God bless Sinead O’Connor, the prickly Irish rock singer who once ripped a photograph of the pope on live TV to protest the Catholic Church’s child sex abuse scandal, for trying to school Miley Cyrus on the pitfalls of female sexual exploitation in the music business.
It's not going to work.
You simply can’t tell a 20-year-old music phenomenon to stop doing the very thing that has brought her even more fame and fortune than she already earned as a tween TV star. Minus a Britney Spears-style detour down loopy lane, there's no incentive for Cyrus to change the direction of her still-evolving style.
After Cyrus told Rolling Stone that O’Connor’s hit video of “Nothing Compares 2 U” was an inspiration for her most recent music video “Wrecking Ball” -- in which she straddles a huge wrecking ball wearing nothing but red lipstick and a sad expression -- O’Connor, 46, posted an open letter to Cyrus on her website Wednesday, full of barely concealed angst and bitterness:
I wasn't going to write this letter, but today I've been dodging phone calls from various newspapers who wished me to remark upon your having said in Rolling Stone your Wrecking Ball video was designed to be similar to the one for Nothing Compares … So this is what I need to say … And it is said in the spirit of motherliness and with love.
I am extremely concerned for you that those around you have led you to believe, or encouraged you in your own belief, that it is in any way 'cool' to be naked and licking sledgehammers in your videos. It is in fact the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether its the music business or yourself doing the pimping.
Nothing but harm will come in the long run, from allowing yourself to be exploited, and it is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent ….
Yes, I'm suggesting you don't care for yourself. That has to change. You ought be protected as a precious young lady by anyone in your employ and anyone around you, including you. This is a dangerous world. We don't encourage our daughters to walk around naked in it because it makes them prey for animals and less than animals, a distressing majority of whom work in the music industry and it's associated media ....
The letter goes on, O’Connor drops many f-bombs, more in sadness than in anger, and the whole well-meaning but tone-deaf message undoubtedly landed with a buzz-killing thud at Cyrus’ feet.
Cyrus may be sexually overcompensating as she sheds her squeaky-clean Hannah Montana skin, but having been in the spotlight since she was a child, she certainly understands the dynamics of celebrity exploitation. She is smart enough to know what works, and probably too young to be embittered. Also, as it turns out, she is immature enough to be cruel.
On Thursday, in what seemed like a response, Cyrus tweeted a photo of O’Connor ripping the pope’s photograph during her famous 1992 performance on “Saturday Night Live.” She also tweeted the words “Before there was Amanda Bynes, there was …” with a screen grab consisting of tweets from 2012 that appeared to be O’Connor pleading for psychiatric help. Bynes is the former Disney star whose out-of-control behavior over the last year and a half culminated in a mental breakdown and subsequent hospitalization.
O'Connor is far from the only critic to whom Cyrus has proved immune.
She was ripped in August, when her appearance with Robin Thicke on the MTV Video Music Awards, which included half-naked twerking and lascivious dance moves with a giant foam finger, led some to think she’d lost her mind.
But guess who didn’t criticize her? People whose opinions she undoubtedly values more than those of the critics -- her peers. She shared with Rolling Stone a few of their texts:
Pharrell: “You’re not a train wreck. You’re the train pulling everyone else along.”
Kanye West: “I still can’t quit thinking about your performance.”
And Lil’ Kim: “My little pumpkin, I just had to tell you you’re so … smart." Getting right to the point, Lil' Kim added: "I love you and all the press you are getting.”
Meanwhile, Cyrus, who may be young and given to flaunting her body in ways that make some feminists uncomfortable, is on the cover of the latest Rolling Stone, licking her shoulder as she climbs naked out of a pool.
Her foam finger, with its painted red nails, is expected to be a popular Halloween costume this year.
And this weekend, she is slated to host and be the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live.”
I expect she’ll keep her clothes on for that one.