Miley, Britney, and How to Be a Good Celebrity

Photo: MTV

MTV documentaries like Miley: The Movement are so carefully produced and vetted that — unless you get a meltdown moment, like Miley's brief pre-VMAs screaming fit — it is hard to get any sense of how real the footage is. Your best bet for perspective is by celebrity comparison, like using another famous person for scale, and so in some ways, the brief Britney Spears scene is the most illuminating of the hour. From Britney Spears herself, we learn nothing new; she is still perfectly polite and mostly unengaged (though it's worth noting that, even in the good days, Britney interviews were not megaenergetic). Next to Britney, Miley looks like a Pokemon after a candy binge — translation: hyper, with unusual hair — but she is excited about her work, and she has insights, and she's clearly very happy to be there. Her enthusiasm is kind of refreshing.

If Britney is what happens when you are no longer interested in being famous, then Miley is what happens when you are extremely, desperately interested in — and also a natural at — fame. It is not a sin to want to be famous in 2013; it is only a sin to be bad at being famous. To be boring, or seem ungrateful. To abandon monkeys or launch an insanely expensive lifestyle site. Miley, whatever you may think of her, is not boring, and her VMAs performance (the "strategic hot mess," as she puts it) certainly rocketed her to first-name-only star status. The strategy paid off, because Miley gets it. She is great at being a celebrity: comfortable in front of the camera, Twitter-savvy, strong-willed, still a little goofy and relatable. And even better, as learned last night and from the VMAs, she very clearly wants to be famous. She likes doing exactly what she is doing. She's involved in the process. There are worse outcomes for Disney child stars.