Like dog years, media hours multiply. AlthoughMiley Cyrus is 22, so much of her life has been spent in front of the camera that it seems as if we’ve been studying her image for an exponentially longer period of time, watching her evolve in front of the mechanical lens and in a fast-changing society.
In what seems like the blink of an eye, a chubby-cheeked adolescent idol became a performing tongue with a woman attached, a transformation more startling because it was largely unanticipated. Yet her experiments with image, so immediate and assured, probably shouldn’t have been surprising, given that show business has always been her natural habitat.
Dolly Parton, after all, is her godmother. And hardly any performer has manipulated her public more shrewdly than the pneumatic songbird from Locust Ridge, Tenn. When asked by US Weekly last year whether she was shocked by Ms. Cyrus’s rapid shift from what the magazine termed a “wholesome teenager” to a “raunchy performer,” Ms. Parton said, “Well, yeah, but in a good way.”
In her public appearances at the red-carpet social events that are to the 21st century what the circus parade was to the 19th, Ms. Cyrus has also shocked us, but in a good way. Her preference for peekaboo effects in clothing has led her to flash us consistently — sometimes baring her midriff, or her pelvic bones, or the dimples at the small of her back (and sometimes, as on Instagram, her nipples).
The cutouts in the Alexander Wang dress she wore to the Costume Institute Gala this year looked as if they were pockets inviting you to slide your hand inside. And it’s exactly the unashamed exuberance of Ms. Cyrus’s sexuality, as well as the all-American athleticism of her lithe, boyish body that make of her a natural avatar for a post-gender generation. Which is why, no matter who else turns up for the MTV Video Music Awards show she’s hosting on Sunday, all eyes will inevitably be on Miley.
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