a person is sexually objectified, e.g., made into a thing for another’s sexual use.

Miley’s new video pulls no punches in this area.  An MTV article describes her in the video as “newly sexualized now that she’s Disney free.” The video shows Miley:

  • Dancing seductively, thrusting her head back in sexual moves
  • Dancing intimately with male and female dancers
  • Laying on the ground running her hands over herself erotically

I’m not the only one referring to her antics as sexual. MTV describes Miley as “seductively dancing in her cage” and “dancing very intimately with male and female dancers.”

CBS News describes the Hannah Montana star as “stepping even further away from her Disney image with the sexy new video.” The article goes on to describe her outfits as “revealing,” concluding that “The sexy video is a departure from Cyrus’ earlier, more wholesome videos. The costumes, chorography, bevy of backup dancers and the ‘can’t-keep-me-down’ lyrics look like something out of Britney Spears’ heyday.”

LA Times calls her latest video “too saucy for her tween audience.” It goes on to describe a scene in the video where “she appears to be straddling the leg of a female dancer who seems to be worked up about something or another. Is this any way for a recent American Idol mentor to behave?”

Fox News, in their May 5th article, Too Sexy Too Soon, agrees.

    Miley Cyrus’ days as an innocent Disney star are over.

    Cyrus’ new video for her single “Can’t Be Tamed” is a far cry from her early days as squeaky clean “Hannah Montana.”

    The darker, sexier video shows the teen star writhing around a cage in a feathered corset singing lyrics such as “I go through guys like money flyin’ out their hands” and “Have to get my way, 24 hours a day, ‘cause I’m hot like that.”

    The video is more in keeping with the racy styles of Britney Spears and Lady Gaga, and nothing like Cyrus’ previously G-rated videos.

But please don’t take our word for it. Instead, I would encourage you to take a peek at the music video for yourself and see what millions of kids will be watching.

Does APA’s definition of sexualization come to mind?

Eileen L. Zurbriggen, Phd, chair of the APA task force reveals that “The consequences of the sexualization of girls in media today are very real and are likely to be a negative influence on girls’ healthy development. We have ample evidence to conclude that sexualization has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and healthy sexual development.”

We heard much of the same cautioning from the American Academy of Pediatrics in their October, 2009 report, The Impact of Music, Music Lyrics, and Music Videos on Children and Youth, giving particular attention to the effect of music videos. They asserted that the frequent watching of music videos has been related to:

  • an increased risk of developing beliefs in false stereotypes and an increased perceived importance of appearance and weight in adolescent girls
  • an increased acceptance of date rape
  • permissive sexual behaviors
  • more accepting of premarital sex (specifically with those watching MTV)
  • increased risky behaviors
  • alcohol use

Does Miley realize this?

Nice… or Responsible?
In my recent interview with famed author Nicolas Sparks, I had a side conversation with him where he had nothing but good things to say about Miley who starred in the motion picture of his most recent book, The Last Song. “Miley’s a nice young lady, and she was genuinely nice to my kids,” he told me. “All these other things… I’ll be honest… I don’t really follow them.”

Miley seems like a nice girl. But does “nice” trump responsibility? Which quality would you rather have in a babysitter? (Dare I call entertainment-media, something that kids average 7 hours and 38 minutes per day, a babysitter?)

In a recent Parade magazine interview Miley made her point of view clear, commenting on her infamous pole-dance-move that she performed in front of literally millions of kids at the 2009 Teen Choice Awards:

    “My job first is to entertain and do what I love, and if you don’t like it, then change the channel. I’m not forcing you to watch me. I’m not forcing you to talk about me. I would do that pole dance a thousand times again, because it was right for the song and that performance.”

Does the fact that she’s just a teenager clear her from accountability as a role model for young girls around the world?

Perhaps that’s something someone should take up with her parents.

As a father, it’s hard to not be discouraged with Miley’s choice to sell out. My conceptions of Miley over the past few years have been an emotional rollercoaster. You can see this in my blog entries:

  • Years ago the press criticized Miley for some racy pics of her and a friend sucking on the same piece of candy.
  • My response? It’s gotta be tough growing up in the limelight. But yes, some of her choices are lacking discernment. “Keep her in your prayers.”
  • Miley is interviewed by Barbara Walters and talks about her faith.
  • My response? “I think she did fairly well for her age and degree of difficulty of the questions she was being asked.”
  • Miley took part in a revealing photo shoot with Anne Leibovitz, causing quite an uproar.
  • My response? This makes me sad. But I haven’t given up on her yet. “Use this as a jumpstarter to dialogue with our kids about decision making.”
  • In 2008 Miley hosts the Teen Choice Awards and brought good clean fun to the show, even turning down an offer from “I Kissed a Girl” singer Katy Perry to recreate the infamous Britney Spears-Madonna liplock from the MTV Video Awards.
  • My response? Good for Miley. There’s hope!
  • The day before the 2009 Teen Choice Awards, people readily anticipate Miley’s performance of Party in the USA, not knowing what to expect.
  • My response? “She’s been a pretty clean role model so far. I’ll be curious to see what direction this new single takes her.”
  • Miley performs at the 2009 Teen Choice Awards, doing her little pole-dance-move, wearing a dress that would make J-lo blush, and referring to Britney as her “hero.”
  • My reponse? Okay. I’m done defending Miley! Her dad needs to put her over his knee… wait… scratch that. Someone put Billy over their knee and spank him!
  • Miley is voted the worst celebrity influence of 2009 by 9-15-year-olds in an online AOL poll attracting almost 50,000 votes. (She beat out Britney and Kanye for worst influence!)
  • My response? “Come on Miley!”
  • Miley is interviewed by Parade Magazine spouting off some very defensive and ridiculous excuses for her current actions.
  • My response? First, I agree that it must be very difficult to live life under a microscope under that kind of media frenzy. I know I’m not perfect and would hate that. But that doesn’t excuse us from our responsibility as a role model.

How Should Parents Respond?
It’s not our job to raise Miley, but it is our job to raise our own kids, teaching them values and discernment.

Parents that care for the healthy emotional, sexual, and spiritual development of their kids need to consistently dialogue with them about their media decisions, and look for opportunities to teach discernment as they walk the road of life together. This means talking with our kids about the role models they see in the media and communicating about what’s appropriate and inappropriate in entertainment. (I discuss this in great detail in my article, Dad, Can I Download This Song?) The APA “sexualization” research alone gives us plenty to dialogue about.

In the case of Miley and the Can’t Be Tamed music video… the answer is easy. “Sorry kids. This song and video isn’t something we’re going to put into our heads over and over again.”  

Hopefully, when my kids are out on their own, they’ll reflect on these conversations and use Biblical values to make those decisions.

Maybe Billy Ray Cyrus needs to start having those conversations with Miley.

Jonathan McKee Jonathan McKee, president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of numerous youth ministry books including the brand new Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation, and the award winning books Do They Run When They See You Coming? and Getting Students to Show Up. He speaks and trains at camps, conferences, and events across North America, and provides free resources for youth workers internationally on his website,

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Miley or Britney… I Can’t Tell?

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