To put it mildly, 2013 was a big year for Miley Cyrus: The former Disney star shed and shred her Hannah Montana wig in exchange for an outlandish character with a decidedly older audience. As a girl just five months older than Ms. Cyrus (and having watched a lot of Hannah Montana only semi-ironically,) I've been watching her with special interest and have been surprised by how well she's come along.
Yes, you read that right — Miley Cyrus impresses me. In a year that saw Amanda Bynes' total public meltdown, Lindsay Lohan's timid attempts at retrieving a positive reputation, and Justin Bieber peeing in a bucket, Miley has come out on top not by outdoing these out-of-control antics, but by being in complete control. In interviews, on Twitter, and in MTV's documentary Miley: The Movement, Miley has revealed herself to be a meticulous and strategic planner, figuring out exactly what to do to get the success she wants. Girl is ambitious, and that's freaking awesome.
"I'm for anybody. I'm for everybody, for everything. I don't care what you wanna do in your life, or who you wanna be with, who you wanna love, who you wanna look like."
Nowadays, Miley Cyrus' name often brings to mind pot, partying, and — of course — twerking. But unlike some of her peers, Miley does not appear to actually be acting dangerously; this year, she cultivated the reputation of a hard partier by herself, without initial "help" from paparazzi and gossip rags. Images of her partying and references to drugs come directly from her — via her music and social media. But as her Twitter reveals, most nights she's just hanging out with her dogs.
Miley increased her popularity by being exciting. For contrast, look at Selena Gomez, who in 2013 played a bikini role in Spring Breakers and released singles full of sexual references but became nowhere near as famous as Miley, despite erasing the same Mouse-y roots. In her transition, Selena played it safe, sticking to the comfortable pop star image and not stepping too far over the line. Miley, on the other hand, understood what had to be done to erase her Disney image and create a clean start to do whatever the hell she wanted — all the while gaining more and more popularity and success.
"Every time you talk about me, you're bringing more awareness to me and ... my record."
I'm sure it's been an incredibly liberating year for her, and it's exciting to watch this young woman explore what she can do. As she often explains, it's not just liberating for her — her performances are freeing for viewers as well. She told USA Today, "I'm for anybody. I'm for everybody, for everything. I don't care what you wanna do in your life, or who you wanna be with, who you wanna love, who you wanna look like."
By presenting wild and atypical looks as a pop star, Miley makes an argument against the archetypal image of beauty we're constantly confronted with — the flowing hair, beautiful (or beautifully short) dresses, perfect sound bites. Her image is, as she's said, a form of feminism, and sends the message that you shouldn't feel confined by pop culture's ideals. Like haute couture, she puts on a big, outlandish show, from which viewers can take realistically usable pieces of advice (like being true to yourself in whatever way that means to you, not letting the haters stop you from doing your thang, not being ashamed of yourself, and so forth).
"No one is talking about the man behind the ass. It was a lot of 'Miley twerks on Robin Thicke,' but never, 'Robin Thicke grinds up on Miley.' They're only talking about the one that bent over. So obviously there's a double standard."
The fact that Miley Cyrus constantly refers to herself as a feminist is important. Rather than shy away from the term, she embraces and supports it. And while people are allowed to argue about how her actions support women's equality, her easy use of the f-word may empower other women to more openly call themselves feminists, too. She's also outspoken enough to publicly call people out when they use double standards, and don't even get me started on her kick-ass response to lesbian rumors.
Perhaps most importantly, Miley appears to be having a lot of fun. She worked hard on her album and promotions, and she finally is getting the chance to enjoy herself — especially now that she's 21. Miley Cyrus is my idol because she's hard-working, ambitious, uninhibited, and ultimately relatable. Like any other 21-year-old, she stumbles, says the wrong thing, and wears outfits that she's sure to regret someday. But for now, she's doing what most other pop stars are afraid to do — and all those smashed Vevo records are proving that she's doing it well.