Teen phenom Tavi Gevinson recently broke figurative bread with Miley Cyrus, Mistress of Tongues, in an Elle interview that ranged from Joan Jett to depression to feminism. They were on each other’s wavelength. As Miley told Tavi, “It’s kind of why I was excited for you to be interviewing me—I sit with a lot of old people that try to get me to explain culture. I’m like, ‘I don’t know how—you’re just not living in the same world I’m living in.’ ” To help navigate that world, which seems more complicated but also less consistent than Miley gets credit for, we’ve pulled out a few defining pieces of topography. Here’s what you should know.
Miley relishes all the myths and distortions.
People have made me seem like a character. So now I’m just enjoying playing a character of myself. People’s mouths drop when I dance, but my friends are like, “You dance like that in the kitchen!” I’m always pretty much joking.
Until she doesn’t.
People ask me how I stay happy and sane: I never google myself.
The Disney Channel was like a boyfriend.
When I went through a really intense breakup—you know, I was engaged—and when I was with him or when I was on Disney, the thing that gave me the most anxiety was not knowing what to do with myself when Disney wasn’t there to carry me anymore or if I didn’t have him. And now I’m free of both of those things, and I’m fine. Like, I lay in bed at night by myself and I’m totally okay, and that’s so much stronger than the person three years ago, who would have thought they would have died if they didn’t have a boyfriend.
The olds don’t get it.
When I do things that would get someone old to shake their head, my fans go ape shit. Like when we bend over or take our shirts off, we’re giving them that freedom. And that’s what rock ’n’ roll always was. Like, people snuck out to go see Joan Jett, and their mothers would be pissed. And I’m honored to be that girl that gets people out of their comfort zone.
The olds especially don’t get the realities of a post-race pop culture.
A lot of people who have made those comments [criticizing the VMA performance] are older—they were living in a world that was more defined by color. Now that isn’t black culture—that’s just culture in general. That’s pop culture; that’s the way we dance. These pissed-off moms on the Internet—they don’t understand that when you go to a club now it’s not about being black or white or heavy or thick. I’m shaking my ass because I want to shake my ass, not ’cause “I’m dancing like a black girl!”
So, she’s not sorry.
I tell a lot of people this, but I don’t give a fuck. I think most people would’ve done the VMAs and then been like, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to piss everyone off.” No, I’m not sorry—I made a conscious decision to do that. There were so many things I have had to say sorry for that I wasn’t sorry about.
She’s reflecting the world as is.
I was on the Disney Channel, where you need to make sure there’s, like, an Asian girl and a black girl and a Puerto Rican girl in every scene. And that isn’t life!
She’s messy like her fans, as a gift to them and their messiness.
I use myself as, like, a sacrifice for my fans, to be like, “Look, I am like you!”
There’s not much that I’m closed off about, and the universe gave me all that so I could help people feel like they don’t have to be something they’re not or feel like they have to fake happy. There’s nothing worse than being fake happy.
She was depressed.
It’s more of an issue than people really want to talk about. Because people don’t know how to talk about being depressed—that it’s totally okay to feel sad. I went through a time where I was really depressed. Like, I locked myself in my room and my dad had to break my door down. It was a lot to do with, like, I had really bad skin, and I felt really bullied because of that. But I never was depressed because of the way someone else made me feel, I just was depressed.
She is a feminist! (And she passes the Tavi test for feminism.)
TG: I read that you consider yourself a feminist. What does that mean to you?
MC: I’m just about equality, period. It’s not like, I’m a woman, women should be in charge! I just want there to be equality for everybody.
TG: Right! And that’s what feminism is.
MC: I still don’t think we’re there 100 percent. I mean, guy rappers grab their crotch all fucking day and have hos around them, but no one talks about it. But if I grab my crotch and I have hot model bitches around me, I’m degrading women? I’m a woman—I should be able to have girls around me! But I’m part of the evolution of that. I hope.