In our celebrity-soaked era, where gossip magazines reign supreme and many people are simply famous for doing nothing, it is rare – nay, downright impossible – to find authenticity, honesty and individuality.
Against all odds, 22-year-old teen Disney star-turned-“train wreck” Miley Cyrus possesses all three traits.
The former Hannah Montana star is often viewed as a celebrity antihero, a young woman who refuses to conform to the strict ideals we have set out for other female stars and who shirked the responsibilities that accompanied her “role model” status the minute she hit 18.
While her contemporaries practice elegant modesty – only to be thwarted by over-zealous paparazzi and internet hackers – Cyrus took a firm hold of her sexuality at a young age and served it up willingly, unabashedly and unapologetically.
But although you might find her twerking in a glitter-encrusted thong and not much else, you’ll also find her engaging in world-bettering endeavours and avoiding the mean girl antics of her peers.
Here are several reasons Cyrus might be the most unexpected role model of her generation.
Cyrus’s advocacy for issues important to her is prolific for someone of her age. She has already founded her own charity, the Happy Hippie Foundation, to support homeless lesbian, gay, bixesual and transgender youth, a cause she promoted by taking a homeless man to last year’s MTV VMAs as her date.
“I can’t drive by in my f***ing Porsche and not do something,” Cyrus told Paper Magazine of her decision to fight homelessness.
“I see it all day: people in their Bentleys and their Rolls and their Ubers, driving past these vets who have fought for our country, or these young women who have been raped.”
She’s a vegan and a prominent animal rights advocate (she adopted a pig which continues to live with her – fully grown) and also regularly donates to the American Foundation for AIDS research.
Earlier this year, as part of her gig hosting an annual gala, Cyrus raised $US69,000 for the amfAR foundation by auctioning off three artworks she created.
She also delivered a heartfelt speech with eloquence beyond her years, bringing many people in the crowd to tears.
Then there’s the fact that Cyrus is where she is because of undeniable talent and hard work.
Rocketing to fame at the age of 13 on Hannah Montana, she gained a massive following thanks to her instantly recognisable country twang, catchy pop songs, booming singing voice and infectious energy.
While Cyrus abandoned her pre-teen audience the moment she abandoned her clothing, she’s managed to maintain the quality of her music, perhaps thanks to her family pedigree (her dad is country rocker Billy Ray Cyrus).
While her memorable 2013 hit Wrecking Ball was much parodied, it was iconic thanks to a risqué film clip few will forget. Her performance at the VMAs that year was career-defining, daring and, importantly, vastly different from the carbon copies populating the pop music industry at the moment.
If you’re still doubting her musical chops, watch her cover of Jolene by Dolly Parton, who also happens to be her mentor and godmother.
Grace under pressure
During this year’s appearance hosting the MTV Video Music Awards, a scantily-clad Cyrus was called a “b***h” by rapper Nicki Minaj, who took issue with some comments Cyrus made in an interview with The New York Times.
During the broadcast of the show, which was live with a slight delay, Minaj became particularly heated and accused Cyrus of bad-mouthing her.
Cyrus’s measured response? “Hey, we’re all in this industry, we all do interviews and we all know how they manipulate s**t. Nicki, congratulations.”
Her parents may not adore her attention-seeking antics, but there’s no doubt Cyrus’s relationship with her mother, father and many siblings is strong and an exemplar for young people averse to spending time with their families.
“People say that they don’t choose their family but I choose my family every time,” she has said in the past.
Cyrus’s greatest downfall is her controversial behaviour, which has in the past involved overtly sexual performances and drug use.
While some of Cyrus’s more illicit behaviour is not to be condoned, what is to be supported is her consistent honesty, confidence and pride in who she has become.
Much of the singer’s work encourages young people to embrace their flaws and individuality and support one another.
“Some of the worst things that have happened in my career, like things getting leaked, have actually been what’s best for me, because people knew when I was on that show [Hannah Montana] that I was really growing up,” Cyrus told Cosmopolitan magazine in 2013. “I never faked anything.
“It’s about finding yourself, and sometimes you have to separate yourself from everyone. I just had to become this person who is sitting in this chair right now. If I didn’t, I just felt like there was something that was going to explode and I had to set myself free.”