Before VMAs host Miley Cyrus even revealed her first (of many) outlandish outfits for the event, the world was anticipating an NSFW, FCC-irking moment to go down. (MTV made sure to have the show air with a delay so that any of Cyrus’ antics — wardrobe “malfunctions” included — could be edited out.) But Cyrus did manage to flash the masses, albeit during a backstage costume change, and not brazenly mid-performance (à la Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl, but then again, Jackson had a bejeweled pasty on, whereas Cyrus had nothing coming between her nipple and the world).
“What’s happening? Oh, sorry. My tit’s out?” Cyrus was heard saying before the show cut to commercial. Whether the nip slip was an accident or not (we’re thinking not, but that’s a matter of opinion), Cyrus is clearly doing her part to change how we view the female breast. A few days before the VMAs, Cyrus wore pasties on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and talked for a solid five minutes or so about her boobs. Her slew of VMA getups pretty uniformly forced you to stare at her barely concealed body parts, and that’s probably exactly what Cyrus was hoping for.
Besides using her mammaries as a tool, Cyrus also used her VMA hosting role (a particularly large platform for a star who garners attention for almost anything she does) to surround herself with folks who support her gender-fluid identity. (In her cover story in Elle UK’s September issue, Cyrus proclaims herself to be pansexual, and in June, she told Paper that she’s “literally open to every single thing” sexually.) Cyrus invited Rookie writer Tyler Ford, who identifies as agender and queer, last night — Ford was Cyrus' date during the amfAR gala in June; during the show, she and her 31-drag-queen backup dancers — all RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni — donned costumes by BCalla, a queer designer who made a porn film to debut his last collection.
All of this isn’t terribly shocking, given the defiantly un-Disney, all-grown-up Cyrus we’ve gotten acquainted with over the past few years. But the way Cyrus wielded her bosom on the red carpet and on stage at the VMAs, in zany, revealing-but-not-really-sexy outfits, forced the audience — a massive group of nearly 10 million people, with plenty of former Hannah Montana fangirls and a heathy demographic of tweens tuning in — to contemplate her chest. The shock-and-squirm factor aside (does she really need all the attention on her, all the time?), Cyrus seems to be making a statement about the powers, and limitations, of having breasts.
For many celebrities who seem to borrow and steal from subcultures without actually embedding themselves in it, Cyrus’ interpretation of queer/drag/raver culture does seem to come from a place of authenticity. And for a woman of her level of stardom to reach out to a group of systemically marginalized people and say through her outfits, her invited guests, those sharing in her art form, and her rhetoric — I see you — is a powerful thing. And for those among us who were uncomfortable and turned off from seeing all that skin covered in so much glitter, perhaps it's not yours to find comfort in.