There comes a time in every Disney girl's career where she's ready to break free of the golden handcuffs that have held her for her formative years. Leaving those innocent days behind quietly, however, is near impossible for these Disney princesses. Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera are the most notable cases of good girls gone bad, and Miley Cyrus follows in their footsteps with her own pièce de résistance, the music video for "Can't Be Tamed," which was released earlier this week. The video nods not only to her fellow vixens with Disney pasts, but also takes after Lady Gaga and Rihanna in crafting her debut as a "mature" and grown-up "artist."
The first step in a Disney girl's transformation is "the racy photo." Britney's iconic 1999 Rolling Stone cover affirmed her status as an 18-year-old sex symbol and stirred up quite the bit of controversy, while Miley's backless Annie Leibovitz 2008 Vanity Fair cover garnered a considerable amount of criticism, as well as a public apology from the singer herself.
After the photo, however, the inevitable racy video must follow. Here, Miley incorporates both old and new-school techniques to create the new standard for an "I'm A Woman Now" video:
1. Go artsy: The video features the singer as "Avis Cyrus" (subtle, much?) as "the rarest creature in the world," donning huge, black feathery wings, like a vision out of Angels in America. Miley's video leaves little to the imagination, however—the message is clear as day (as New York Magazine puts it, it's Gaga Lite), but fashion fiends might be able to pretend her getup is an homage to the late, great Alexander McQueen's final collection, which heavily featured feathers and carefully painted angel wings.
Couple that with the $25,000 silver peacock corset by The Blonds, and Billy Ray Cyrus' daughter has graduated from her cut-offs and cowboy boots to the world of forced couture. Wasn't it just yesterday that she she was singing about arriving in Los Angeles, realizing that "It's definitely not a Nashville party," complaining about not getting the memo about stilettos? Guess someone clued her in real quick.
The image of Miley Cyrus in the exotic costume seems frivolous, but it's also an eerily familiar one—Mena Suvari in the iconic poster for American Beauty. Described as a film about loneliness, imprisonment, and escape by director Sam Mendes, the themes align with the young singer's own message of feeling like a caged bird. American Beauty explored sexual reawakenings, which never fails to be the most prominent feature of every star's "mature" debut. The way in which this is executed, however, has evolved from the days of X-tina's chaps and Britney's thong-over-jean ensembles.
In an industry where fashion and art has come to play an equal role with music in a pop star's success more than ever, it's essential for Miley to prove that she can hang with the rest of the art-haus girls who have overthrown the cookie-cutter cheerleader types from the metaphorical lunch table in the cafeteria. So, flap those wings, girl! Which leads us to...
2. Weird is the new sexy. And ugly is the new pretty. Dancing around, flipping your hair, and smiling at the camera flirtatiously is so 2003. Dancing, flipping your hair, and jerking your head around like you're possessed by a demon, however, is so hot right now. Throw in some pseudo-lesbian scenes and almost make out with a girl, and you're well on your way to "showing them."
While Lady Gaga has escalated the monster-trend to another level entirely, we'd be remiss to forget that Rihanna's "Disturbia" video did a lot for the ugly-sexy movement. Hers was the first in a string of videos that featured the spastic-repetitive style of shooting that became synonymous with being edgy and/or crazy.
3. Lest there be any confusion about what you're trying to say, spell it out. Britney's "I'm a Slave 4 U" and Christina's "Dirrty" videos left little to the imagination visually, but the girls still felt the need to articulate directly their deep-seated quest for independence from their PR-controlled, family-friendly personas.
Britney Spears, "I'm a Slave 4 U":
I know I may be young, but I've got feelings too./And I need to do what I feel like doing./ So let me go and just listen./All you people look at me like I'm a little girl./Well did you ever think it be okay for me to step into this world./Always saying little girl don't step into the club./Well I'm just tryin' to find out why cause dancing's what I love.
Christina, Aguilera "Dirrty":
Oh, I'm overdue/ Give me some room /I'm comin' through/Paid my dues/In the mood/Me and the girls gonna shake the room
Three things are clear: our Disney stars are tired of being puppets, they're tired of feeling contained, and they want to dance. Miley takes a cue after her elders on "Can't Be Tamed," singing:
"I wanna fly, I wanna drive, I wanna go/I wanna be a part of something I don't know/And if you try to hold me back I might explode."
"Don't change me," she warns. It's only a matter of time until we see Miley's MTV award show debut à la Brit Brit. In the meantime, however, a carefully-crafted video can work wonders for establishing her new image.