Summer is shaping up to be a good season for television. Several programs like Treme, Breaking Bad, and Friday Night Lights wrap soon. Other shows, like True Blood and Mad Men, will begin new seasons. As season three of Mad Men was filled with interesting musical moments from Peggy Olson and Joan Holloway, I’m especially looking forward to its return. I also wonder if they’ll give one to Kiernan Shipka, who plays Betty and Don Draper’s daughter Sally, after belting part of ”Bye Bye Birdie” in a staff video card for creator Matthew Weiner. I’m also interested in The Secret Life of The American Teenager, which returns for its third season on ABC Family. While I don’t follow the program, and thus am not sure if I’ll agree with its stance on teen pregnancy and motherhood, I am interested in seeing Bristol Palin play herself following the controversy around her teen pregnancy PSA, as she will be also participating in a music program for teen mothers on the show.
Today, I focus on Miley Cyrus, who is distancing herself from Hannah Montana, which airs its final season on the Disney Channel in July.
In case you weren't already aware, Miley Cyrus has ruled the pop landscape for the past few years. She has done this both as Miley Stewart, the everygirl who lives a secret life as pop star Hannah Montana in the juggernaut Disney TV/film franchise of same name, and in her own career, which the brand that catapulted her to superstardom foretold, if not entirely assured.
But Cyrus is hoping to branch out, starring in movies like The Last Song, singing with Poison's Bret Michaels on a version of "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," doing edgier music videos, and releasing a new album. This is clearly strategic positioning to make her over as an adult rather than child star or tween sensation. It's also caused much debate, as critics like Stephanie Zacharek derided her performance in The Last Song and Jessica Wakeman and Chloe Angyal disagreed on whether the music video for "Can't Be Tamed" exhibited feminist politics.
At the risk of sounding like a lady-hater and cranky music snob, I don't care what happens to Cyrus professionally. As far as I'm concerned, she's a rich white girl with no charm who can't sing (note the burn on Cyrus's limited vocal ability in Glee’s “Laryngitis,” wherein Rachel Berry delivers a tone-deaf performance of “The Climb”–that Berry thinks of her laryngitis as a disability seems to be rich terrain for TelevIsm’s Rachel McCarthy James to traverse). She was born into a successful family and will continue to be financially secure regardless of whether she can pull off a transition that has vexed many teen celebrities. Britney Spears even has a song about it, which commemorated her time in the position Cyrus occupies now. South Park also made connections between Spears’s and Cyrus’s careers in the season twelve episode ”Britney’s New Look,” which is decidedly in a minor key.
But I am curious as to how, if, and why Cyrus will have to disavow girlhood in this transition. This may be something Cyrus’s audience has difficulty relating to as they enter high school and college, negotiating a post-adolescence without a multi-million-dollar brand and career, much less a fully secure sense of self. Will womanhood be defined by her (or for her) purely on the basis of postfeminist sexual and material gratification, as her recent music videos and cameo in Sex In the City 2 may suggest? Why does she have to distance herself from the Mouse to pull this off? Does the network already have a successor in place? If so, what does this suggest about age, gender, and the short shelf life (sexist market imperative language used deliberately) for teen girls on the network? What if Cyrus doesn’t make the difficult transition from Disney princess to legitimate star, something Hilary Duff couldn’t pull off and Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Tisdale haven’t yet accomplished?
Thus, while I’m also not a fan of Hannah Montana, as I find it loud, broad, one-dimensional, caustic toward any threat to normativity, and surprisingly mean-spirited, I am interested in how the season’s narrative will play out for its titular heroine. In the movie, father Robby Ray (played by Cyrus’s own father Billy Ray) decides that his daughter is too big for her designer britches and makes Montana get reacquainted with Stewart and her Tennessean roots. The movie ends with her revealing her true identity, which was then incorporated into season three. In the series finale, will her audience discover that Stewart’s been Cyrus all along?