4 Oct 2013

Sinead O’Connor to Miley Cyrus: It ain’t twerking

The transformation of Miley Cyrus from Disney girl-star Hannah Montana to “twerking” woman has caught the “motherly” attention of Sinead O’Connor.

Miley Cyrus and Sinead O'Connor are having a public row over a letter warning about being 'prostituted' by the music industry (picture: Getty)

The two female music stars are now in a public spat over a letter Ms O’Connor sent to the 20-year-old pop sensation.

Despite their similarities – both massively successful artists, both no strangers to controversy – the row has descended into insults and threats of legal action.

In her song Wrecking Ball, Ms Cyrus sings “I never meant to start a war” – but one has erupted after Ms O’Connor raised concerns about the video, and her fears over the “prostitution” of Ms Cyrus.


The row began when Ms Cyrus, in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, said that she was a fan of Ms O’Connor, and that the music video for Wrecking Ball was inspired by Nothing Compares 2 U.

You have enough talent that you don’t need to let the music business make a prostitute of you. Sinead O’Connor

The 1980s star’s response, via an open letter, raised concerns that the video was an example of how Ms Cyrus is being “pimped”.

The video (see below), which includes Ms Cyrus seductively licking a sledgehammer and swinging naked on a wrecking ball, had led Ms O’Connor to be “extremely concerned”, she wrote.

“You have enough talent that you don’t need to let the music business make a prostitute of you,” she wrote. “You shouldn’t let them make a fool of you either.

“Don’t think for a moment that any of them give a flying f*** about you. They’re there for the money; we’re there for the music.

“It has always been that way and it will always be that way. The sooner a young lady gets to know that, the sooner she can be REALLY in control.”

Ms O’Connor also described how she had to fight against efforts of the music industry to sexualise her.

“I felt I would rather be judged on my talent and not my looks,” she said.

Twitter jibes

However, Ms Cyrus does not appear to have taken the letter in the spirit of “motherliness” that Ms O’Connor said it was intended.

Her response was to send a tweet including a picture of tweets sent by Ms O’Connor in 2012. Ms O’Connor, who has previously revealed she has a bipolar disorder, had tweeted asking for help in finding a psychiatrist.

Ms Cyrus tweeted: “Before Amanda Bynes… There was…” followed by the picture. Amanda Bynes is an American actress who has been previously hospitalised over concerns about her mental health.

You don’t see people worrying about Harry Styles and asking what his mother would think. Holly Baxter, Vagenda

She also tweeted: “Sinead. I don’t have time to write you an open letter cause I’m hosting & performing on SNL this week. So if you’d like to meet up and talk lemme know in your next letter. :)”

A further tweet was a picture of Ms O’Connor controversially tearing up a picture of the Pope in 1992.

Ms O’Connor’s response was less friendly than before.

“I have no interest whatsoever in meeting you,” she wrote. “You had plenty of time yesterday to abuse Amanda Bynes… an entirely innocent party… and myself… who also did nothing to deserve your abuse,” she said.

“If you do not apologise I will have no choice but to bring legal proceedings against you, since it is extremely hard to be given work when people think one is suffering from mental illness.”

Should we worry about Miley?

Holly Baxter, a freelance journalist and editor of online feminist magazine Vagenda, said the Wrecking Ball video and Ms Cyrus’s performance at the Video Music Awards, where she “twerked” popstar Robin Thicke in a flesh-coloured bikini (picture, below), are a sign of misogyny within the music business.

“It is true of the music industry that the fewer clothes they have on the better from the point of view of music executives, who are overwhelmingly male,” she told Channel 4 News.

However, the paternalistic sentiment expressed in Ms O’Connor’s letter is also something to be worried about, she said.

“It is very female-specific that when a female starts to exhibit signs of sexual behaviour there is this paternalistic outcry,” she said.

“People ask ‘what would your father say?’. In fact they tracked down Billy Ray Cyrus and asked him and he rather disappointed them by saying he didn’t care.

“But you don’t see people worrying about Harry Styles and asking what his mother would think.”

There has been a public outcry over the sexualisation of Miley Cyrus, after her 'twerking' performance at the VMA awards (picture: Getty)

Ms Baxter argues that girls are already educated in school that they are not sexual beings, a dangerous game when they clearly do have sexual feelings.

Indeed, Ms Baxter told Channel 4 News, we have to respect 20-year-old Ms Cyrus as an adult who can make her own decisions.

She’s been taking advantage of herself, of her youth, her fame and her sexuality…and she knows it. Amanda Palmer

“I don’t feel personally happy about seeing her bend over in a flesh coloured bikini in front of Robin Thicke,” she said. “But it is not the case that she is being passive.

“Whether I like it or not is neither here nor there as far as feminism is concerned. I respect her as a person and believe as an adult she is doing what she wants.”


Amanda Palmer, formerly lead singer of the Dresden Dolls, has also responded to this point, directly to Ms O’Connor.

In another open letter, she wrote: “Do I want a whole generation of teenagers looking at Miley Cyrus to determine that the only way to get hits and hawk your music is to rip your clothes off and wiggle around as violently and loudly as possible? (And while we’re at it – while weighing close to nothing and looking perfectly manicured without a single eyelash or molecule of mascara out of place even when a tear rolls down your face?)

“F*** no. But I don’t want to tell them it’s wrong, either, because like I said: the field has to encompass EVERYTHING. There’s no way Miley is going to read your letter and turn around saying ‘holy s***, they’ve been taking advantage of me this whole time!’

“She’s been taking advantage of herself, of her youth, her fame and her sexuality…and she knows it. We females all do this, to some extent, and we just want to feel like it’s our hand on the joystick.

“Telling her that her team is to blame is telling her that she’s not steering her own career and decisions, and I think she’ll just feel patronised.”