She’s the insanely successful, Kids Choice Award winning singing/acting daughter of famed mullet-rocking one-hit wonder Billy Ray Cyrus. Her Hannah Montana 3D concert film is almost solely responsible for a 3 percent increase at the overall box office for 2008 thus far. And, of course, she has a YouTube channel.
The Miley and Mandy Show is a webcam production that ostensibly takes place in the bedroom of tween phenom Miley Cyrus. According to its YouTube channel description,
“The Miley and Mandy show began when Mandy who is a professional dancer began to teach me (Miley) a routine…While Mandy taught me the dance steps we recorded ourselves so we could watch it back and remember the moves. As expected I was not so good and I began to fool around and goof off. Mandy joined me shortly after and as we were joking and having fun the camera never stopped rolling. Once we watched back the video we had made we realized that when we were just being ourselves it was much more entertaining than the dance we had put together!”
Ten videos later, The Miley and Mandy Show has garnered over 60,000 subscribers and millions of views.
This may be Miley and Mandy “being themselves,” but the more telling phrase is “the camera never stopped rolling.” Miley and Mandy’s true selves, as depicted on The Miley and Mandy Show, are walking brands, perhaps brainwashed by publicists and managers to project a stage persona as if it comes to them naturally, but in their own self-interest always on, fully complicit in the commodification of their every moment and move.
The exception to this rule is this clip, supposedly a parody of two of Cyrus’ fellow Disney Channel personalities, Demi and Selena. It’s totally incomprehensible to anyone not familiar with Demi and Selena’s show Wizards of Waverly Place (myself included), but to Miley and Mandy, it’s hysterically funny. This is, apparently, not how Disney Channel stars are supposed to treat other Disney Channel stars; the next day, Miley and Mandy posted a clip in which they clarify that Demi and Selena are “beautiful” and “talented” and among their “best friends.” And so brand unity was restored.
The most recent episode, in which Miley and Mandy answer questions from their fans, nullifies any pretense that The Miley and Mandy Show is, at this point, “just for fun” or even put together off the clock. We learn in the first few minutes that Mandy, Miley’s “best friend” for two years, is actually her employee, a back-up dancer who is about to make her debut in a girl group put together by Miley’s team, described as “like the Pussycat Dolls meets the Spice Girls, but a little more age appropriate.” Suddenly, it all makes sense: YouTube is the venue through which the back-up dancer can be aligned in the minds of the fans as existing on the same plane as the superstar, thus easing Mandy’s transition from faceless element of Miley’s brand to a moneymaker in her own right.
Of course, neither Miley nor Mandy would never cop to being a cog in the corporate machine, and if they did, they’d insist they’re only interested in worldwide pop cultural domination as a tribute to Jesus. “He died for our sins, that’s how awesome he is,” Miley says on the questions clip. “I sing, dance and act for Jesus. Well, maybe not the acting, but I sing and dance for Jesus. Actually, I act for Jesus too.” This is the most genius aspect of the Miley Cyrus persona: she’s a 15-year-old girl with a cultural empire and hundreds of people on the payroll, but you can’t accuse her of self-promoting out of greed or self-serving hunger for fame –– she’s just being a good Christian.