On last night's VH1 Divas special, Miley Cyrus made an expected appearance in a very unexpected way: belting Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell" in a studded leather crop top and a bleached buzz cut. There was lots of boob and crotch grabbing, and a fair amount of growling. The crowd ate it up. But the whole spectacle left us feeling a little bit... confused.
So we gotta ask: What's going on with Miley these days?
The former Disney star, who turned 20 in November, has had a pretty big year: She got engaged to Liam Hemsworth, appeared on Two and a Half Men and lots of magazine covers, recorded a new album (out in 2013) and started working on her grown-up film career. She has also, somehow, turned into a completely different person.
She kicked off the year on a high note, looking chic and classy at the Oscars. So, where did this cleavage-flashing, bondage-gear-wearing punk rocker come from?
Maybe it started when Miley cut and dyed her hair in August, which got a lot of press, even though it didn't seem all that significant at the time. (Which of us hasn't gotten an "I'm the new me!" haircut at some point in our lives?) Then she unveiled her new website, featuring lots of glamour shots of herself wearing black lipstick and revealing leather outfits. Now, she looks like the slutty-Halloween-costume version of Sid Vicious.
It's not necessarily a problem when rockers change their image, and it often works in their favor. What gets us is how suddenly this transformation happened, and how little it seems to correspond with anything else in Miley's life. She wants us to see her as a tough-but-sexy wild child, but is that who she really is? She's getting married to her longtime boyfriend, she loves her dogs, she tweets every other thought that comes into her head. Basically, her image appears to be changing faster than she is. And that's a little weird.
At this moment, the whole thing seems a little forced, like Cyrus raided somebody else's closet. Maybe in the coming year, she'll find a way to put more of herself into that punk-rock girl she's so determined to be. Right now, there's a huge gap between the Miley who sings acoustic ballads in her backyard and the Miley who gropes her leather corset onstage. We get that she's 20 and still figuring out who she is. But we'd urge her to take her time and discover her own identity for herself—not take a pre-made one off the shelf. It may be harder to do, but it's the only way to make a lasting impression.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.