the ~scandalous~ pic and the caption that vanity fair chose to put by it
Miley Knows Best
It’s my favorite show! I love it!” says 15-year-old Miley Cyrus, speaking of Sex and the City over spinach-artichoke dip in a dingy Toluca Lake restaurant that for some reason, possibly native to the San Fernando Valley, is divided between cheerful families enjoying Saturday lunches and a glum row of barflies passing time by watching I-don’t-know-what on ESPN Classic. The restaurant was Cyrus’s choice. She loves the dip and the turkey-melt sandwich. She’s here with her mother, Tish, her eight-year-old sister, Noah, and somewhere between a dozen and two dozen paparazzi, who followed the Cyruses from their nearby home and are now waiting for Miley in the restaurant’s parking lot. Noah, curiously, looks like Dakota Fanning.
But back to Sex and the City. Miley says her Disney Channel sitcom, Hannah Montana, in which she plays a schoolgirl with a secret life as a rock star, is patterned in part after the former HBO series about women looking for love and hookups in Manhattan. “Obviously not the scenarios,” she explains quickly. “But if you watch Sex and the City, like the way the friends are, the way that it’s dry and they all have distinct characters—that’s a thing we try to do on our show.”
She’s earnest and sincere about her work—distinct characters are a good thing—and it’s always nice to see a young star give a shout-out to her forebears. (She’s also an I Love Lucy fan.) That said, I can’t imagine that her minders at the Walt Disney Company want to see Miley Cyrus’s name anywhere near the word “sex,” not in an era when every under-age actress in Hollywood is stalked by the Ghost of Britney Future. And not when so much money is riding on this one’s continued public innocence. Condé Nast Portfolio magazine recently estimated that Cyrus is “on track” to be worth $1 billion by the time she’s 18. I’m guessing that seriously overestimates her personal cut of the Hannah Montana pie. Still, she might very well be the biggest child star since Shirley Temple, give or take a couple of Macaulay Culkin movies, or an Olsen twin. Certainly she’s the biggest since Lindsay Lohan earned the right to vote and go to war.
Twelve-year-old Abigail Breslin might have an Oscar nomination, but Cyrus has stats. Hannah Montana is the Disney Channel’s current crown jewel: its ratings for its target audience, kids ages 6 to 14, are second only to American Idol’s. Cyrus also has two multi-platinum records to her name (well, one to Hannah’s name and one, a double album, co-credited to Hannah and Miley) and is the youngest performer to have two No. 1 albums within 12 months. Her recent concert tour sold out 70 dates across North America and caused an uproar when tickets started being scalped for thousands of dollars, in some cases. (Try getting that for your spare High School Musical: The Ice Tour ticket.) The subsequent cash-in film, Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert, released in 3-D, set several records, including highest-grossing release on a Super Bowl weekend ($31.1 million) and highest per-screen average ever ($45,561); those numbers are either because of or despite the fact that tickets to Cyrus’s film were sold at the inflated price of $15, on average.
Oh, and you can also buy Hannah Montana sheets and MP3 players and all kinds of junk.
Her success isn’t a fluke. Cyrus is cute, but not too cute, and she sings with more character than most pop stars her age—you could imagine her voice, with its natural husk and its twang from her native Tennessee, turning into Lucinda Williams’s someday, if she plays her cards right. (Maybe.) And thanks to her comic timing and easy rapport with her dad, the country-music star Billy Ray Cyrus, who plays her father on TV, Hannah Montana is on occasion actually kind of funny, at least in comparison with That’s So Raven or The Suite Life of Zack & Cody. Or The Brady Bunch, for that matter.
The series premiered in March 2006, was an instant hit, and what with everything else going on, Cyrus says, she hasn’t had more than a day off since Christmas 2006 and doesn’t expect to get another break until at least this Christmas. She hasn’t been in regular school since the sixth grade; she’s in 10th grade now, tutored on set or on the road for three hours a day. At least she doesn’t have homework. (And come to think of it, if you add time spent on homework, my grade-school kids slog through longer days than the maximum eight hours of work and school that tween performers are allotted by state law in California.) Cyrus says she loves what she does, but there are drawbacks. “I miss the social part, for sure,” she says of traditional brick-and-mortar schooling. She makes friends at her dance classes.
Today she’s wearing a pale-yellow, vaguely peasant-y T-shirt blouse, a pair of expensive-looking jeans, and chipped black nail polish. She talks fast and efficiently, like Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday; maybe this is a by-product of growing up around agents. (Cyrus has been acting professionally since the age of eight, when she talked her way into a recurring part on Doc, an earlier show of her father’s.) And yet her appeal as Hannah Montana, and as Hannah’s alter ego on the show, Miley Stewart, is that she presents as a grounded, relatively normal kid; show business hasn’t turned Miley Stewart’s head, made her into a diva—it’s more like a kick, another fun thing for a kid to do after school, like being good at soccer or art, but much cooler. Cyrus projects that unaffectedness in real life as well. She also seems to have very clear ideas about things. In fact, her focus and self-possession can be a bit scary. Are 15-year-olds supposed to feel comfortable in their own skin?
