A few things are troubling me when I turn up at the LA studio where I am scheduled to interview Miley Cyrus about her collaboration with make-up brand Mac. For a start, I’m worried about whether I will recognise her with all her clothes on. I’ve been perusing the singer’s Instagram account, and there has been an awful lot of nudity on it lately. Recent highlights include a picture of a woman’s hand down her own shorts and the caption “a masturbate a day keeps the haters away”. There are photos of Miley in the bath with only some strategically placed foam for modesty, taken as part of a shoot for V magazine. There are shots of Miley lounging around, completely naked except for some socks. It’s all a long way from Hannah Montana.
I’m also slightly concerned that I’m in Hollywood, and she, at least according to the morning’s papers, is in Hawaii, where she’s been “cavorting around in” (read: “wearing”) a teeny weeny red bikini with her new boyfriend, Patrick Schwarzenegger, the son of Arnold and Maria Shriver.
My fears are not entirely allayed when the PR representative for Mac, with whom Cyrus has just launched a hot-pink lipstick as part of its Viva Glam range, warns me that “there might be a bit of a wait”.
And there is a bit of a wait: eight minutes in all. And then she bounces into view like a human disco ball, wearing silver sequinned miniskirt, a matching jacket, and that lipstick (Cyrus describes it as “hot-pink lava with a thousand crushed-up disco balls inside. I wanted it to feel like I was inside of the bottle”). We’re not, it seems, on Naomi Campbell time here.
Cyrus’s punctuality is the first of several surprises and apparent contradictions about her. She is tiny and delicate-looking, with big Bambi eyes and a full mouth, but her voice is husky and unexpectedly deep. She talks fast, ideas tumbling forth so rapidly that she often doesn’t make it to the end of one sentence before rushing headlong into the next one.
Despite the frequent nudity, the twerking and the provocative performances in her videos – including, famously, a scene in which she appears to fellate a sledgehammer – she insists that she is subject to the same occasional bouts of insecurity about her appearance as anyone else.
“I had kind of bad skin when I was younger and that was always my insecurity, especially being on TV, because you’re right here,” she says, drawing a box in the air around her face. “And this was even before the HD situation. I was 15 and dealing with that and you think that’s the only thing people can see. I would get overwhelmed and I would try everything. If it had ‘acne’ on it, I’d be like, ‘Yup, I’m going to put that on my face’. And then you only use it for a day and you’re like, ‘It’s not working’.”
She speaks with genuine passion and maturity about the subjects close to her heart: they include homelessness and Aids awareness (as Viva Glam ambassador for Mac, all the proceeds from her new lipstick will go to helping people with HIV). “I have my own charity here in LA,” she says. “It’s called the Happy Hippie Foundation. It’s for homeless youths. Right now we’re focused on trying to buy a second building.”
The biggest surprise, considering the content of her Instagram account, are her somewhat reactionary views on social media, and the pressure it exerts on young women. She is, apparently without a trace of irony, scathing on the subject of what she calls the “Instagram famous”: young women, some famous and some not, who build up a following on the photo-sharing site by posting pictures of themselves, often in a state of semi- undress.
“I do think it’s true that my generation is in crisis,” she says. “Everyone is trying to get Instagram famous and a lot of it is purely what they’re wearing, what they look like. You get more likes if your ass or your titties looks big. You know what I mean? It’s crazy. Fifteen-year-old girls are looking at these and thinking that’s what they’re supposed to look like. These girls, I think their self-esteem is in crisis. It isn’t anything to do with being proud of yourself or being able to say, ‘I want to be topless’, it’s about self-esteem. People are chasing something that doesn’t exist.”
The day after we meet, she posts what seems to be a parody of these shots on her Instagram account: an image of her in her bra, with the caption: “Do yiew tink if I push muah titties up I’ll get mo followahhhzzzz? #shouldigrowmyhairout?” The point she was trying to make appeared to have been lost on many of her most admiring followers, which I suspect may be the story of Cyrus’s life.
Who’s pulling the strings?
If it is ironic that the concerns she is expressing now are precisely the concerns others have expressed about her – including, in 2013, Sinéad O’Connor who penned a series of open letters to her, urging her not to collude in her own exploitation – Cyrus doesn’t seem aware of it. (She retorted by posting tweets mocking O’Connor’s perceived mental health issues.) But is she really a victim of the music industry? Or is she the one pulling the strings?
Having met her, it’s hard to imagine anyone bullying Cyrus into doing anything she didn’t want to. For a woman of just 22, an age at which many of us are trying to figure out who we are, she seems remarkably self-assured, something she attributes to her parents, the country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, and her mother, Tish Cyrus.
“I had good parents, I guess, who let me be who I am. I could say, ‘I want to turn into an elephant’, and they would be like, ‘What can we do?’ When I was in school, my mom argued with one of the teachers about me being able to colour my hair. She was like, ‘She wants her hair blue. I’m not going to tell her she can’t have her hair blue.’ ”
Cyrus has in the past described herself as a feminist, to the outrage of many feminists. As one myself, I don’t think we should be ascribing entry criteria, but some would say Cyrus is disqualified on account of how she doesn’t so much challenge stereotypical depictions of femininity as pour them into a string bodysuit and gyrate a teddy bear with them. So where does she stand on the issue now?
“I think people have started using ‘feminist’ so much that people have forgotten that it’s not just focusing on women but it’s about celebrating everyone and everything. So yes, I’m a feminist because I’m female-empowered, and I want to give fucking women jobs and I want us to be being out there, being leaders and being badass, totally, but I want the same thing for men as well. Totally,” she says.
“I think we’ve overused it so much that it’s getting confusing to girls as to what a feminist actually is. Being a feminist is just about we want to be equal, not above, not below. Equal.”
Does she think it’s unfair how women in the public eye are automatically assigned role-model status, in a way that men rarely are? “Totally,” she says. “I like people to know who I really am and I act the same in my house or to waiters or to executives on record labels. I don’t care. I treat everyone the same. ‘Role model’ is about how you are when you’re not in front of your fans.”
Cyrus is, as she would say, ‘down’ with authenticity. “I’ve always been a really strong believer in ‘be who you are’. My dad’s very that way and my mom is that way. I think nowadays, too, some of the worst things [famous] people do – and I might get in trouble by saying this – is, you know, they post like paparazzi-style shots of themselves, making it seem like to go to the grocery store you have to look like you’re on the runway. I think you just should be who you are.”
Someone from her PR team appears with the instruction that there’s time for just one more question.
“I’m Irish,” I begin, apologetically. “So I have to ask. Have you made up with SinéadO’Connor?”
“Aaaah,” she says, and for the first time in history, I think she might just be embarrassed. “I don’t know. I don’t know. Fuck. That was on Saturday Night Live like two years ago. I’ve no idea. I think that just died out, just like every other news story. I’ve no idea. Yeah. Cool.”
With that, she gets up and sashays off to her next appointment. Sinéad, I wouldn’t worry too much about Miley. I suspect she knows exactly what she’s doing.
Miley Cyrus is the 2015 Mac Viva Glam Ambassador. Miley Viva Glam will be available from February 12th in Brown Thomas