Disclaimer: I do not like the music of Miley Cyrus OR Taylor Swift, not my thing. I'm merely talking about their images and the world's perception of them. Not their music.
Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift. Upon hearing those names very different images come to mind. But they are both young women currently ruling the music industry. They are also not the types of people who are associated strictly with their music. We hear about them all the time in tabloids, on E! News, etc. They aren't just musicians, they are celebrities. And the images they both choose to portray are very different. And while they are not necessarily people that are pitted against each other, their images are. Their audiences are both mainly young girls, and through that, young girls parents. I think that the reactions to Cyrus and Swift are strong representations of the good girl/bad girl dichotomy, and therefore the virgin/whore dichotomy from which it stems. After all, there's a reason why the 'Angel/Devil girl' stickers are on so many cars!
We'll start with Taylor Swift. Angelic, sweet, every parents dream, Taylor Swift. She's arguably one of the most popular female artists of the past 5 years. Her album, Fearless, was one of the highest selling albums of the year. She's won basically every award a popular musician can win. She even got into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Basically, she's wildly popular. And aside from her music, people just really like her as a person. She always dresses modestly, she has a sweet demeanor, you don't hear bad things about her in the press. She has said that she has never, ever had a cigarette. She definitely has parental approval. All of these are good things! But she definitely cashes in on the 'good girl' image. Let's look at the lyrics to her popular song "You Belong With Me":
But she wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts
She wears high heels, I wear sneakers
The ultimate good girl/bad girl analogy. Obviously this song isn't something that you can find a lot of depth or meaning in, but I think it's interesting that in those two lines she's inferring that the girl she's comparing herself to is a bad girl, and that's why she has the guy. Those pesky bad girls! I think this image pretty much sums up how this is the general theme of the video:
The image Taylor Swift emits is pretty obvious. So let's move on to the bad girl...
Miley Cyrus. She's been in the spotlight a bit longer than Swift. When we first started hearing about her she was 14 and on Hannah Montana. She was a likable, pubescent little girl. But of course, there's no way you can grow up in the spotlight correctly. Remember the shitstorm over her Vanity Fair cover?
Parents went crazy over that. And since then the 'Miley Cyrus is a bad role model' talk has only escalated. There have been the scandals over her giving lapdances, living with her boyfriend, etc. She has tattoos and piercings now. And obviously, she's been dressing up her sexuality a lot more in clothing. Perez Hilton (who is kind of the scum of the earth) has begun to call her Slutty Cyrus. He even posted a crotch shot of her recently to try to get her to be more "ladylike". Yeah. Seriously. Her video for Can't Be Tamed is a far cry from her Hannah Montana days.
Now, I NEVER support a woman riding completely on her sexuality, using it as her only asset. But I don't think Cyrus has reached that point just yet, and I hope that she never does.
So....why is Swift thought of as a better person and a better role model than Cyrus?
This is where the virgin/whore dichotomy comes in, big time. The idea behind purity is that a woman's only asset is her sexuality, that if a woman is sexually pure it somehow automatically makes her a good person. If she isn't sexually pure, she is a bad person. This complex looks past morals and all the other things that make a person a good one. Swift fits the pure virgin mold so perfectly, and Cyrus goes against that. So the judgment is placed on what kind of people they are by how they present their sexuality.
Also, why is Swift's music more 'role modely' than Cyrus's? The only themes presented in Swift's music are that it's okay for girls to build their lives around boys. She constantly sings about crushin' on boys, crying over them, obsessing over them, fantasizing about how happy they would be together. If you want your daughters to grow up admiring the idea that you should never be independent, and that romantic relationships really function like they do in fairytales, than I guess she is the better role model. But Cyrus currently sings about breaking molds, denying expectations, and, in her own weird little way, being independent. She isn't giving in to the idea that teen girls should be obsessed with boys. That's an idea I'd like to promote to young women.
I think it's great that Cyrus is experimenting with her sexuality, and even better that she is unapologetic about it. She's only a month older than me, so in a way I relate with her. I'd rather see her try to break out of the virginal mold Disney had set for her than fall into the Swift-style image of perpetual girlhood. Neither of them are super awesome women, and if I had to recommend any females to look up to, they wouldn't be on the list. But I think they do bring up some very important things to talk about as far as the standards we put out for young girls. And it's worth questioning if the 'bad girl' is the one who's really bad...