Until the MTV Video Music Awards of 6 September 2001, Britney Spears was still the girl next door: a healthy, wholesome role model for the daughters of America. But that evening, Spears, then 20, took to the stage at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Opera House in a green bikini and shimmied her rear suggestively to her new single, “I’m a Slave 4 U”, while a vast albino python writhed across her shoulders. Parents everywhere hastily covered their young ones’ eyes.
Last week, it was the turn of 20-year-old Miley Cyrus to court controversy at the VMAs, by stripping to her flesh-toned latex smalls and simulating sex acts with Robin Thicke and several life-sized teddy bears. The conservative Parents Television Council was aghast, and accused MTV of spoon-feeding sex to children. The show also prompted a panic about the racial implications of a white, Southern girl performing the increasingly notorious dance move known as “twerking”.
Just as the animal rights group Peta had protested against the use of a live snake in Spears’s act 12 years ago, so the inventor of the giant foam finger complained about Cyrus employing his creation – intended for waving at sports events – as a penis substitute. Steve Chmelar told Fox Sports that the singer had “degraded” an “honourable icon”. He went on: “Fortunately, the foam finger has been around long enough that it will survive this incident.”
There are other common threads to connect the two performances. Spears and Cyrus, emerging from their respective teens, were both trying to shake off the cutesy images that still lingered from their days as Disney child stars. Spears was once a member of the Mickey Mouse Club, while Cyrus made her name with the Disney Channel series Hannah Montana. They also happen to share a manager: one Larry Rudolph.
In 2010, Cyrus’s last album, Can’t Be Tamed, shifted a disappointing 343,000 copies in the US. She then expressed her intention to focus on acting, and made a handful of undistinguished forays into film. With her career apparently on a downward trajectory, in February last year she parted ways with her long-standing manager, Jason Morey.
Enter Rudolph, best known for his work with Spears, who took on Cyrus in March 2013, co-managing the young star with her mother, Tish. Since then, Cyrus has released a provocative new video for her single, “We Can’t Stop”; taken part in some raunchy photo-shoots; and delivered a number of choice quotes about sex, drugs and alcohol. Meanwhile, Pharrell Williams, who produced “I’m a Slave 4 U”, was at the mixing desk for Cyrus’s new LP, Bangerz, out in October.
Last weekend’s VMAs were far from the star’s first brush with controversy: she was criticised for exposing too much flesh in a Vanity Fair shoot in 2008, when she was 15. But this latest incident does raise questions regarding the advice she receives from her entourage. Cyrus’s friends and family “were all cheering from the side of the stage”, Rudolph told Us Weekly after the VMAs. “It could not have gone better.”
Born in the Bronx in July 1963, Rudolph spent the first part of his career as an entertainment lawyer, and in 1992 founded the New York firm Rudolph & Beer, which represented artists including the Backstreet Boys, Justin Timberlake and Jessica Simpson. Five years later, a family friend, Lynne Spears, asked his opinion about her daughter Britney’s singing voice. Rudolph presented the 15-year-old to record labels in New York, securing her a deal with Jive. Under the auspices of his new artist management firm, Reign Deer, he proceeded to mould the Mouseketeer into a megastar.
Thanks in large part to Spears’ success, Reign Deer Entertainment is now not just a management firm, but also a film and TV production outfit, responsible for Spears’ 2002 film debut Crossroads and the Jessica Simpson reality show Newlyweds. Rudolph also co-founded a full-service entertainment marketing firm – called, self-explanatorily, Total Entertainment and Arts Marketing – which maintains the reputations of Justin Bieber, Avril Lavigne and others. His latest protégées are the girl group G.R.L., whose first single “Vacation” miraculously found its way on to the soundtrack for a recent children’s blockbuster, The Smurfs 2, alongside Spears’ track “Ooh La La”.
