Miley Cyrus' raunchy MTV VMAs performance with Robin Thicke: Was it really so shocking?

Body language expert Judi James asks whether Miley Cyrus really committed career suicide at the VMAs

Miley Cyrus' beyond raunchy performance with Robin Thicke at the MTV VMAs 2013 is still causing a furore - days later.

Parents have complained in their droves; Miley's own fiance Liam Hemsworth is said to have been mortified - and that's not to mention the scores of celebs in the audience who were left open-mouthed.

Miley Cyrus's raunchy VMAs perfornance has caused a furore that's still ongoingBut perhaps what was most shocking about the 20-year-old's portrayal, is the fact she's grown up in front of audiences around the globe - many of whom still remember her as a cute-as-a-button Disney star.


Many child stars, particularly those who want to take their audiences with them, are forced to go through those awkward teenage years in front of dozens of camera lenses - that if they remain in demand, never go away.

Child stars tend to be ‘pleasers’. While you or I grew up trying to please our parents or the odd teacher or two, children such as Britney, Christina and Miley would have been dealing with producers, agents, fans and fellow performers.

Miley Cyrus stripped off to perform in a nude PVC underwear ensembleSuccess would have been intense but potentially short-lived and fame would have depended on looking and acting in the right way.

This effort to please as a child can evolve into equal if not more pressure to please as an adult, which is where the obligatory rebellion comes into play.

Fans are growing up too and going through the awkward stage. They no longer want to enjoy performers their parents would approve of; they want to shock and repel to register their independence at home. They want their parents to tut at their choice of idol, not sit side by side at their concerts humming all the tunes.

Hence Miley’s unsubtle, over-congruent, and ‘shocking’ routine at the VMAs. What else could she do? Dress as an ageing Hannah Montana in the hope mums and dads will continue buying the school bags and lunch boxes with her face on it?

To please her public Miley had to grow up, and quick. What she did was shock-by-numbers; put on a choreographed, show of adolescence that riled adults and parents but meant her young fans wouldn't have to risk getting picked on at school for being a Miley fan.

VMAs: A licence to shock?


Shocking the audience is obligatory at the VMAs and with the bar being raised by the likes of Madonna (wearing a wedding dress) and Britney (wearing a boa constrictor), poor Miley had her work cut out for her.

Twerking, tongue-poking and stripping off undergarments that revealed even more undies was combined in her routine, along with a routine that would have barely caused eyelashes to bat had it not been Hannah Montana up there doing it.

Miley Cyrus had fans in the audience staring open-mouthed in shockThese pseudo-sexual poses might shock in the US, but over here we’ve seen worse during the Eurovision Song Contest.

This was stylised, ritualised stuff that we’ve seen times before: the tongue-poke was Gene Simmons from Kiss, the crotch-grab was lifted from Michael Jackson via Justin Timberlake, the bum-grind from Rihanna and the giant foam hand from the terraces at Aston Villa.

The teddy-style outfit paid homage to Miley’s Disney roots and you could see the large PVC knickers sticking out underneath, so it should have come as no surprise that some form of strip might occur.

Animal mate rituals


If you take the body language displays at face value, you have mimicry of a male sexual act with the tongue combined with ‘female animal on heat’ from the twerking.

But performed on stage in 2013 all of these rituals invite laughter as much as sexual arousal, and surely the inclusion of the big foam hand made it veer on the side of Carry On-style comedy?

The real problem for Miley is whatever she does she still manages to look super-squeaky clean. Despite all the posturing and sexual imagery, she still looks more Mary Poppins than Sally Bowles from Cabaret.

Body language expert Judi James says Miley still looks 'squeaky clean whatever she does'There’s nothing truly earthy about her look and therefore she seemed forced to try too hard to get her message across. Clearly the aim here was to be the most shocking artist with the most amount of column inches. We knew Hannah had grown up because we saw the video with all the same imagery in it.

Of course she’s in the throes of making the transition from child star to rock star - a move which puts her in direct competition with the likes of Beyonce, Rihanna and Taylor Swift. But it was arguably the slight whiff of desperation about her on-stage skipping that caused the audience’s reactions on the night.

The audience reaction

Will Smith’s kids were a picture. Open-mouthed in surprise or with a pained-looking frown their body language suggested embarrassment more than shock.

If this routine had really oozed the kind of 'signals of filth' that some critics suggested, surely Will would have been leaning across to place his hands over their eyes?

Rihanna’s expression was sphinx-like but her smile was more smug than sour, suggesting she might have thought she could have done more to shock with one small flip of her hips.

Harry Styles’ reaction was hilarious though. Chewing quietly he managed to pull off an impassive poker face, looking neither shocked nor excited, but more like very faintly bored.

Miley is a great-looking girl with loads of talent. So why take on the big guns at their own game when it’s an already overcrowded field? What she did was probably smart - although it didn’t look very clever on the night.

What did you think of Miley Cyrus' VMAs performance? Tell us over on Twitter, now.
June 2012

Remember when this was shocking for Miley? Having just announced her engagement to gorgeous Australian actor Liam Hemsworth, the pair appeared on the red carpet at Australians in Film Awards ... more 
June 2012

Remember when this was shocking for Miley? Having just announced her engagement to gorgeous Australian actor Liam Hemsworth, the pair appeared on the red carpet at Australians in Film Awards & Benefit Dinner. The 'Hannah Montana' star wore a cut-out minidress by Zimmermann with Christian Louboutin heels. She accessorised with a glowing tan, honey coloured highlights and a huge Neil Lane engagement ring. less 
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Sat, Jun 29, 2013 18:00 BST