Miley Cyrus Vanity Fair Scandal Erupts

Posted on April 28, 2008

A leaked photograph from a Vanity Fair shoot of teen star Miley Cyrus has analysts questioning whether the photo could bring down the entire Hannah Montana franchise, which is owned by Disney. The photo was shot by Annie Leibovitz and shows the 15 year old Miley, apparently topless, in a bed looking rumpled. The shot is quite artistic and is reminiscent of grand master paintings with its lush lines and brilliant play of light and dark. But the Hannah Montana franchise is based on its star's wholesome character. And this is a Lolita shot, which reminds us of the beautiful young Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby. Oh, and did we mention she' only fifteen years old?
Some parents reacted with outrage over the weekend when the television program Entertainment Tonight began showing commercials promoting a scoop: Ms. Cyrus, the star of the wholesome Disney Channel blockbuster Hannah Montana, had posed topless, albeit with her chest covered, for the Vanity Fair photographer, Annie Leibovitz.

Screen grabs of the photo quickly popped up online, sparking a blogosphere debate. "Bonfire anyone?" wrote Lin Burress on her marriage and parenting blog, Telling It Like It Is, referring to the mountain of Hannah Montana retail items -- makeup, shoes, clothes - in the marketplace. "Parents should be extremely concerned," Ms. Burress said in an interview. "Very young girls look up to Miley Cyrus as a role model."

It is doubtful that one photograph -- especially one that is tame in the context of an Internet awash in nude photographs of other starlets - could dent the Hannah Montana machine, said several Wall Street analysts. Retail sales for the franchise are expected to total about $1 billion in 2008. A motion picture is in the works for 2009 and Ms. Cyrus signed a seven-figure book deal with the Disney Book Group last week.

But keeping a teenage entertainment franchise on track in an age when stars are monitored around the clock by bloggers and paparazzi is extremely difficult, even for a company with the experience of Disney. Executives are constantly battling to keep minor slipups from growing into full-blown controversies. Last week, the public relations problem du jour was a green bra; photos online showing Ms. Cyrus pulling away her tank top to flash her underwear.

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Ms. Cyrus had a different view in a prepared statement released on Sunday: "I took part in a photo shoot that was supposed to be 'artistic' and now, seeing the photographs and reading the story, I feel so embarrassed. I never intended for any of this to happen and I apologize to my fans who I care so deeply about."

Beth Kseniak, a spokeswoman for both Vanity Fair magazine and Ms. Leibovitz said, "Miley's parents and/or minders were on the set all day. Since the photo was taken digitally, they saw it on the shoot and everyone thought it was a beautiful and natural portrait of Miley."
Disney execs had no advance notice of the photoshoot and are reportedly not pleased. On the other hand, if sales of Hannah Montana-related goods continue to increase, we're sure they'll stand 100% behind Miley and her parents.
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