“I Can’t Be Tamed.” According to the soccer moms and media of America, this ironically tame statement meant that Miley Cyrus had turned into a boy-guzzling slut who frankly didn’t give a shit about what people thought. Yes, in the video there is a shot lingering almost too coincidentally on her cleavage, and she’s even a damn bird, but there is nothing racy about the song at all. Miley’s failed attempt to shed her good-girl image is another example of the public fascination with what I’d like to call “The Disney Curse.”
Although they may be marketed as sweet teenagers, inevitably younger stars grow up and mature musically. Disney likes to keep its commercially successful young starlets in a tight spot, where they feel that the only way to escape is to go balls-out and pull a 180 in their music — always to public backlash. Even worse, they end up going crazy and dabbling in parties, drugs and addiction. Lindsay Lohan, Demi Lovato and Vanessa Hudgens have all ended up in rehab or embroiled in scandals. The spotlight, combined with the suffocation of working under a controlling company like Disney, is no doubt unhealthy for these stars.
Young talent management wasn’t always this terrible though. The idea of freezing these stars in time as 12 year-olds is a recent development. One of the greatest pop stars of our generation started off as a child star, and was even more edgy pre “I’m A Slave 4 U” than Miley is now. That girl of course is Britney Spears. Although she was not under the control of Disney, her success led to copycats banking on the teenage girl-next-door image, such as Christina Aguilera and Disney’s Hilary Duff.
You may remember Britney starting off with a squeaky clean persona, but she really didn’t — not even close examination of her early music is required to see innuendos. Her perceived image is a result of fantastic marketing, something which Disney has failed to replicate, as seen in the troubles of its recent starlets. Britney’s original songs contained a bright, bubbly pop sheen that masked the themes in her music. Her signature hit “Hit Me Baby One More Time” has connotations about domestic (and perhaps sadomasochistic) violence. However, Jive still had her do interviews about her “virginity” to put the soccer moms at bay. Britney of course has admitted it was all a lie, but it truly served its purpose.
While Disney stars adopt a more mature sound due to suffocation under harsh management, Britney’s change in sound was no doubt a marketing and money making scheme. “I’m A Slave 4 U” effectively shed any ounce of her projected good-girl image, as she controversially danced at the VMAs with a snake around her neck. Britney was always sexual, as seen in her music videos and innuendos in her songs, but this was a huge step forward. Jive willingly let go of her image so they could make money — not because she fought with them. Miley, on the other hand, is reported to be having problems with Disney.
It seems that it’s only an unintended consequence that Britney Spears ended up going bat-shit crazy. This was not as a result of being suffocated under strict management; it is no secret that Britney suffers from mental problems. Unfortunately, as a result of what happened to her, Disney is convinced that the same is going to happen to all their stars, so they keep them on tight leashes to appeal to a young age group. However, they are only leading their stars into the same problems by being overbearing. Miley is not the same as Britney — Britney’s shedding of image was not a revolt, but a progression from her already sexualized-sound and strictly a marketing decision.
If Disney wants to ensure the sanity of its stars, they should allow their artists to adopt mature themes without the aggression of “Can’t Be Tamed.” Despite the fact that the lyrics are relatively tame, the sound of the record itself commands the opposite. The commercial failure of the album proves that 180-transformations are not successful and simply off-putting. Even “I’m A Slave 4 U” and Aguilera’s “Dirty” were US flops, although I’d call them my guilty pleasures. A song like Aguilera’s own “Genie in a Bottle” would be the perfect pop yet lightly sexualized tune. Certainly they can have someone rub her the right way without offending soccer moms — well, maybe not, but Miley’s current route is not the right option.
Disney must realize the obvious: as their stars age, so should their music. The force they put on stars to conform to a wholesome and virginal persona only encourages them to act out. What’s more concerning is the secrecy Disney maintains around their stars’ problems. Disney still has unanswered questions surrounding the current rehab stint of Demi Lovato (rumored to involve cutting) and quieted reports about the impending divorce of Miley’s parents. These are important life issues that Disney’s audience may be currently experiencing or will in the future. The best thing that can come out of these problems is an opportunity for parents to educate their children without relying on censored messages in music.