If you formed 100% of your opinions about Miley Cyrus based on the video for “We Can’t Stop”, or that 2013 VMA performance during which she rubbed her flesh-tone-PVC-clad arse on Robin Thicke, you would be forgiven for thinking that she is any of the following things: shallow, corny, attention-grabbing, in need of Canesten. But you’d also be hella wrong, because there’s more to Miley than meets the eye (on most counts, can’t say for sure on the thrush).
Given the amount of controversy she kicked up during the Bangerz promo campaign - mostly by riding things; wrecking balls, hot dogs, your mum’s patience - many will readily dismiss anything Miley Cyrus says or does as thoughtless provocation. But she has an awareness of social issues that most people wouldn’t expect of her, and engages in forms of activism that many pop stars would turn their noses up at. “All these things that I do get all this attention,” she told Out in an interview published yesterday. “But then what do I do once I have everyone’s attention?”The answer to that is “found a charity”, apparently. Miley has officially launched the Happy Hippie Foundation - a non-profit organisation that aims to bring awareness towards issues affecting homeless youth and other vulnerable populations such as the LGBT youth community. In Miley’s words, it “rallies young people to fight injustice”. To help raise money and awareness for the charity, Miley has teamed with Facebook for the Backyard Sessions - a series of performances from the likes of Joan Jett, Laura Jane Grace, Ariana Grande and Melanie Safka, filmed in her own backyard. The videos will prompt viewers to donate, and the funds will be used to help create digital support groups for vulnerable kids and their families - an attempt to help prevent some of the 40 percent of homeless youth who identify as LGBT from being rejected and running away in the first place.
But this isn’t a stand-alone project and there has been a lot leading up to this moment. Last year, Miley had a young man named Jesse accept an MTV award on her behalf. He, in turn, took the award in honor of “the 1.6 million runaways and homeless youth in the United States who are starving, lost and scared for their lives right now” and pointed viewers to Miley’s Facebook to donate money to My Friend’s Place, a Los Angeles-based homeless youth centre that had introduced Miley to Jesse earlier that week. They raised more than $200,000 in 24 hours. Since then, she has also taken increasingly vocal stands against traditional gender expectations, homophobia, and transphobia. “The media moves too fast,” she told Out in relation to the suicide of transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn in December, “I didn’t want another story like that to be a little blurb that people hear about and then it just goes away.”Obviously there are lots of people doing incredible work for the homeless youth and LGBT communities without the benefit of celebrity backing, and just because she’s a pop star doesn’t make her efforts more significant than anybody elses. But, like it or not, celebrities have the power to influence a fuck load of people. Nobody would have worried out about Miley Cyrus’ very sudden and very public sexual insurgence if they weren’t all like "omg think of the children!” Similarly, when someone like Miley or Kim Kardashian - who just made a documentary about mental health in the digital age - acknowledges the problems in society and actively works to address them, that’s a big deal and we should acknowledge it as a positive thing.In the same way Miley (intentionally or not) kindled feminist dialogue by being overtly sexual, she uses Instagram posts, Twitter updates and public “stunts” to trigger debate around issues that directly affect the youth population. Provocative, yes, but not without thought.Follow Emma on Twitter.