Don't let her youth, angular haircuts, barely-there ensembles or the extra-long tongue fool you...
Miley Cyrus is a PR genius, someone who is using the there-in-an instant media landscape to make visual statements as potent as the performance or video works you'll see showcased in your local Modern Art emporium.
Her most recent provocation, with crying kitty video projection at the AMAs, is the latest chapter in her oeuvre. The meaning is obvious to me, she's a wrecking ball alright, one designed to crash into the global public consciousness every few weeks or so. The goals of these over the top and more disruptions? Nothing too grand really. To get your attention and percolate the pseudo ire of the media and social watchdogs to sell some records (not a lot as no one buys them anymore). To sell-out concerts (that seems to be working as she nets $1.2 million from each show). To sate the exhibitionism jones fermented during her child/tween star years (it's hard to switch that need off). And, finally, to poise herself for the inevitable parade of the "next chapters" in the modern star's career (the maturing, redemptive interviews, the Las Vegas casino stand and branded lifestyle goods business 15-20 years down the line).
The lexicon of her visual references are a mashup for sure. It's a goulash on a roller coaster that gives equal time to co-opting the pop disturbo imagery of art stars like Jeff Koons and Paul McCarthy (gigantic pets and weird puppets respectively) and our lightest, guiltiest, most time-wasting web fascinations (kittens, twerking, the recycled fashions of SoCal porn, etc).
The splash she makes with each new visitation is pretty astounding. Her prance with old man Robin Thicke at the VMAs generated 306,000 tweets a minute during her time on stage. It did likewise in old man media, with hundreds of millions more impressions via clips and long discussions on 24-hour news channels, network morning shows, print, etc. Look at the stats, a net worth of $150 million with estimated annual income for this halcyon year of nearly $60 million.
What was apparent in her AMA performance is that she gets it, the mathematics of the impact of her antics on public consciousness and the commerce it begats. Right now, she seems delighted to be conducting a symphony of must-watch and talk-about stunts that are making earlier provocateurs like Gaga look positively provincial. Say what you will about the message this is sending young girls, but isn't the bizarre and playful nature of all this pop theater a better way to get attention than unleashing a sex tape, or being captured by the paparazzi drunk, panty-less or on next morning's Walk of Shame from your one-night stand with a lowly L.A. bartender?
For now, it's working. Being young is a time to be bold, foolish and maybe even smoke a little weed in Amsterdam. While her taste is up for debate, and a matter of taste (you like it, or you don't), every punch she is throwing at the public consciousness is putting her center stage in the junk news of the day.
She's a wrecking ball, alright. And every week is providing her with another opportunity to blow our minds and rock the register -- at retail and in the world of media.
Follow Sal Cataldi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/salvatorism