Just as predicted, it looks as if America's latest virgin teen superstar has a side to her even more shameful than her self-confessed addiction to ketchup. As surely as night follows day, Miley Cyrus, the squillion-selling singer and star of Hannah Montana, has gone straight from squeaky clean godliness to slightly grubby apologies. Her sin: to be photographed by Annie Leibovitz wearing a crumpled bed sheet, looking as though she had just been pulled out of a lake and was weirdly pleased about it.
The shots, in Vanity Fair, initially met with the approval of Miley, 15, her minders and parents, who were present when they were taken. And perhaps if this were any other teenager, the most shocking thing about them would be her rampant goose pimples. But a lot is resting on little Miley: her employers at Disney need her to be the anti-Britney, to prove that the American Dream doesn't always end up drunk, pregnant and flashing her gusset at the paps. And her bosses clearly see a naked back as quite far down that road.
"I took part in a photoshoot that was supposed to be 'artistic,'" explained a chastened Miley when her error was pointed out. "And now... I feel so embarrassed. I apologise to my fans, who I care so deeply about." Disney expressed its disgust at Leibovitz's decision "to deliberately manipulate a 15-year-old in order to sell magazines." Deliberately manipulating a 15-year-old in order to sell a TV show, album, doll, stationery, clothing range, DVD, Nintendo game... that's completely different. It's different because Disney thought of it first.
In distinguishing between the bare-legged, school-uniformed Miley of the TV franchise (wholesome, charming, American) and the bare-backed, lipsticked Miley of the magazine shoot (smutty, shameful, corrupt), Disney may have made a misjudgement. A brief and unedifying flick through Google shows far more unhealthy, paedophilic interest in the innocent teenager of Disney's creation than in Leibovitz's confident, grown-up image. "As soon as she turns 18," writes one fan, "everyone will lose interest and she'll become the next Lindsay Lohan."
No doubt Disney execs are already thinking of Lohan, and weeping. When the then 17-year-old starred in their 2005 film, Herbie, rumour had it that her breasts were digitally reduced to avoid offending. "Breasts are fine in PG films," said an insider, "providing they are no larger than a C-cup." No doubt their thoughts are also turning to Britney Spears, the star Mouseketeer who swore she would never have sex before marriage and that her faith would see her through. Her Miley moment came in April 1999, when readers of Rolling Stone magazine found her lolling across its cover on pink satin sheets, wearing polka dot knickers and holding a Teletubby.
Apparently, Miley has been told to lie low – the equivalent of sending her to her room to have a long hard think. No doubt she'll recover. She already knows that booze, drugs and sex "will only make you feel good for so long, but friends and family will make you feel awesome for ever". If only she'd been warned about naughty lady photographers – and others who might exploit a pretty 15-year-old girl.