I ask a dumb question—I’m sorry, it’s hard to interview a teenager; they’re intimidating—about whose career trajectory she’d like to follow. Her answer is a deft amalgam of showbiz savvy and girl-power mantra: “Before, I’d say like Hilary Duff”—the star of Disney’s Lizzie McGuire—“or this person or that person. But there can’t be a thousand Hilary Duffs. Then that doesn’t make Hilary special. And there can’t be a thousand Miley Cyruses, or that doesn’t make me special. That’s what a star is: they’re different. A celebrity is different. So, no, mostly I want to make my own path.”
It was the frenzy surrounding the concert tour last fall and winter that brought her to adult consciousness. The frenzy also brought increased media attention, and the paparazzi camped out round the clock in front of the Cyrus family’s gated home. “Sometimes there’ll be like 40,” Miley says. “Sometimes 20, sometimes 30. Sometimes two. I’ll stop and I’ll do the picture. It’s really funny. They’ll buy our dinner and whatever. We’ve become friends.” Still, it can’t be easy to be under constant scrutiny at an age when most kids have a hard enough time dealing with mirrors, but Cyrus shrugs it off.
“The good thing about Miley is just last week the paparazzi shot her scarfing down French fries and they had that in every magazine, and she’s really great about that,” her mom calls out from a nearby table, where she and Noah are cooling their heels. (It’s as if they’ve dropped Miley off for soccer practice.) “She just laughs about it,” Tish continues.
“I like French fries,” says Miley.
Before I met Cyrus, an editor at a tabloid told me that all the celebrity weeklies have been ratcheting up their focus on her. With Lindsay Lohan rehabbed and Britney Spears under psychiatric care, the tabs are looking to Cyrus to flame out, or at least do something mildly outrageous. In December, some pictures made it onto the Net showing Cyrus and a girlfriend sharing what looks like a Twizzler and almost kissing, prompting a brief, halfhearted spate of “lezzie” rumors. Silly. But still, I ask, did she feel betrayed that someone, presumably a friend, had posted the pictures?
“It was me,” she says, “on my MySpace. For me, I was like, That’s two girls—it’s not a big deal. But they got spread around. Like someone copied and pasted and said, Omigod, look at this, and blah blah blah. I was just like it didn’t affect me. Everyone’s like, Maybe she’ll learn her lesson this time. Nope.” If she had been chewing gum, this could have been nicely underscored with a snap.
But doesn’t she ever feel enormous pressure, what with a supposedly billion-dollar business resting on her shoulders? And, come on, it’s Disney. Doesn’t she have to watch herself constantly?
“Not really. That’s what my parents are for. They’re there to take care of that, and I can just do what I love.”
But what if she wants to get shitfaced sometime, or pregnant? Actually, I don’t ask that. But I do ask if the “people around you” worry about the Spears-Lohan precedent.
“No, cuz I mean—everyone has their time. And I think most 21- to 25-year-olds go through this kind of thing. It’s just not on a platform—you know what I mean? Basically, they’re being normal 21-year-olds, especially Lindsay. I mean, most of that’s pretty normal. If you went to most high schools, I could point out Britneys and Lindsays.” She could point out the real ones too: she knows both and says they talk from time to time, which is another thing that I can’t imagine her minders at Disney want to hear. “Yeah,” she continues. “I guess that’s why I’m so adamant about the Britneys and Lindsays and whatever, because I know those people and I know they have good hearts and they’re struggling.”
You seem so well adjusted, I say, which is probably the worst thing an adult can tell a 15-year-old.
“That’s just my personality. I don’t get shaken or stirred up over anything. Which can be a problem sometimes. I’m just, like, so no emotions. I just don’t let things faze me. I’m very much like my dad. My dad’s like this.” True, it must be useful to have a father who weathered ridicule for both “Achy Breaky Heart,” his 1992 hit, and his mullet haircut of the same period.
The real question is: How do you grow up in public, both as a person and as a commodity? For every Jodie Foster or Brooke Shields there are a dozen Gary Colemans. Michael Jackson’s face speaks volumes. So did Judy Garland’s medicine cabinet. In Cyrus’s case, there has been a concerted effort, on the commodity side, to slowly draw her out from under Hannah’s shadow. A full Miley album will be released this summer and a Hannah Montana feature film, to be shot in Nashville, will mostly focus on “the Miley side of life,” as she puts it. And though the pose was Annie Leibovitz’s idea, the topless but demure portrait accompanying this article could be seen as another baby step, as it were, toward a more mature profile. “I think it’s really artsy,” Cyrus says. “It wasn’t in a skanky way.… And you can’t say no to Annie. She’s so cute. She gets this puppy-dog look and you’re like, O.K.”
It’s time to go. A couple of creeps have materialized at the back of the restaurant with a stack of glossy photos they want Cyrus to sign, presumably destined for eBay, but she grants them several swipes of a proffered pen. Outside, in the parking lot, the paparazzi start snapping away. Cyrus strikes a few poses, flashing a peace sign, obliging someone else with an over-the-shoulder smile. Suddenly, in the glare of both sun and flash, she doesn’t look at all like a kid but rather a well-drilled pro hitting her marks, which, obviously, is what she is.
The Cyruses get into their S.U.V. and drive away, headed to a recording studio. The paparazzi pile into their cars for the chase. I ask one how great a meal ticket Miley is, really.
“She’s not Britney,” he says, “but she’s up there.”
your opinon of the photos
kind of gross, but not ~scandalous~
why dont you have a seat over there
shes just being miley