Editor's Letter

Editor’s Letter: Sinead O’Connor offers Miley Cyrus advice, Miley raises another problem

By | Published on Friday 4 October 2013

Miley Cyrus

Yesterday, as was widely reported across the internet, Sinead O’Connor published an open letter to Miley Cyrus on her website, as she had been “dodging phone calls from various newspapers who wished me to remark upon your having said in Rolling Stone your ‘Wrecking Ball’ video was designed to be similar to the one for ‘Nothing Compares’” and because in the same interview she had said “that your look is based on mine”.

The letter, said O’Connor, was written “in the spirit of motherliness and with love”, and went on to question Cyrus’s image overhaul that has come with the promotion of her new album. It offered, I’d say, a fairly balanced, if strongly worded, view of the potential pitfalls of pop from someone who has been quite close to that world and come out the other side, in which she spoke of Miley with fondness and with much reference to her “obvious talent”.

“I am happy to hear I am somewhat of a role model for you and I hope that because of that you will pay close attention to what I am telling you”, she wrote. What she was telling Cyrus, pretty bluntly, was: “The music business doesn’t give a shit about you, or any of us. They will prostitute you for all you are worth, and cleverly make you think it’s what YOU wanted… and when you end up in rehab as a result of being prostituted, ‘they’ will be sunning themselves on their yachts in Antigua, which they bought by selling your body and you will find yourself very alone”.

Later she wrote: “You also said in Rolling Stone that your look is based on mine. The look I chose, I chose on purpose at a time when my record company were encouraging me to do what you have done. I felt I would rather be judged on my talent and not my looks. I am happy that I made that choice, not least because I do not find myself on the proverbial rag heap now that I am almost 47 yrs of age… which unfortunately many female artists who have based their image around their sexuality end up on when they reach middle age”.

Finally, she concluded: “Kindly fire any motherfucker who hasn’t expressed alarm, because they don’t care about you”.

It was, regardless of your opinion on its content, a well thought out response to a debate that has now been raging for months. And one that Cyrus herself had brought O’Connor into by referencing her as an inspiration in the aforementioned Rolling Stone chat.

Personally, even though I don’t for a moment believe the claim made by Miley’s manager Larry Rudolph (or indeed Amanda Palmer) that his client’s new image is entirely of her own design, I have been willing to give Cyrus the benefit of the doubt to some extent. There are many elements of what she’s done in recent months – from the twerking to the tongue poking – that do seem like they are expressions of her own personality. And cleverly, her album is actually very good. When it comes out (bar the occasional odd references to wetting yourself in a car), it should bring a lot of people on side who might have written her off earlier this summer. As O’Connor says, the talent is clearly there.

Also, in the Rolling Stone interview referenced by Sinead O’Connor, Miley comes across as a person who does have a pretty good insight into who she is and what she’s doing, far from the supposed ‘breakdown’ that some would suggest she’s on the verge of. In fact, she seems to have recognised that breakdowns are what people are interested in, and then played up to that without actually having to go through one. Which is possibly key to how Miley responded to Sinead’s letter.

Who knows how long Miley pondered O’Connor’s missive, but her response was far shorter and less considered. Referencing troubled actress Amanda Bynes, she tweeted “Before Amanda Bynes… There was…” and linked to a screengrab of O’Connor’s much publicised series of tweets in January 2012 in which she pleaded for psychiatric help due to the stress of a press onslaught after her somewhat sudden marriage to therapist Barry Herridge in December 2011.

That’s right, Miley Cyrus’s response to someone she has apparently drawn great inspiration from is to mock her for at one time being depressed to the point that she thought she might do herself some harm. This, as far as Miley is apparently concerned, equates to her being ‘crazy’ and not someone who should be listened to. And given that the incident she referred to happened almost two years ago, Miley also seems to believe that this is something no one could ever recover from.

As someone who has both suffered from depression and worked in mental health, I can assure you that Miley is dead wrong (I’m fine, thanks for asking). And in what world could responding as Miley has done here – to someone trying to offer proper advice, rather than simply shouting her down, as many have done – be in any way reasonable?

Miley Cyrus has just under fourteen and a half million followers on Twitter. “LOL”, was the alarming response to her tweet from many of them. YouGov research this week showed that 67% of British people believe that people with mental health issues are currently the most discriminated group in the country. And the ease with which ‘mental patient’ Halloween costumes found their way onto the Asda and Tesco websites last month would back that up.

But clearly this is not just a problem here in the UK. In the US, one of the worst countries in the world to have any sort of mental health issue – thanks to its currently prohibitive health system – compassion, empathy and teaching in relation to mental health issues are clearly lacking too. At least in the Cyrus household.

I try not to let a musician’s personality influence my opinion of their music – I’ll admit, I like a lot of music made by some real dicks – but this has wound me up so much I can’t see how it couldn’t taint my view. And I was really enjoying ‘Bangerz’ too. But now I don’t think I’ll be able to see or hear Miley Cyrus without thinking, “Fuck, what a shitty thing to do”.

And I guess that’s how Sinead O’Connor is feeling as well, as after I turned in the first draft of this editorial, she issued a response of her own, delivered with a lot less of that love and motherliness of before (perhaps motherly disappointment).

Switching to Facebook (the number of people flocking to her website having taken it down), she wrote: “I am staggered that any 20 yr old woman of the 21st century could behave in such a dangerous and irresponsible manner as to not only send the signal to young women that its OK to act like prostitutes but also to the signal that those who have suffered or do suffer mental health problems are to be mocked and have their opinions invalidated. Have you no sense of danger at all? Or responsibility? Remove your tweets immediately or you will hear from my lawyers. I am certain you will be hearing from all manner of mental health advocacy groups also. It is not acceptable to mock any person for having suffered”.

I only hope that Cyrus does eventually recognise that what she did yesterday really was a shitty thing to do. And as dangerous as O’Connor says. Amongst her fourteen and a half million Twitter followers, over three and a half million of them (one in four) will suffer from mental health problems in their lifetime, and those who already are suffering, or coping, will not be helped by being told by a popstar that there’s something inherently ‘wrong’ with them, and that that ‘wrong’ will be there for their entire lives.

So far, Miley hasn’t taken down her original tweet, but has responded further by tweeting thus: “Sinead. I don’t have time to write you an open letter cause I’m hosting and performing on ‘SNL’ this week. So if you’d like to meet up and talk lemme know in your next letter”.

Therefore, I guess it’s safe to say she doesn’t realise the potential consequences of her actions. Clearly she didn’t see the link to the Time To Change mental health awareness campaign’s website I tweeted to her yesterday. It would quickly have got lost amongst all the ‘lols’ and ‘please follow mes’, after all. But maybe you’d be interested in having a read, here.