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Can Miley Cyrus make the leap out of teeny-bopperdom?

October 11, 2010 |  7:14 pm

She may have had a modest box-office success in the spring with "The Last Song," but Miley Cyrus has returned to doing what she lately seems to do best: getting people to argue over the appropriateness of her behavior.

The actress-singer's new video for the song "Who Owns My Heart," which you can see below, has both restarted the conversation and taken it up a notch: More than past magazine spreads and music videos, it has people wringing their hands over whether the 17-year-old finally has gone too far with her sexual suggestiveness.

To be fair, there are many people out there willing to pile on at the first sign of Miley maturation. On the other hand, for an entertainment personality whose every move is so calibrated, it's hard to imagine that she and father Billy Ray weren't at least partly aware of what a video of bed-side vamping and dancefloor grinding would cause, especially given that so many of Cyrus' fans have yet to hit puberty. (Billy Ray certainly had to realize what reaction it would provoke from the Parents Television Council — a group for which he, whoops, serves on the advisory board.)

But maybe more interesting than the Cyruses' intent is whether this is a good career move for the young star. As a host of former teenybopper icons prove, too much time in the headlines can derail the most felicitous career, something both Britney Spears and the Olsen twins could tell you about firsthand. By becoming known for one more flash-in-the-pan controversy, has Miley risked becoming a flash in the pan herself?

It's a reasonable concern, but I have a feeling that not only will this not hurt her, it will achieve its not-exactly-hidden goal of putting some separation between Cyrus and what made her famous. Cyrus has already made clear with some of her recent choices that she wants to move out of the Disney incubator that hatched her. Her presence in "Last Song" showed that she could wade into darker, or at least more tearjerky, territory and fans will pretty much accept her. She'll next star in a comedy called "LOL" that, like Cyrus herself, straddles the line between the tween and grown-up, and after that I suspect we'll see her going even more adult, a move whose waters this video is meant both to tease and test.

Such a switch isn't without risks, of course. It's one thing to play to your tween fan base, when the acting and quality standards aren't, let's face it, terribly high. Asking adults who didn't grow up with you to accept you seriously in a dramatic part is another matter.

But there's little to lose by trying. You can't play teenybopper forever, and as along as Cyrus can avoid the tabloids and bad behavior, someone will at least give her a shot in a more serious role.

Besides, it's not like the straight-and-narrow always works. There hasn't been a scandalous peep about Christina Aguilera in a decade, but her album sales have fallen since she left her teenybopper period. (Her turn in the upcoming drama "Burlesque" looks unlikely to jumpstart an Aguilera revival on the screen either.) A controversial music video won't take Cyrus to the next place in her career, but it might just bridge the gap.

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Miley Cyrus in "The Last Song." Credit: Disney.



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