Has Miley Cyrus finally gone so far with her increasingly sensual image that she's been condemned by her own father?
Well, no, not exactly. But her racy new music video, "Who Owns My Heart?," has been slammed by the Parents Television Council. Funnily enough, when you check the list of folks sitting on the advisory board for this conservative watchdog group, the biggest-name celebrity listed there is—you guessed it—none other than Billy Ray Cyrus!
Apparently, Papa Cyrus was not advising the Parents Television Council when they released a statement saying: "It is unfortunate that she would participate in such a sexualized video like this one. It sends messages to her fan base that are diametrically opposed to everything she has done up to this point. Miley built her fame and fortune entirely on the backs of young girls, and it saddens us that she seems so eager to distance herself from that fan base so rapidly."
[Photos: Miley's red carpet glamour]
But by "us," the Parents Council apparently doesn't mean that board member Billy Ray is saddened, too. Or is he, secretly? Even if you don't have any problem with Miley getting so sexy at 17, there's evidence that it's hurting her just on a career level.
Rarely has a song gotten so much media attention and yet been as commercially unsuccessful as Cyrus' "Can't Be Tamed," the title track of her latest album. Even after a series of controversial performances of the song on various TV shows and awards programs, the single quickly flamed out, debuting at No. 8 but disappearing from the Billboard Hot 100 chart altogether after a mere 10 weeks. (By comparison, her 2009 smash "Party in the USA" spent 28 weeks in the top 10.) The Can't Be Tamed album is also absent from Billboard's list of the current 200 bestselling albums, just four months after it came out. It's sold 260,000 copies to date, anemic by the standards of the previous three Cyrus releases.
Given the performance at radio and retail of the current album and previous single, you might have expected the 17-year-old singer to retreat to safer territory for the new video. But maybe you didn't get the message last time around: Miley can't be tamed... not even by failure!
And so "Who Owns My Heart?" pushes the same buttons as the last video. She writhes around on a bed without pants on (though there are only quick flashes of what appears to be black underwear). She gyrates freely and suggestively with both men and women on the dance floor at what no one would mistake for a high school sockhop.
Whether this is envelope-pushing or not depends on your frame of reference. Compared to most other dance-pop videos, it's standard fare, if not downright tame. Compared to the videos being put out by other underage girls and/or stars who still have sitcoms running on the Disney Channel, it's provocative.
The fact that Hannah Montana's fourth and last season is still on the air complicates things—or should, to some people's minds. Although taping for the show wrapped up in May, the season is being stretched out long enough by the Disney Channel that its status as a first-run show won't end till next March's two-part season finale.
With her 18th birthday approaching next month and her status as a tween TV idol months away from officially ending, Cyrus seems to feel that there's no time to waste in attracting a demo of fans that are her age or older. Bit throwing one solidified fan base over for a less certain new one is always a calculated risk at best. And Cyrus may have jettisoned her young-girl support before she had a substitute audience of older teens and adults locked in.
It's easy to see how Cyrus and her team may have thought she'd already graduated to the next level of demographics. Initially, she had a hard time crossing over from Radio Disney to Top 40 because programmers saw her appeal as skewing too young. But "See You Again" was just too undeniable a song not to play, as was "Party in the USA." Then came "Can't Be Tamed," and as a single, it was...deniable. Radio Disney couldn't touch it, and Top 40 didn't care. Her move away from guilty-pleasure rock & roll bubblegum to dance-pop suddenly made her a competitor to Lady Gaga and a hundred other hitmakers, and though it worked with Dr. Luke helping her out on "USA," it didn't with the duller songs on the new album.
And it may have been the very raciness of her new image that sunk her with Top 40 radio. All the outcry about her alleged sexualization at 17 just reminded radio programmers of what a chance they'd taken with their older listeners by throwing her in with more mature artists in the first place.
Of course, her history of controversy for supposed suggestiveness goes back two and a half years now. Hard to believe, isn't it, that it was April 2008 when news broke about Cyrus, then 15, posing in bedsheets for Vanity Fair? In 2009, she danced around a pole at the Teen Choice Awards in a fashion that made her not every parent's choice. Also that summer, she broke up with model Justin Gaston, when she was 16 and he was 20, to take up with her somewhat more age-suitable Last Song costar, Liam Hemsworth, who is only two and a half years her senior. Hackles were further raised when a secretly recorded video of the 16-year-old performing a risque dance for a 44-year-old producer at the Last Song wrap party was leaked. "It's what people her age do," explained Billy Ray Cyrus.
This year brought her wearing a corset in the "Can't Be Tamed" video in May, followed by Cyrus simulating kissing a female dancer while performing the single on Britain's Got Talent in June. In July, the New York Times published a story headlined "Fans of Miley Cyrus Question Her New Path," which theorized that it was not prude moms who were rejecting the saucy new image but Miley's own tween fans.
There are still some scolds among the older set, to be sure. Hollywood Life, the site run by former tabloid queen Bonnie Fuller, recently ran a story allegedly quoting a "Cyrus family insider" as saying, "We're concerned for her. She's 17 years old, but is the one who makes the money and calls all the shots in the family. No one tells Miley no." Fuller wrote a separate editorial noting how Cyrus has been seen partying into the wee hours in clubs she can't legally enter, and addressed Billy Ray and Tish Cyrus directly: "Your daughter may be a big star but she's still your little girl and that means you need to be her parents."
So far, Cyrus' image change has been a bust, at least when it comes to affecting her music career. Of course, she's only one smash single away from having a chart comeback and having her accelerated maturation perceived as a brilliant career move. The problem is, the smash single that will turn it back around for her probably isn't "Who Owns My Heart," and probably isn't anywhere else on the Can't Be Tamed album.
[Photos: Miley's outrageous onstage outfits]
So her next chance to prove that this sexy-mama thing is working out for her in terms of numbers and not just blogging controversy is the movie LOL: Laughing Out Loud, in which Cyrus' character engages in some very un-Disney-like behavior. That recently wrapped film won't come out till after Hannah Montana has finally concluded its run. But we have a feeling the Parents Television Council will have something to say about it.
Meanwhile, any bets on how many days or hours it'll take until Billy Ray's photo disappears from the advisory board page on the PTC website? Surely, having an organization that he supposedly helps lead condemn his little girl—and, by implication, his parenting skills—is breaking his achy breaky heart.