The tongue, the twerking, the teddy outfit: Should someone have stopped Miley Cyrus' VMA performance?

The former Disney star's risque duet with Robin Thicke has sparked accusations of racism

Daisy Wyatt
Wednesday 28 August 2013 09:05 BST

Something that happened 48 hours ago would usually be old news in the world of celebrity. But Miley Cyrus’ performance at the MTV Video Music Awards has continued to provoke raised eyebrows and a vocal response from online commentators two days after it took place.

On Sunday the former Disney Channel star seemed all too keen to shed her squeaky clean Hannah Montana image, bursting onto the stage in a leotard which she quickly removed to reveal a flesh-coloured bikini.

Fresh from scoring her first UK number one single with "We Can't Stop", the 20-year-old singer licked her lips, stuck out her tongue and ‘twerked’ energetically throughout her performance with Robin Thicke. The former child actress then took advantage of a foam finger, rubbing it up Thicke’s crotch before massaging her own.

Click here for more photos from the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards

Criticism of Cyrus’ performance has ranged from outraged parents despairing at its sexual overtones, to accusations of racism.

The Parents Television Council (PTC) issued a complaint against MTV for airing Cyrus' routine, saying the show should not have been rated suitable for 14-year-olds.

Dan Isett, the PTC's director of public policy, said: "MTV continues to sexually exploit young women by promoting acts that incorporate 'twerking' in a nude-coloured bikini. How is this image of former child star Miley Cyrus appropriate for 14-year-olds?"

Others have argued that Cyrus' appropriation of 'twerking', a dance typically associated with Afro-Carribean culture in which women shake their bums provocatively in the direction of their admirers, was a racist act.

Writing on Vulture, the New York Magazine's pop critic Jody Rosen said the performance was "all about race". She said: "As Cyrus stalked the stage, mugging and twerking, and paused to spank and stimulate analingus upon the ass of a thickly set African-American backup dancer, her act tipped over into what we may as well just call racism."

While 'Concerned Mom' Lisa Belkin wrote an open letter to the singer on the Huffington Post, saying: "We are all for feminism, and a woman's right to enjoy her sexuality, but it is a misuse of feminism to define it as grinding on Robin Thicke amid dancers dressed like species of non-specific plush animals."

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Others were quick to respond on Twitter during the performance on Sunday:

But criticism levelled at Cyrus has provoked yet more internal debate, particularly surrounding the issues of racism and ‘slut shaming’.


Washington Post columnist Clinton Yates said it was racist to call Cyrus’ interaction with her black backing dancers a ‘minstrel show’, arguing that the term implies there is something “lesser” about including black performers in her act.

He said: “As if it’s completely impossible that [Cyrus] simply enjoys and respects the talents of those she chooses to work with. In short, it is inherently racist to imply that there is anything wrong with anyone other than black women twerking.”

Miley Cyrus performs on-stage at the VMAs (Getty Images)

Writing for the Guardian’s Comment is free, Maurice Mcleod acknowledged that Cyrus had “repackaged” black culture for a mainstream audience, but warned against criticising the star.

He said: “Society needs more, not less, cultural fluidity….Being white, or rich, should never stop someone from enjoying culture that originated black and poor.”


While many have been quick to criticise Cyrus for her raunchy performance, other commentators have voiced concern about shaming a woman as soon as she does something overtly sexual.

Viewers have also pointed out that Cyrus’ nude bikini was not her own creation, but worn to imitate the scantily-clad women in Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ video.

Vanessa Blanchard wrote in the Las Vegas Guardian Express that Cyrus should not be branded a “slut” just because she is famous and appears to be courting attention.

She said: “Her fame and her actions do not equate to her ‘asking for it’. They read more like a cry for help and our bloodlust is a direct attack on her identity, which will only worsen the problem.

Robin Thicke performs with Miley Cyrus at the VMAs (Rex Features)

“Also, very little is being said about Robin Thicke, who followed her around stage and pressed himself against her while singing a song that is somewhat ‘rapey’ in its tone. No one is saying a word about him.

She added: “Miley Cyrus used a foam finger on herself, Robin Thicke used a 20-year-old woman. Yet, Cyrus is the focal point for all the backlash.”

Many people have been quick to point out that Cyrus’ outfit and dance moves vary little to those seen worn and performed by Lady Gaga and Madonna.

Tellingly, a photo of Will Smith’s family apparently reacting in horror to Cyrus’ performance (below) was in fact taken during Lady Gaga’s VMAs set.

Will Smith and family react to Lady Gaga's VMA performance

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