Asked about Cyrus’s colourful transition to adulthood before the VMAs, Rudolph naturally compared his young charge to Spears, insisting he had little to do with either star’s creative choices. “Miley is doing it now organically,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “There’s no such thing as ‘OK, let’s figure out the plan for growing up’. It doesn’t work. The public sees through it in two seconds, and every artist who’s tried to do it has failed. [Britney] wanted to make edgier music. She sought out Pharrell. She’s the one who insisted ‘Slave 4 U’ be the first single and she was right. It was not some record-company executive and a manager sitting in a room plotting this out. Same thing with Miley. What you see now, this is her.”
It’s surely no coincidence, then, that Spears sent Cyrus a tweet shortly after “We Can’t Stop” was released in June: “Loving your new video for #WeCantStop @MileyCyrus!” the 31-year-old wrote. “Maybe you can teach me how to twerk sometime LOL ;) xo.”
Cyrus is the corporatised version of an old Hollywood story: the child star who flies off the rails and self-destructs. In today’s entertainment industry, this narrative formula can be harnessed for publicity. That VMA performance, calculated to create maximum outrage, has already drawn tens of millions of eyeballs. There can be little question that Bangerz will sell faster than Can’t Be Tamed.
Spears and Cyrus aren’t the only sometime Disney tweens to undergo raunchy reinventions. Take Christina Aguilera, who at 22 released a video for “Dirrty” in which she simulated masturbation while wearing little more than a pair of leather chaps. Or Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, who this summer starred in Spring Breakers, an ultra-sexualised snapshot of a girls’ college vacation gone awry. (By contrast, Britney and Christina’s male fellow Mousketeers Justin Timberlake and Ryan Gosling have been allowed to develop mature careers in music and film without consistently taking their clothes off.)
And yet that old Hollywood story of self-destruction can still genuinely occur, with Spears being a prime example. Three years after her python-based VMAs performance, in 2004, she dropped Rudolph, married Kevin Federline and descended into tabloid hell. After the couple split in 2007 and Spears manifested her fragile mental state by shaving her head in public, her family enlisted Rudolph to check her into a Malibu rehab facility. When Spears fired him again for his interference, her father sent a supportive email to the New York Post.
“When Larry Rudolph talked Britney into going into rehab, he was doing what her mother, father and team of professionals with over 100 years of experience knew needed to be done,” Jamie Spears wrote. “She was out of control. Larry was the one chosen by the team to roll up his sleeves and deliver the message, to help save her life.”
Britney eventually agreed with her father, and a year later she and her manager reconciled. At Jamie’s request, Rudolph instituted strict rules to secure the star’s well-being: no drugs, no alcohol, no late nights. In 2008, Spears’ album Circus and its lead single “Womanizer” both went straight to No 1 on the Billboard charts. Now, as well as guiding former child stars through their tricky maturation period, Rudolph is known as a rehabilitation specialist. In December 2010, he was hired to guide Lindsay Lohan back to the rails, where she has managed to complete at least three films – albeit to decidedly mixed reviews.
Nevertheless, Rudolph declines to take credit for his most celebrated client’s comeback. Of Spears, he said, “When I got back in her life, I knew the things she needed to do to get it straight. At the end of the day, all I do is sort of help guide. It’s really her that gets it done.”
A life in brief
Born Larry Rudolph, 24 July 1963, Bronx, New York.
Career Originally an entertainment lawyer, Rudolph is an entrepreneur and personal manager, credited with propelling Britney Spears to fame in the late 1990s. Rudolph has worked with her almost consistently throughout her career, and is known for his ability to revitalise celebrity careers, including that of Lindsay Lohan in 2010. Through his company Reign Deer Entertainment, Rudolph works with clients including will.i.am, Avril Lavigne and Nicole Scherzinger, and in March 2013, Miley Cyrus was added to his books.
He says “[Miley’s performance] could not have gone better. The fans all got it. The rest eventually will.”
They say “Larry Rudolph, crisis manager-in-chief of the great Britney Spears, is now at the helm of resurrecting the career of another train wreck.” The Hollywood Gossip
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