Expressing Themselves Or Selling Themselves?

Anyone can wear what they want. No one should judge them, and no one should question their intentions. But when we see our childhood icons strutting around in a music video or in front of a crowd of screaming teenagers wearing the somewhat ‘minimalist’
outfits, it does make you wonder if they are giving the right impression. For some of our beloved pop-stars, the line between dressing for yourself and dressing for attention can become blurred – Blurred Lines, however, is a completely separate issue.
The above description of pop-stars selling themselves rather than their music might have already brought one individual to mind: Miss
Cyrus. It is undeniable that in the environment of the music industry, what you wear matters. Miley started her career sporting a 90s highlights job, colourful and girly leather jackets and her tongue shut inside her mouth. Of course, when you are being presented as
every 13 year old’s style icon, this is entirely appropriate. When the woman behind this image needs to assert her own identity, fashion can help her – to an extent. What jars when assessing Miley Cyrus’ sartorial choices at the VMAs and in her most recent music videos is not her choice to favour sexuality over style, but the overt and suddenness of such a choice.
‘We Can’t Stop’ played out of Radio 1 numerous times a day, and before 25th August (the notorious VMA awards 2013), the image of
Miley from ‘Party in the USA’ sprung to everyone’s mind. Seeing the all-grown-up star walk on stage, tongue protruding and clothes designed to be almost non-existent, left the audience shocked, dazed but most importantly, confused. We all knew that Miley was no longer Hannah Montana: she had made it clear in her movement to more serious acting, and grown up look from 2009 in her world
tours. Her music between 2009 with ‘Party in the USA’ to ‘We Can’t Stop’ has seen little change, so why the dramatic change in her
Outcry against Cyrus’s conduct is answered with the obvious answers: she is young, independent and is just ‘being herself’.  Sinead O’Conner’s open letter to Cyrus articulates precisely the arguments on the tip of our tongue: are you doing this for yourself, or for the industry? In her open letter, O’Conner claims that the music industry ‘doesn’t give a sh** about you’, and will use Cyrus’s sexuality for their own means, not because Cyrus is strongly representing her own identity. We cannot be the ones to pass a final judgement on Cyrus’s reasons for acting the way she does, nor am I condemning it, it is simply difficult to understand. In acting and dressing in the way she has over the past months, Cyrus has succeeded in shaking the responsibility of a ‘role model’ and most certainly is not seen as a child pop star. It does, however, seem a shame for women in the music industry that the most effective way to do this is to dress in the smallest amount of clothes possible and act overtly sexually. On principle there is nothing wrong in doing either of these things, and we cannot know whether the decision was her own or a man in a boardroom’s. After years of trying to move on from Hannah Montana, this latest method has been the most effective, because whether we like it or not, sex sells better than fashion does.
Miley Cyrus is not the only star who can be surprising in her outfit choices in music videos and on stage. Rhianna is characterised by
her ‘bad girl’ style and sexual charge. She owns her style and no one would think to comment against her. What then, is the difference between the way she dresses and how Cryus does? For me, it boils down to consistency: the lyrics and feel of Rhianna’s music are congruent with how she presents herself. The style is whole-hearted, and does not feel like a display. Cyrus’s ‘Wrecking Ball’ and Rhianna’s ‘Pour it Up’ are perhaps two of the most overt music videos to be released since Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’. The reaction to all three has been different: the first is often thought of a ‘embarrassing’, the second ‘strong and independent’, because of
who presents them rather than what is presented.
If Cyrus’ transformation had not come as such a shock, perhaps the public response would be different. Rihanna, too, underwent a great transformation from the girl we saw in S.O.S, and I would never deny that Miley Cyrus is tormented by the beginning of her career. She was assigned a definitive look by her producers as Hannah Montana – a look so strong and formative that it still haunts her and fuels the response given to her recent change. Many other female artists have had break their mould in order to reach the next stage of their career, such as Christina Aguilera in her ‘Dirty’ video. Other stars like Lady Gaga launched with a shocking style, which seems to then allow her to make whatever fashion decisions she wanted – some more overt than others (the meat dress). For women in the top end of music industry, clothing and image all too often take precedent over the substance of their music. This can be seen as a shame, but recently, it is a choice rather than a necessity.
There is a trend in the music industry for shockingly sexual displays. Clothing is important, for its non-existence in this case rather than its substance. Style in the celebrity environment is everything, which can limit rather than liberate sartorial choices.  Someone out of the public eye can wear what they like without anyone batting too much of an eyelid – or at least, it won’t be plastered over tabloids and blogs. It is a difficult and delicate subject, and quickly conjures feminist arguments. But when an audience is as shocked by a star’s behaviour as the public have been by Miley Cyrus, the true intentions behind the outfits are questioned.